Messenger John “Blunt” Robbins rides in a section of Kinzie without parking, where every-other post has been removed.
It was a little mysterious when the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) recently removed more than half of the flexible posts (AKA bollards) that separate the Kinzie protected bike lanes from parked cars and moving traffic. So I called CDOT bikeways planner Mike Amsden, to get the skinny. He explained the motivations for taking out the posts, and also pointed out a few recent upgrades to the street I hadn’t noticed before.
John and Mike at a Streets for Cycling public meeting last winter. Photo by Serge Lubomudrov
What was the reason for modifying the Kinzie bike lanes?
I think from day one when we installed it we said we’d be looking at our design to see what works, what doesn’t work, what needs to be changed. And fortunately I think everything works pretty well.
The one thing we’ve realized as we’ve been designing more and more protected bike lanes and also looked at other cities, is that the posts aren’t really needed in the volume that we installed them on Kinzie. So we minimized the number of posts we use where there is no on-street parking. I believe we spaced them every ten to fifteen feet originally and our new standards are every thirty to forty feet.
And where there is heavily used on-street parking, the posts don’t provide the protection, it’s the parked cars. So we left the posts in at the beginning and the ends of the parking lanes to guide motorists on where to park. We’ve been monitoring it quite a bit and from what we’ve been seeing they seem to be figuring it out pretty well. There are still some violations every now and then just like there were before when all the posts were in, but it’s working out pretty well.
Where parking exists, all the posts have been removed except for at either end of the parking lane.
And there are also a whole slew of other changes. We pulled back parking a little bit on the eastbound bike lane coming down the hill as you approach Jefferson there because visibility was an issue with motorist turning onto Jefferson. We just shifted it all back a little bit, like twenty feet.
So you crossed out the parking space in front. Was there any loss of parking?
There was a little bit but it’s for visibility and safety issues.
At the bottom of the hill by the Blommer Chocolate factory, CDOT crossed out one parking space to improve sight lines, as well as adding a “slow” legend for cyclists.
Any other changes?
We upgraded all the crosswalks to high-visibility continental [AKA international or zebra-stripe] crosswalks. We’ll actually be installing a new crosswalk in the near future at Orleans, I believe, where if you’re walking eastbound the sidewalk kind of ends as you get to the Merchandise Mart. The crosswalk will take you to the sidewalk on the north side of the street. We also refreshed some pavement marking and put in some more bike symbols.
CDOT recently painted “rungs” on all the crosswalks to make them more visible.
We added a “slow” or “stop” legend, mostly stop, at all the stop signs, both in the cycle track and then also in the travel lanes in some spots as well. One of the biggest complaints we’ve gotten about Kinzie is bicyclists not stopping at stop signs, especially for pedestrians. So hopefully this will be one more thing that will get a few people to start stopping. We’ve also had our ambassadors out there and we’ll do it again this year.
So did you guys make the changes based on CDOT evaluations, comments from the public, comments from [42nd Ward] Alderman [Brendan] Reilly or something else?
All of the above.
What kind of comments have you heard, other than that cyclists weren’t stopping at the stop signs? People don’t like the way the flexible posts look?
Yeah, a lot of people consider the posts to be not the most appealing look for a roadway. Another thing, which we’re not really doing at this point but we need to be doing in the future, is some kind of urban design element. We need to make the street look good. We don’t want to make it ugly for people who live on the street. And we did hear that the amount of posts that we had on Kinzie was ugly in a lot of people’s eyes. I can’t disagree with them.
Half the posts have been removed on the bridge.
So you think that it’s more aesthetic now that there are less frequent posts?
I guess. That’s more of a personal opinion. But that isn’t the main reason for removing the posts. The main reason is that New York City has done the same thing on Grand Avenue. They put them in and then after a while they took out all the posts and it works quite well.
They haven’t found that there’s more frequent parking and driving in the bike lane?
An SUV parked in the Kinzie bike lane a few days ago, although the nearby parking lane was nearly empty.
Nope. If cars are parked there it’s really hard to drive in the bike lane.
What about if there are no cars parked in the parking lane?
So this isn’t our new standard going forward at all locations. Every single protected bike lane we do and every block for every single protected bike lane is going to be designed on a case-by-case basis. If parking is lightly used then we need to put in some posts. On Kinzie where it’s pretty solidly parked most hours of the day, it’s our opinion that the posts aren’t needed. If we do find increased violations of parking or driving in the bike lane we can always go back and put in posts back in if we need to do that. But right now based off our observations we don’t think that’s necessary.
You know, it’s been our intention all along to remove posts where we can. It’s a cost savings, it’s a maintenance issue if we have a ton of posts out there and have to keep replacing them. I think it’s a win-win for everyone if it works the way we want it to work.
How did you guys pay for the refresh project?
We haven’t officially invoiced anything yet. Most likely it will be general operating money, city money for transportation projects. [Amsden later said the labor cost for removing the bollards was $4,500 dollars but he didn’t have numbers for the road marking and sign changes costs handy.]
There was a bike box on Milwaukee as you approach Kinzie from the northwest, that pretty soon after it was painted it got torn up by construction. Any plans to fix that?
Bike box at Milwaukee/Kinzie.
Yes, but probably not right away. One of the issues with Kinzie is the green [road marking] that we used out there is a different type of material than what we’re now using. So we’ve refreshed some spots of green with just paint, but we don’t want to do that in large swaths because it’s slippery. So we’re probably not going to touch the bike box right now. We’re probably going to let it go a little more and then refresh it with the new material that we’re using.
Have there been a lot of calls to remove the Kinzie lanes altogether? Have a lot of people been going to Reilly saying that they hate it and they want it taken out?
Not that I’m aware of. The alderman has gotten some complaints. You’d have to call them to get that ratio of complaints compared to compliments, but as far as CDOT we haven’t heard anything since the two weeks when we were first doing installation.
How would you respond to someone who’d say, “Well, if you remove the bollards from a protected bike lane so that there’s no physical barrier between the cars and the bikes, that makes it just a buffered lane”?
The protection is between bicyclists and moving motor vehicle traffic, and the parked cars provide a lot more protection than one flexible bollard does.
So if you find that there’s a situation where frequently there are no cars parked between the moving cars and the bike lanes you might be inclined to put the bollards back in.
Any talk of at some point going to permanent, fixed bollards?
Yeah, I think that’s everyone’s long-term goal. There are no plans to do that. Obviously that becomes a major cost issue. But I think that’s what we’re all hoping for in the future.
Read all of our coverage on the Kinzie Street bike lane.