Can Chicago reach 30 miles of “green lanes” before the snow flies?


Amsden in Amsterdam on a fact-finding trip with U.S. politicians and planners organized by Bikes Belong. Photo courtesy of Bikes Belong.

[This piece originally ran on the website of the Green Lane Project, an initiative that is promoting protected and buffered bike lanes nationwide, sponsored by the national advocacy group Bikes Belong. The term “green lanes” refers to protected and buffered lanes and other innovative bikeways.]

No one can accuse Mike Amsden of being lazy. Amsden, project director with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bicycle program, has the job of implementing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan of building 150 miles of green lanes (110 miles protected and 40 miles buffered) by 2015. This first struck me as a Herculean task, but the CDOT team has made significant traction already and Amsden says that if all goes well, by the end of the year they’ll be on track to meet their target.

The first 150 miles will be part of the city’s grand scheme to create a 645-mile network of various types of bikeways within the decade, which would ensure that every Chicagoan has a route, lane or trail within a half mile of his or her home. The proposal, called the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan, is the product of a robust public input process, with two rounds of community meetings held on all sides of the city. The final plan should be released in October.

Amsden took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to give me an update on CDOT’s progress installing the lanes, and what’s on the horizon, including the two-way protected lane on Dearborn Street in the heart of the Loop downtown business district that promises to be a game changer.


Buffered Lane on the 2300 block of West Jackson.

How many protected and buffered lanes have you built this year?

Approximately 5 miles of protected and 5 miles of buffered, about 10 miles.

And how many miles of green lanes are we up to in Chicago altogether?

Right now we’re at 6.5 miles of protected and just over 6 miles of buffered, 12.5 miles.

Realistically what are you looking to complete by the end of this year?

A lot of it’s dependent on resurfacing. We have a lot of resurfacing jobs that will be starting here shortly. So assuming that all goes according to plan with the resurfacing we’re looking at about another 8 miles of protected and about 10 miles of buffered, about 18 miles total.

What are some of the streets that would be included in that?

As far as protected bike lanes go, 31st Street is one we’ve been talking about for a while. That’s scheduled to be resurfaced this fall. The West Side boulevards are still moving ahead. Des Plaines Street in the West Loop. Dearborn, obviously we’ve talked about. And we’re still looking at trying to do something on Jackson Boulevard.

So the two-way bike lane on Dearborn might actually get done this year?

That’s our goal.

When does the construction season usually end?

The only date I know, and by no means is it official from CDOT, we stop striping around the middle of November. But that’s always dependent on weather so that can vary from year to year. Last year it went a little later than that.


Protected lanes on Kinzie Street. Photo courtesy of CDOT.

October might be a really busy month for you.

Yeah, the rest of September and October will be very busy for us.

Well that’s very exciting. So do you have an estimates for how much a mile of conventional, buffered and protected bike lane costs nowadays?

These are very early averages and likely to fluctuate, but standard lanes cost about $50,000 per mile, buffered lanes are about $85,000 per mile and protected lanes are about $170,000 per mile. But they vary a lot at this point because all of our designs have been so different. We’re getting cheaper as we go along. Nowadays we’re using fewer bollards. And our designs have become a lot more uniform, whereas on Kinzie was the first time we ever did it so we had a lot of striping that we don’t do anymore. For example, now we’re only using green paint at conflict points, not at every intersection. We don’t use it at, like, four-way stops anymore, where you should inherently not have a conflict.

So if you’re able to build everything that you want to build this year, what grand total will that bring you up to?

Just over 30 miles.

You were hoping to be at 33 miles this year?


So that’s not too far behind schedule.

It’s right around there.


Buffered segment on the generally protected Elston bike lanes. Photo by Steven.

Obviously there are a lot of X factors in terms of weather and resurfacing and whatever issues might come up with the community.

There always are. [Laughs.]

An example of that was what we discussed with [3rd Ward] Alderman Dowell and King Drive in her ward. So is that still happening? King Drive is getting a buffered lane and State Street is getting a protected lane?


Have there been any other unforeseen challenges in building the protected lanes?

I don’t think anything unforeseen. I think everything that we’ve encountered has been things that we’ve expected or challenges we heard about from other cities. A lot of is just that’s it’s a change, it’s so different, it’s taking out lanes, it’s consolidating parking. We’re learning as we go along in terms of how semi trucks can operate on streets, what kind of loading operations are needed, etcetera, but nothing really unforeseen.

Have you learned anything exciting while you’ve been doing this? Like have there been any unexpected cool things that have happened while you’ve been going through this process of getting the bike lanes installed?

I think it’s been pretty interesting to see the variety of reactions we’ve gotten from both bicyclists and non-bicyclists. It’s very true that some people love ‘em and some people hate ‘em. But I think it’s good to start that conversation. It shows that there’s demand for more infrastructure. It’s been exciting to roll something new out and educate people at the same time. And we’re trying to do something really quick, which hasn’t really been done before.


Striping lanes. Photo by Steven.

What’s the funding source for all of these lanes?

To date it’s been general operating money and then Tax Increment Financing money, and menu money [the $1.3 million in discretionary funds budget to Chicago aldermen for projects in their wards] as well.

But eventually you’ll be using the $40 million federal [and local Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement] grant. So the Dearborn lane, that’s going to be a big deal.


That’s already designed?

Not wholly, no. The striping is really the easy part for that project. It’s a pretty consistent roadway throughout the whole project limits. The biggest difference with Dearborn, and it’s something new, is that we’ll have bicycle traffic signals at every single intersection. So that’s what’s going to make it different from any other project we’ve done to-date. So that’s one more step in the design process.


Bike signal in (surprisingly bike-friendly) Indianapolis.

That’s going to be on the left side of the street?


Have you guys been doing much outreach with the nearby property owners who might be affected by it?

We will be. We’ve been working with the alderman’s office. We’ve been working with the Active Transportation Alliance to get names of businesses. Yeah, we’re definitely going to be doing some heavy outreach out there, starting very shortly.

But so far you haven’t really heard any opposition to it?

No, none to date. But I expect we’ll get some opposition as we move forward here.

All right. Any other thoughts about the process of protecting bike lanes here or what’s going on in the future?


Dearborn Street. Photo by Alex Semaca.

The biggest change that we’ll see as we move forward is that people will soon start seeing a
network and continuity in the network. Right now it’s only been a year into it. It’s going to take a little bit of time to build that network. But in the near future you’re going to be able to ride from Elston Avenue and North Avenue on a protected lane down to Milwaukee Avenue [already a popular bike commuting route.]

We’ve been hearing, and we know, how much Milwaukee needs to be improved. So that’s one of our next projects to tackle, improving Milwaukee from Elston down to Kinzie. If we can do that we can get people on Kinzie over to Dearborn, down Dearborn through the Loop to Harrison Street. Then you can scoot over a couple blocks to the nice buffered bike lanes on Wabash Street to get you down to State Street. You’ll be able to head a long distance on, if not protected, then at least buffered bike lanes, for miles at a time. That will be a really big change and, I think, well-received, instead of just looking at looking at piecemeal projects.

What kind of treatment are they talking about doing on Milwaukee from Elston to Kinzie now?

We’re just starting to look at it. We’re not eliminating any possibilities at this point. We realize how important of a street that is, especially that stretch. So we’ve just started thinking about it internally. We don’t have anything done to-date. But you’ll be hearing a lot more about that as we move forward.

Published by

John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

18 thoughts on “Can Chicago reach 30 miles of “green lanes” before the snow flies?”

      1. In a plan view like the video presents, the Dutch intersection looks insane. However when you approach one in real life from a street level perspective it’s rather intuitive. I guess the same could be said for American expressway interchange design.

    1. Ooo, I don’t like that.

      Reason #1: look at where the cyclist with the red light is waiting at 1:40. That cyclist is essentially blocking the lane for cyclists on the cross street.

      Reason #2: I hate any design that makes a cyclist with the green light who wants to turn left move right and wait for the light to change. I know we’re moving away from the “cyclist is traffic” mantra. I don’t agree with that move.

      Reason #3: It’s complicated as hell.

  1. It will be nice to finally have some protected lanes actually connecting to other protected lanes, forming a cohesive route.

  2. Mike wrote:
    “We’ve been hearing, and we know, how much Milwaukee needs to be improved.”

    I was pleased to read this.

    /then/ Mike followed with:
    “So that’s one of our next projects to tackle, improving Milwaukee from Elston down to Kinzie”

    And I was disappointed. The stretch of Milwaukee Ave that truly needs most attention is between Western and Ashland. It is heavily traveled by cyclists, and yet it is frighteningly packed with parked cars, moving cars & trucks, and pedestrians. I feel like it is level-10 in a video game, only the stakes are real pain. There is rarely a week that goes by when I don’t see a near-dooring or near-cut-off. I’ve been doored only once in Chicago, and it was in this stretch. I think I’ve cycled a fair number of popular routes in this city and I can’t think of an area more in need of buffered or protected bike lanes than this stretch of Milwaukee. Yes, street parking would have to be removed, but I’ve heard that street spaces can sometimes be traded for land to build a garage. And they may only have to remove one side of parking.

    Cyclists are not going to stop taking this stretch of Milwaukee in heavy numbers, even if the risks and stress are extremely high. I think CDOT is doing a great disservice to the cycling community if this stretch of bicycle route is not improved within the next near. It should have been improved years ago. How many doorings and injuries could have been prevented? How many more will it take to get something done?

    1. The nice thing about doing the section from Elston to Kinzie is it will link two existing protected lanes.

      Here’s what Alderman Moreno said about Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park at a talk last year:

      Since recent CDOT counts show bikes make up 22 percent of daytime
      traffic on parts of Milwaukee Avenue, Moreno is exploring the
      possibility of removing one lane of car parking on the street from
      California to Division to make room for a Seville-style separated bike
      lane. Asked how meter lessee LAZ Parking would react to the loss of
      revenue if car spaces were removed, Moreno responded, “F— ’em.” The
      crowd of cyclists went wild.

      “What I meant was, this is 2011. I’ve talked to Rahm Emanuel and he’s
      on board with moving forward in a bold direction, so I’m not going to
      stop,” Moreno told me. The alderman says he might be willing to swap
      LAZ’s lost parking spaces for a high-density garage on Milwaukee. “I say
      to them, if you want to be part of the solution, great. If not, feel
      free to sue the city.”

    2. There seems to be a trend of initially building protected lanes where it’s easy instead of where they’re needed. Similar to the situation panning out on Milwaukee, the stretch of Elston from Milwaukee to North that received a protected lane was already very good to ride on, while the much worse stretch from Fullerton to Logan hasn’t received any attention. Hopefully the next round will extend the Elston and Milwaukee lanes into those streets trouble spots. While on paper I like the city’s mileage goal, I’m afraid it’s lead to a push for quantity over quality where long easy stretches are selected over short difficult stretches.

      Edited for spelling.

      1. Your observation is very well founded and we’ve discussed it before.

        Last summer before the first cycle track went in on Kinzie, there was one slated for Stony Island. I penned an article stating the two foundations for a good cycle track location:
        1. attract the most new riders (goal #1 in the Bike 2015 Plan)
        2. make the biggest increases in safety by reducing injuries (goal #2 in the Bike 2015 Plan)

  3. Does anyone else find the cost of bike lanes seem oddly high? Is there a breakdown of these costs available? I am assuming that “standard bike lanes” are just the lanes painted between the car traffic lanes and street parking . $50,000 seems a lot for 8 blocks of worth of white paint. Buffered lanes are really just more white paint between the bike lane and traffic lane. How does that cost $85,000 per mile?

    Often the roads with new bike lanes (standard, buffered, and protected) are completely resurfaced. Are these costs for the bike lanes by themselves or for the total cost of rebuilding the roads with the addition of the bike lanes?

    I am aware how city contracts work. The picture above makes it clear that at least four people are required to put down cones for the one person painting the lane. But seeing how some people (John Kass, e.g) see this as a high cost project benefiting only bikers, I am curious if any of this money improves infrastructure for cars or pedestrians directly.

    1. I believe costs include the salaries of the consultants who survey, design and get approval for the lanes. They don’t include street repaving. Keep in mind that bike projects are chicken feed compared to road projects in general. The city of Portland, Oregon, famously calculated at one point that its entire bikeway network, hundreds of miles, cost about the same as one mile of urban freeway. Bike lanes benefit motorists and peds by calming traffic and shortening crossing distances.

    2. I don’t think they’re that high, but I think there may not be much competition when the contract goes out to bid. I believe only one company has been doing all of the city’s bike lanes for almost a decade. That’s Marking Specialists Corp. in Cary.
      From the last contract with them I could find, which had 7 miles of bike lanes and 11 miles of marked shared lanes, a 6 inches wide stripe (this is the stripe closest to traffic) cost $1.60 per foot (including installation). A 4 inches wide stripe (the stripe next to the parking lane) cost $0.98 per foot. “Traffic control and protection” cost $30,000.
      The most expensive item in the list was a bike symbol, at $230 each. I’ve uploaded the contract (which I downloaded from the city’s public online contracts database).

    3. Infrastructure spending is very expensive. Compared to other types of infrastructure projects, bike lanes are downright cheep. Looking at articles about participatory budgeting to see what other projects cost: street resurfacing is $40K-$50k per block, alley resurfacing is around $30k per block, countdown pedestrian signals are $12k per intersection, repainting traffic signals is $9k-$15k per intersection, curb and gutter repairs are over $100k per block, and ornamental lighting is $225k-$350k per block.

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