CDOT proposes road diets, protected bike lanes for King, 31st and 55th


CDOT’s Mike Amsden and 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns

I’m always happy to pay a visit to my old stomping ground of Hyde Park-Kenwood. So Monday afternoon I took advantage of a nice southbound wind and pedaled down the lakefront to Kenwood Academy for a 4th Ward community meeting hosted by Alderman Will Burns. At the assembly Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bike planner Mike Amsden gave a presentation about the CDOT’s plans to install protected bike lanes and buffered bike lanes on the Near South Side. The new facilities would be part of the city’s Streets for Cycling plan to install 100 miles of protected lanes and some 150 miles of other innovative bikeways over the next few years.

Here’s a map of the proposed locations in or near the 4th Ward. As Amsden outlined at the meeting, these streets would be undergoing “road diets,” removing and/or narrowing car travel lanes to make room for the new bike lanes. Additional benefits would include discouraging speeding and other reckless driving behavior, as well as reduced crossing distances for pedestrians.


CDOT handout showing plans for King Drive and Ellsworth Drive

CDOT would convert King Drive (400 E.) between 26th and 35th from eight (!) travel lanes with a grass median and conventional bike lanes to six travel lanes with protected bike lanes (PBLs). From 35th to 51st, King has service drives; the four travel lanes in the center of the roadway would be changed to two travel lanes plus a turn lane (AKA a “4 to 3 conversion”) plus PBLs.

South of 55th, cyclists could pick up Ellsworth Drive, a slightly curving road through Washington Park that roughly parallels King. Ellsworth, which currently has two wide travel lanes, would be getting buffered bike lanes (BBLs). These are laid out like conventional bike lanes with the addition of a foot or two of striped pavement on either side of the lane to distance cyclists from moving traffic and opening car doors.


Plans for 31st Street and 55th Street

31st Street from Wells (200 W.) to the Lakefront would be converted from two wide travel lanes to narrower lanes with PBLs. 55th Street from Cottage Grove (800 E.) to Dorchester (1400 E.), which currently has four wide travel lanes, would undergo a 4 to 3 conversion and gain PBLs.

East of Dorchester 55th Street splits to form a moat around I.M. Pei’s twin University Park condominium towers, nicknamed “Monoxide Manor” due to their location, and the north and south segments of 55th here have insufficient width for PBLs. Instead, BBLs will be striped from Dorchester to Lake Park (1600 E.) Minus a ½-mile gap through Washington Park, 55th Street lanes would combine with previously announced PBLs on Garfield Boulevard (5500 S.) from King to Halsted (800 W.) to form an almost completely protected 3-mile east-west bike route between Lake Park and Halsted.


55th Street forms a moat around “Monoxide Manor” – photo by Amy Arch

Amsden explained that CDOT traffic counts show that all of these roadways currently have more travel lanes and/or lane width than needed to accommodate their traffic volume, and this encourages motorists to drive dangerously. While studies show that road diets work well on streets that serve under 20,000 cars a day, actually improving traffic flow in many cases, 55th Street currently serves only 13,500 cars a day and King Drive only carries 9,000 to 11,500 cars per day.

Due to the lack of congestion on these roadways, the agency found that 54% of cars on King are speeding, and 15% or motorists are driving over 40 MPH. If a car strikes a pedestrian or cyclist at that speed, the crash will probably be fatal. “So this project really is about making safer roadways,” Amsden told the audience.


The audience.

After his presentation, the floor was opened to questions and comments from audience members. A woman from the Washington Park Advisory Council expressed concerns that reducing King to two travel lanes north of the park would cause rush-hour traffic jams. Amsden responded that CDOT’s research shows that the current numbers of cars on the road will be accommodated after the road diet. “The good thing about what we’re doing is these are pilot projects,” he said. “Afterwards if things aren’t working out the way we intended and things are dramatically different, they can be changed.”

“I think the [protected] bike lane on King Drive is a great idea,” said one man. “Right now King Drive is terrifying not just to bike on but to drive on. I’ll admit that when I’m on King I speed like crazy because it’s easy and it’s not enforced. Everyone does.”


Howard Zar

Howard Zar, co-leader of the South Side community advisory group for Streets for Cycling, commented on the need for better pothole maintenance in bike lanes.

“I’m in favor of congestion and I’m in favor of anything you can do to narrow the roadways,” commented another women. “I’ve been a North Sider for all my life and I’ve been down here for four months and I’ve never felt so unsafe, as a pedestrian, a cyclist and a driver. I’m scared.” Alderman Burns, sharing the stage with Amsden, quipped that he’s always felt more nervous driving up north than he did on the South Side.

“A couple times you mentioned that this project is a high priority for the city,” another man said to Amsden. “How did this get to be a high priority?”

“The reason this is a priority is there are so many benefits to it,” Amsden responded. “There are so many benefits to getting people out of their cars that want to get out of their cars. It’s not just bicycling. It’s really about reducing crashes, improving health and improving the economic viability of our cities. We need a balance of people walking, riding their bikes and taking transit, as well as driving. We need to start improving sustainability and our streets need to become more vibrant. This is one way of doing that.”

View Proposed Near South PBLs and buffered lanes in a larger map

Join the discussion about this on EveryBlock.

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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.

17 thoughts on “CDOT proposes road diets, protected bike lanes for King, 31st and 55th”

  1. Am concerned about reduction of lanes from 35-51st.  Given bus trafffic that is still a primary route to downtown with many institutions along the way.  Also, while traffic may be down right now, given all the vacant lots on the adjacent streets, King drive traffic will rebuild as more new housing is built.

    And as one who has ridden the King Drive bus most of my life, there is still much to be said for having the bus move along expeditiously, as it does north of 51st. To slow that transportation route down any more is a disincentive to the use of public transportation, which I am certain you also DO wish to encourage.

    1. I’m still waiting to see CDOT’s traffic study of the proposed route, but I believe that the remaining non-bike lanes will be sufficient to carry the traffic out there on King Drive and also not affect the buses’ speeds. 

  2. Steven,

    The CDOT website lists the Ellsworth lanes as “protected bike lanes”, yet the images and information you show here has them clearly listed as buffered bike lanes. Have the plans changed? Clearly, I would prefer protected lanes, and it appears that the space exists for them. Do you know anything?

    Also, do you have any more information about the protected bike lane that they list for W Lake St? It looks like it will link up to a bunch of other lanes, but I haven’t found any more specifics.

    1. I’m not aware of changed plans. It may just be a simple mistake. 

      In some circles, there is discussion over what constitutes a protected bike lane. Much of Kinzie Street is protected by parked cars, while some of Kinzie Street has only flexible bollards. Some do not consider that protection as even a person cycling can knock one over; it won’t protect an errant driver. 

      As for Lake Street, I don’t have any details. This is relevant to a criticism of CDOT I’ve written about before: information to the public is rare and vague. 

      1. I certainly agree that flexible bollard are less effective than parked cars or curbs, but I do think that 98% of the time they are rather effective at keeping cars out of the bike lane. They are definitely way more effective than a line of paint and a sign, so I guess I’m pretty ok with calling them “protected”.

        That said, I highly doubt they’d install flexible bollards on a buffered bike lane with parking on the curb, as would be the case if the existing Ellsworth design were to be “protected”. Cars would have to weave through the bollards to get to parking, and I doubt the city would want that situation. I’m sure that this is either a mistake, or the city has changed the design to create a parking protected lane.

        1. I just looked at the Ellsworth drawing – I don’t see an intuitive explanation for why a curbside parking-protected was not proposed for Ellsworth Drive between 51st and 55th. 

          I’d like to know what design features are available that can keep people from parking their cars in the protected bike lanes. This is offensive, in the same way that 60 passengers on a bus should be offended that they are considered second class users of the road when stuck in congestion behind 60 people driving 60 cars. 

  3. Steven, sort of off-topic—I looked at your statistics regarding the Bike 2015 plan… Although I have been under the impression for quite a while now that this plan was DOA, I commend you for pursuing, and giving publicity to sobering numbers at best. Perhaps there is an errant 0 in the plan, where it should read Bike Plan 2150 instead, approximately the time when there won’t be oil to run all those cars and arguably the plan will no longer be necessary?

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