Desplaines boss, Desplaines! A new protected bike lane takes shape


Cars are currently being parked in the Desplaines bike lane, but probably not for long. Photo taken just south of Madison Street. 

This is an exciting moment for cycling in Chicago as the department of transportation races to meet its goal of reaching a total of thirty miles of protected and buffered bike lanes before it gets too cold to lay thermoplastic. As Steven wrote yesterday, CDOT began installing new traffic signals last weekend for the eagerly awaited, two-way protected lane slated for a 1.2-mile stretch of Dearborn Street between Polk and Kinzie streets.

Since Mayor Emanuel himself declared the lane would be built this fall, if the weather holds up it’s likely this “game-changing” facility will soon be completed. As the first protected lane in the central Loop and the first two-way protected lane, Dearborn will probably draw some criticism from the anti-bike crowd. But the 4,500 signatures the Active Transportation Alliance recently collected in support of the lane prove that plenty of Chicagoans are looking forward to getting a first-class downtown bike commuting route.

Grid Chicago readers alerted us that CDOT also began striping new protected bike lanes on Desplaines Street in the West Loop last weekend, so yesterday afternoon I pedaled downtown for a look-see. From Kinzie to Fulton Street, a two-way section, the department is putting in “enhanced” shared lane markings, the same type that were recently installed on Wells Street south of the river. These markings encourage cyclists to ride in the middle of the lane; presumably “Bikes may use full lane” signs will be installed, as they were on Wells.


Enhanced shared lane markings, still awaiting bike symbols and signs, on Desplaines near Kinzie.

South of Fulton on Desplaines, the facility switches to a buffered bike lane.


Southbound on Desplaines, between Fulton and Lake Street. 

Protected lanes are going in from Randolph Street to Harrison Street. Yesterday cars were still parking next to the curb, on top of the half-finished bike lanes, instead of in the parking spaces marked to the left of the bike lanes. But once the lanes are delineated with flexible posts and marked with bike symbols, and police begin ticketing cars parked in the bike lane, motorists will learn to park in the correct place, as they did when protected lanes went in on Elston Avenue.


Photo taken just south of Randolph Street. 

Since there are several on-ramps to the Kennedy Expressway just west of this stretch of Desplaines, CDOT has striped dedicated right-turn lanes for cars at some of the intersections. Although the turn lanes are marked “Yield,” to warn drivers to look out for cycles as they cross the bike lane, Steven is concerned that they won’t.


Madison Street right-turn lane. 

Overall, Desplaines should be a nice addition to the bike network since it connects to Milwaukee Avenue and the Kinzie protected lanes. It will also serve as a useful alternative for cyclists who are used to heading downtown via the Wells Street bridge, which is currently closed for construction.

During my reconnaissance yesterday I also saw that the Clinton Street bike lanes are being re-striped on fresh asphalt. Although conventional bike lanes seem to be going out of style here, the new Clinton lanes appear to be the same configuration as before, simple parallel lines striped to the left of the parking lane.


400 block of South Clinton Street.

The Wacker Drive reconstruction project is wrapping up and the Jackson Boulevard bridge recently re-opened. Yesterday I was pleased to see that the metal-grate bridge deck now has bike-friendly strips of concrete on the sides. Once Wacker is reopened Franklin Street, which was converted to a two-way during the rehab, will revert to a one-way northbound street. Active Trans reports that CDOT has decided to stripe a new buffered lane on Franklin from Harrison Street to Wacker, which will link up nicely with the existing lane on Orleans Street north of the river.


The Jackson Boulevard bridge. 

In other bikeways news, buffered lanes were recently striped on Halsted Street from Division Street to North Avenue in Lincoln Park. Buffered lanes are also in on Clark Street from Wrigley Field to Diversey Parkway in Lakeview. Local alderman Tom Tunney is also looking into the possibility of creating new bikeways on Roscoe and School streets through the 44th Ward, perhaps neighborhood greenways.


A Marking Specialists crew on Desplaines at Jackson Boulevard. 

On the South Side, CDOT originally proposed building protected lanes on King Drive from 31st Street to 51st Street in Bronzeville but local clergy opposed installing the lanes on the historic boulevard. Instead, crews began striping buffered lanes on King earlier this month, and the city plans to eventually build protected lanes nearby on State Street.

So many bikeways projects are currently in the works that it’s hard to keep track of them all. For example, I still haven’t had a chance to check out the network of protected lanes under construction along the West Side boulevards. But that’s a good problem to have. Hopefully the relatively warm weather will hold out and CDOT will hit thirty miles of protected and buffered lanes by snowfall, a nice punctuation mark to a memorable year of bike improvements.

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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.

25 thoughts on “Desplaines boss, Desplaines! A new protected bike lane takes shape”

  1. I like this, I think it’s good.

    However, and I hope this doesn’t come across as overly negative, I’m also worried.

    With bike lanes it’s still intimidating to cycle on the streets. Buses still drive in bike lanes even when the car lane is empty. Cars still use bike lanes to undertake slower moving vehicles. That critical mass is still not there. There’s no mental barrier against a driver pulling into the bike lane. After all, more often than not they’re empty.

    So I’m trying to stay positive and believe that the trend over the past few years will continue, and more bikes will be on the road.

    *Nods, with a mildly strained smile*

  2. Desplaines Street is wide enough, at about 55 feet, to accommodate protected, buffered, or conventional bike lanes, but instead gets the “enhanced” shared lane marking. Phooey.

  3. The bike lane on Orleans is constantly full of people in cars wanting to turn right. About 30% of the time, it’s completely unusable since the line of cars backs up all the way to Merch Mart Plaza.

    I prefer the metal plates for bridges – the concrete still has some of the bridge steel poking though it and can be a bit tricky for slick tires.

  4. Did the clergy give a reason for being opposed to protected bike lanes on King Drive? I would think they would be in favor of something that makes the boulevard safer for pedestrians, transit riders, motorists and cyclists. Or is “clergy” some kind of traffic planner slang for fossil-fuel evangelists?

    1. The clergy feared the lanes would impact Sunday parking and they thought the flexible posts would detract from the aesthetics of the boulevard. I know, this begs the question, “What kind of roadway would Jesus plan?”

  5. For those of us who live there, it’s not as great as you make it sound. I’m not sure if you’re aware, Des Plaines went from a full 3 lanes of street with parking to potentially completely obliterating parallel parking on one side of the street and only 2 lanes of traffic. As someone who owns a condo on that street I am pissed. There’s already not a lot of parking there, and we run the risk of losing more. The irony is that as some of the comments mention below, people are still going to take up the right lane either turning, stopping, or passing. During afternoon school pickups at Old St Pats you’re going to be fighting soccer moms in minivans who don’t know what a rear or side view mirror is. UPS, fedex, usps, and the CTA will all be in your lane. John has a point below but I am willing to be more negative. I am willing to bet that 2 years from now, when our attitudes as residents have cooled off that they completely killed a lane on our street, and the “novelty” of cyclists wanting to check it out is over, that it will be no safer for cyclists than it is now. Tough to say that people will be more encouraged to ride their bikes because of these lanes. The only difference is that traffic will be worse and there will be less parking.

    1. These problems are not inherent to Desplaines Street. And while I believe CDOT can do a better job in the design and community planning of bike lanes, it’s still quite new at this job.
      I’m curious to know how traffic around Old St. Pat’s works in a month after the bike lane construction is completed.

      1. I can tell you how it works: The same way it always has.

        There is no protected bike lane in front of St Pats. Instead there is some intermittent striping with some bike pictograms.
        St. Pats put orange cones to the left of the bike lane, creating a double drop off lane, just like they always have. It completely blocks the bike lane during drop off/pick up hours.

        This is similar to what I see in front of Blaine Elementary School on Southport. They too block the bike lane entirely for drop off purposes.

  6. There is much to be said of the support of Chicago’s transportation planners for bicycling facilities. It looks promising. However, there will always be limitations to how convenient AND safe they are to use. Cyclists must still negotiate with other road users at intersections and other points of facility entry and exit. There will always be road users who are unfamiliar with what to do. Door zone bike lanes and bike lanes to the right of right turns lanes are included in these designs, are they not?

    So, cyclists must be encouraged to not let the paint think for them. They must be wise to discern the points of potential conflict and to know that the rules of the road are meant for all road users.

    Traffic cycling education is more important than painted stripes on the street. It helps resolve the conflicts which inevitably exist in any shared system. It gives cyclists the power of choice to use the system of streets as equal road users, not as a segregated class with limited access and rights. It helps cyclists to be predictable in interactions with other road users. It makes it a “win-win” situation.

    Let’s have more talk and support for traffic cycling education. Having bike lanes does not make cycling in Chicago a “no-brainer”.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I agree that better bike education, as well as training motorists how to safely interact with cyclists in drivers’ ed courses, could do a lot to improve safety. To clarify, the way protected lanes are currently done in Chicago is the bike lane is located next to the curb, to the right of the line of parked cars, with flexible posts between the bike and parking lanes. So the parked cars provide physical protection from moving cars, and dooring isn’t much of an issue. However, cars turning right can conflict with bikes in the protected lane. In the future I’m guessing Chicago will address this issue with dedicated bike stoplights for the lanes, so that bikes aren’t going straight while cars are turning right. This is how it’s done in Europe. Of course, many Chicago cyclists would disregard the bike stoplights, but then they’d only have themselves to blame if they get right-hooked.

  7. Sadly, the motorists in this photo:
    are doing the right thing, by parking against the curb while the cyclist uses the wide “bike lane”; the door zone buffer just needs to be moved about 1.5 feet to the left and the bike symbols put to the left of where the cyclist is now riding. I wrote sadly, because I suspect the city wants the bicyclist and parking reversed, so the facility will NOT be a bike lane, but a trapped pathway, where bicyclists cannot make
    normal left turns, and are forced into pedestrian behavior at intersections. Similar good behavior by motorists in this photo:

    Compare to this facility in CA, where the cyclist can leave to make left turns or pass,
    and the door zone portion of the bike lane is marked by dashes and the symbols are to the left, to encourage cyclists to stay out of the door zone.

    1. What the city is doing is the preferred method around the world to make cycling a safer mode of transportation. By separating incompatible modes of traffic (they differ greatly in mass and speed), more people will be encouraged to cycle for transportation.

      1. A
        standard bike lane and a path behind parked cars are both separated
        facilities, so the question is
        not whether to separate or not, but how will a separated facility allow
        for visibility and turning movements. I also find your comments about cars and bikes being incompatible to be fascinating in this context, since this facility is clearly designed to mix the modes you consider “incompatible” at driveways and intersections, where motorists make turning movements across the bikeway. In other words, both a standard bike lane buffer separated from the parked cars to the right, as well as a bikeway to the right of parked cars are both separated facilities, which both route cyclists into car-bike interactions at crossing conflict areas (driveways and intersections), so the main questions are those of visibility and freedom of movement, not whether or not to separate.

        1. Neither a conventional bike lane nor a buffered bike lane are separated. They are not separated from cars. They are not separated from dangerous traffic. What makes a bike lane “separated” is a curb or barrier (parked cars, concrete wall, bollards).

          The intersections with separated and protected bike lanes must be designed to facilitate the safe and cooperative movement of bicycles and automobiles. It can be done.

          1. Does the Chicago plan provide for mitigating conflicts at driveways and intersections, which is where most conflicts occur, not along the way where the barrier/buffer is placed? Will it be done or are the planners just blowing the smoke of a perceived buffer between intersections? Will the intent of the word “YIELD” be clear to the motorist who passed a cyclist in the bike on Madison Street ( and is now slowing for a right turn, not aware that the cyclist has caught up and is at his rear right wheel as the motorist merges into the bike/right turn lane, more focused on the intersection ahead? Or should the cyclist be taught that he should merge left into the through lane ahead of the right turn lane to avoid a potential right hook? Or will that defensive maneuver be illegal?

          2. I think the “YIELD” and the merge is the plan. And probably some new signs.

            To answer your other questions, I don’t know. Should there be some kind of widespread education and marketing that tells people who live and visit Chicago what these new thing are and how to maneuver through them? Hell yeah.

            (I don’t believe any laws will change.)

    2. As I wrote, cars probably won’t be parking in the bike lane in the future, after signage is up and the police start ticketing. Chicago is also doing buffered bike lanes, similar to what you show in the California photo, but protected lanes provide actual physical protection via the line of parked cars.

  8. What a joke. I rode Des Plaines this morning and it was completely filled with parked cars – despite having bike symbols all over it. All it takes is one person to park their car there, and everyone else follows suit. CDOT needs to install bollards ASAP.

      1. Why is there always such a huge time between when the lanes are striped and the bollards installed? Are they done by two different contractors?

    1. I called 311 just last night to report all the cars parked in the bike lane between Madison and Van Buren. I was very surprised when they immediately transferred me to 911, My suggestion is to keep reporting parked cars whenever we see them.

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