Jackson Boulevard bike lane downgraded to buffered, to possibly be installed in spring 2013


The street has lacked lane markings and a bike lane (a conventional bike lane existed prior to repaving) since it was repaved in October 2011.

A year and a half after one segment was completed, the Jackson Boulevard bike lane project may be finished, but with a lesser bike lane.¬†Short of submitting a Freedom of Information Act for communications between the Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation and other recipients, here’s what I’ve been able to gather so far.

The Jackson Boulevard bike lane between Ogden Avenue and Halsted Street “will likely be extended to Halsted in Spring 2013 as a buffer protected bike lane”, CDOT public information officer Pete Scales emailed me yesterday.

He means a buffered bike lane.

Only CDOT views a buffered bike lane as protected. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), of which Chicago is a member and Gabe Klein its treasurer, defines a buffered bike lane:

Buffered bike lanes are conventional bicycle lanes paired with a designated buffer space separating the bicycle lane from the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane and/or parking lane.

Klein told me in an email after I questioned the labeling practice, “The City of Chicago views ‘protected bike lanes’ as the master category, and within that there are ‘buffer protected’ and ‘barrier protected’ bike facilities. On some streets we will be going back and forth depending on the right of way, and potentially multiple times in a block as we get into more complicated installations.”

Conversely, a “protected bike lane”, or “cycle track”, is defined by NACTO as:

One-way protected cycle tracks are bikeways that are at street level and use a variety of methods for physical protection from passing traffic. A one-way protected cycle track may be combined with a parking lane or other barrier between the cycle track and the motor vehicle travel lane.

The second part of Klein’s statement is understandable: a project like Elston Avenue is considered a “protected bike lane” even though parts of it have no protection (between North and LeMoyne and between Augusta and Milwaukee). This new definition isn’t in line with the publications and communications so far published by the department or with NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Any street to receive only a “buffered bike lane” has strictly been labeled as such, and not with “buffer protected bike lane”. There’s nothing protective about 2-feet wider bike lane when riding between moving traffic and parked cars.

IDOT’s response to my inquiry was ambiguous: “That is certainly one of the issues we have discussed with CDOT and are working with them on, in terms of gathering data about safety impacts, traffic impacts and other operational issues.”

Active Transportation Alliance’s design guide follows NACTO’s definition. I recommend being as clear as possible and describing each project as a “bikeway” with certain various bikeway types within that project having names that are easily distinguishable (see page 103 in this PDF from the Active Transportation Alliance design guide). “Buffered protected” and “barrier protected” are unnecessary classifications for bikeway types already well-defined.

The federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) doesn’t define different bikeway types nor restricts the use of “buffered bike lanes” or “protected cycle tracks”.

Updated December 3 to fix tags and add link to MUTCD reference. 

6 thoughts on “Jackson Boulevard bike lane downgraded to buffered, to possibly be installed in spring 2013”

  1. If those definitions were from the MUTCD (ie from the federal government), I’d completely agree with you, but NACTO is not that. You’re nitpicking based on definitions from a group that has no power to force definitions on others.

    1. NACTO is a group that Chicago is apart of and whose guidelines CDOT has said they are following.

      Here’s what the Federal Highway Administration says about the MUTCD and “Protected cycle tracks, both one-way and two-way bicycle facilities”: “Not a traffic control device, so no MUTCD restriction on its use”. Link.

      About buffered bike lanes: “Can be implemented at present time if pavement markings that are compliant with the MUTCD are used”.

  2. I agree with you Steven, and this is very important. Calling a bike lane protected because it has a wide buffer of paint is incredibly disingenuous. If a lane with a wide buffer of paint is considered “protected”, why wouldn’t a lane with a narrow “buffer” of paint be considered “protected” as well? By this logic, all bike lanes are “protected” by a white stripe and the term “protected bike lane” loses all meaning. It’s not nitpicking, it’s calling out bad policy and it needs to be done by someone. Painted buffers simply do not provide the protection from double parking and vehicle incursion the way that physically protected bike lanes do, and it is misleading to imply otherwise.

    My hunch: Rahm Emmanuel promised 100 miles of protected bike lanes, but this is proving to be quite a difficult goal to meet. To make things easier, the city is simply changing the definition of what a protected bike lane is. This may help Chicago meet its bike lane goals, but it sets a terrible precedent for bike planning in general.

  3. I still think the best protection is a series of ginormous potholes in the cyclist’s lane of travel, regardless of the lane designation. Drivers in this city would rather hit their firstborn than a pothole.

  4. Since the Chicago DOT defines protected bike lanes as both barrier protected and buffered, then it would seem that the goal of 100 miles of protected bike lanes in four years pertains to both buffered and barrier protected bike lanes. Otherwise, they have fallen way behind in meeting their goal with less than 13 miles of barrier protected lanes completed in Mayor Emanuel’s first 18 months in office. There would have to be perhaps 35 miles of barrier protected bike lanes installed next year to get back on track to meeting a goal of 100 miles of barrier protected bike lane installations in four years. That doesn’t seem to be achievable considering the time its taking to install each mile of them so far.

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