Details on CDOT’s 150 miles of potential locations for enhanced lanes


John and Mike Amsden at a Streets for Cycling meeting at the Sulzer Library in Lincoln Square – photo by Serge Lubomudrov

Last May during the community input process for the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, Steven and I attended one of the public meetings at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park. At the open house Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) staff unveiled a map of potential locations for 110 miles of protected bike lanes and 40 miles of buffered lanes as part of a 645-mile bike network. Both of us left the meeting with the impression that CDOT was upping their goal from the 100 miles of physically separated protected lanes Rahm Emanuel had promised to install within his first term. Since then we’ve been reporting CDOT plans to install 110/40 by 2015, and we’ve never gotten feedback from CDOT that this was inaccurate.

In December, the press release for the Dearborn Street two-way protected lanes made it clear that CDOT is now referring to physically separated protected lanes as “barrier-protected” and calling buffered lanes “buffer protected,” and their current goal is to install a total of 100 miles of the two different types of lanes by the end of the mayor’s first term. In the wake of this terminology shift and apparent change in plans, I asked CDOT bikeways planner Mike Amsden for some clarification about what happened to the 150 miles of proposed lanes shown on the map.


Map of CDOT’s potential protected and buffered lane locations unveiled last May. Existing and proposed protected and buffered lanes are shown in blue; the rest of the proposed 645-mile bike network is shown in brown. Click here for a larger map.

“Thanks for the question,” Mike wrote. “The map showing 150 miles of buffer- and barrier-protected bike lanes is based solely off roadway width. It was produced to show there are enough streets throughout the City that are wide enough for protected lanes, but it was not intended to change the mileage goal set forth in the Mayor’s Transition Plan. You may notice that while there are 150 miles of streets identified, those streets do not necessarily create the most connected bikeway network. In fact, several of the streets in the 150-mile network were left off the final Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 network due to lack of connectivity or redundancy in certain areas.”

“And roadway width isn’t the only determining factor as we move forward with our designs,” Mike added. “Community, aldermanic and state approvals are needed before we can install protected lanes. These 100 miles will consist of the best accommodation we can provide block by block – be it barrier- or buffer- protected – based off of roadway width, traffic characteristics, context within the community, and aldermanic and state approvals where jurisdiction is an issue.”


De la Vergne and Amsden at the Jeff Park open house.

Although Steven and I interpreted the map and comments made at the meeting by Mike and Streets for Cycling project consultant Mark de la Vergne to mean CDOT intended to install all 150 miles of lanes by 2015, it makes sense that they never expected to get approval for all the potential locations they proposed. And, as I’ve written before, even if this means there will only be, say, 65 miles of protected and 35 miles of buffered lanes installed by 2015, that would still make an enormous difference in the city’s level of bike-friendliness.

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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.

11 thoughts on “Details on CDOT’s 150 miles of potential locations for enhanced lanes”

  1. I just wish the city would make more clear where it plans to install new bikeways. As it stands today, we typically find out about a new lane once installation begins. I’d like more transparency into future planned bike lanes.

    And yes, I am aware of the 2020 plan, but that does not provide a timeline describing which lanes will be installed and when.

    1. Pages 50-52 in the Streets for Cycling plan lists, on a year-by-year basis, specific street segments scheduled to get new bikeways by May 2015. But I agree that more transparency and information should be provided once a bikeway is scheduled for installation. CDOT currently has a PDF of “current bikeway projects” on their site, but it hasn’t been updated since last May. Ideally, there should be a web page that lists each project’s details, including the justification for the chosen facility type and a link to a PDF of striping plans.

      1. I once built, with Drupal, the structure of a website I called “Project Watch”. It’s kind of like my existing Fatality Tracker and like CTA Tattler’s CTA Station Watch. It would attempt to keep track of the progress, money expenditures, and contractor relationships of every non-road transportation project in Chicago.

        The architecture wasn’t complete, and I didn’t feel like continuing it.

        I don’t think it should be my job to do that. I talked to Gabe Klein about CDOT having a feature, which is more commonly known as a dashboard. He said he wanted to do it (and he may have said it more publicly than an on-the-record conversation with me). He created one in Washington, D.C., but there’s not one (yet?) for Chicago.

        1. There isn’t such a feature, because CDOT is chronically understaffed. It was understaffed when I retired in 2010, and it’s getting worse. And Mayor Emanuel has no incentive to fix that right now, as there is little revenue coming in to pay for it.

          1. This is exactly the kind of project that Gabe Klein could motivated the dedicated developer community in Chicago (which he has met and with whom he has interacted) could be tasked to build… for free.

            To get an example of their expertise, visit OpenCityApps.

  2. To show a comparison of what can happen when trying to carry out a bike plan, the city of Los Angeles has a goal to install 200 miles of bikeways in 5 years. Using a constrained budget, the bulk of this mileage mainly involves trying to put unprotected bike lanes on arterial streets, since bike lanes is the cheapest bikeways to install per mile. However, there are no arterial streets left under the bike plan that would not involve removing either a parking lane or motor vehicle travel lane to make enough room for the bike lanes.

    I attended a neighborhood council meeting last night where several of the twenty or so attendees did not want the 1-2 minute expected increased travel time from taking away a 2.4 mile vehicle lane in order to put in the bike lanes. I even heard a suggestion that the bicyclists should use residential streets instead, and that the city should build a bridge over the LA river to connect the cyclists on the residential street to the subway at the Universal subway station. That is not possible as Universal Studios is on one side of the street and on the other there are no residential streets that run parallel to the arterial street, plus there is a park that is in the way.

    Imagine what the reaction will be when the idea is presented to community members that live near streets that would have an expected extra 20 minute delay in motorized vehicle travel time after bike lanes are installed. So, why would the city even bother checking to see the reaction to having a twenty minute increase in travel time on a 3.2 mile street? Because its on the bike plan.

    The traffic engineers are smart in not actually doing the plan for a street until they get the ok first from the city council members after they hear from community members. It would be a waste of time to draw up the plans and then get turned down, or put the bike lanes in, then have to remove them almost immediately.

    1. 1. Why would there be an additional 20 minutes of travel time after a bike lane is installed? That sounds preposterous.

      2. One thing about making a plan: it’s supposed to represent what the citizens want. Planners go out and ask, “Where do you want bike lanes?” Then the city council and mayor say, “This is the desire of the citizens, we’ll make it happen” and you do it. Things have to be moved around a bit sometimes. We didn’t elect Mayor Emanuel to “try” and build 100 miles of protected bike lanes (which now includes a variable number of non-protected, buffered bike lanes because the Chicago Department of Transportation changed the definition of the buffered bike lane facility type). We elected him to do it.

      1. Answer to your first point Steven:

        The expected increased travel time differences has to do with the number of vehicles due to the population density of the area and the number of travel lanes.

        A LADOT bikeways engineer at the meeting mentioned the expected 1-2 minute increase in average vehicle travel time after the travel lane is removed on 2.4 miles of Lankershim Blvd in the San Fernando Valley–which has some of the lowest population density in the city.

        The highest traffic count that I found for the part of Lankershim Blvd that is to get bike lanes is 40,000 vehicles a day and that is in the area where Universal Studios is located. This street intersection has 8 travel lanes and 1 turn lane.

        Another section of this street which is also to get bike lanes had a count of 23,000 vehicles a day. This intersection has 4 travel lanes and 1 turn lane.

        The street that was mentioned which is expected to have an additional 20 minute delay in motorized vehicle travel is Bundy Dr. That is in a much higher population density area of the city that has a greater level of traffic congestion at peak hours compared to Lankershim Blvd.

        The highest traffic count on Bundy Dr is 59,000 vehicles a day at an intersection that has only 4 travel lanes and 1 turn lane.

        Another intersection of Bundy Dr shows a count of 48,000 vehicles a day traveling on 4 travel lanes and 2 turn lanes.

        I remember reading a comment from a woman recently who lives just north of Bundy Dr in the wealthy community of Brentwood (Jay Leno lives there). She described her situation as being trapped from not being able to travel anywhere due to the level of congestion in the area. In other words, this area already is experiencing long travel times due to traffic. This may well be the most congested part of a city which has recently been rated the most traffic congested city in the country.

        The second point you made was that a bike plan is supposed to represent what the citizens want. The original draft of the 2010 LA bike plan was made in collaboration with Alta Planning and it had few bike lanes on arterial streets. Its main focus was on “bicycle friendly” streets, or bicycle boulevards as they are commonly called.

        The lack of bike lanes on arterial streets inspired some cyclists to form a group and come up with their own plan for a “bicycle backbone” network of bike lanes on major streets. These were reluctantly included by the city after some negociating about this and other demands by cyclists. A key reason why not many bike lanes were included on the original draft was the fear by city staff that there wasn’t the political support to put them in.

        Unfortunately, in the city of Los Angeles each council member has the final say whether bike lanes go in or not. If a council member decides that there is too many complaints about a bike lane that has gone in or is planned, then they simply tell the LADOT not to put it in or to make some changes. I’m finding out that some of the council members have very thin skins. At least one seems to not make a committment until he gets complaints, then he says that he is against doing it. Its like walking into a mine field to see which one will explode on you, or three sheets to the wind planning to find out where you’ll go.

        I had assumed that every residential area would love the idea of having traffic calmed streets that would come with the installation of a bicycle friendly design. I was wrong.

        The first bicyle friendly project was to be 4th street, which is west of downtown. There was two major arterials that needed signalization in order to make it safe and comfortable enough to bicycle across them on this street. However, some residents of the wealthy community of Hancock Park objected to having traffic signals installed. They thought it would encourage drivers to use the street as a cut-through. This issue was never resolved and so the plan is watered down for 4th St.

        Another case was Wilbur Ave in the San Fernando Valley. There was a problem of pedestrians walking through a crosswalk getting hit by vehicles. The DOT’s first simple solution was to take away the crosswalk. Afterall, you can’t hit a pedestrian if none are there.

        This upset one resident along Wilber Ave enough that he got 600 signatures in support of keeping the crosswalk. This caused the LADOT to decide on the next simplest solution which was to do a road diet to slow the vehicles down.

        It just so happened that this street was on the bike plan to have bike lanes installed. When the road diet was made by removing two vehicle travel lanes to install bike lanes and a center turn lane, the wealthier residents who did not live immediately along Wilbur Ave objected that their “speedway” was taken away. They came out in force to a neighborhood council meeting about it. This caused the council member for the area to request that the LADOT modify the design.

        The main delay in the flow of traffic on this street occurs on weekday mornings when parents drop off their children at a elementary school on Wilbur Ave.

        1. “This upset one resident along Wilber Ave enough that he got 600 signatures in support of keeping the crosswalk. This caused the LADOT to decide on the next simplest solution which was to do a road diet to slow the vehicles down.”

          Good on that neighbor!

      2. Adding bike lanes usually improves safety for all – bikers, pedestrians and even drivers. Ask anyone and they’d say that they would want safer streets. The problem is most people don’t realize that bike lanes increase safety for everyone and not just cyclists.

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