Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology


The Wabash Avenue bike lanes, now classified as “buffer-protected.” Photo by John Lankford.

2012 was a banner year for bike lanes in Chicago. According to the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bikeways Tracker, by the end of the year the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) had completed or was in the process of building a total of 12.5 miles of protected bike lanes and 14.5 miles of buffered bike lanes. When Rahm Emanuel took office in last year our city had no protected or buffered bike lanes, but nineteen months later we’re now the national leader in providing enhanced on-street bikeways. That’s a huge achievement.

One issue that has come up is CDOT’s recent adoption of the terms “barrier-protected” and “buffer-protected” lanes to refer to what the department formerly called “protected” and “buffered” lanes. This change in terminology also seems to indicate a shift in goals.

Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Report, released in May of that year, announced the bold objective of building one hundred miles of protected bike lanes within the mayor’s first term. The document defined “protected lanes” as “separated from traveling cars and sit[ting] between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic.” As Grid Chicago readers know, buffered lanes are instead located to the left of the parking lane, with additional dead space striped on one or both sides of the bike lane to distance the bike lane from motorized traffic and/or opening car doors.

However, in recent months CDOT staff began using the new terminology, which redefines “protected lanes” to include buffered lanes. The press release for the terrific new two-way protected bike lane on Dearborn Street confirmed that the agency is now counting “buffer-protected” lanes towards the hundred-mile target. This means that instead of building one-hundred miles of physically separated lens by 2015, the new goal is to build a total of one hundred miles of “barrier-protected” and “buffer-protected” lanes.

I certainly don’t blame CDOT for changing their target. Building one hundred miles of physically separated lanes, plus dozens of additional miles of buffered lanes, within four years always seemed a bit unrealistic. It took a Herculean effort by the department’s small bike program staff to install the current number of protected lanes, often working far more than a nine-to five schedule. And I for one would be delighted if Chicago reaches, say, sixty-five miles of protected lanes and thirty-five miles of buffered lanes by 2015. It would make a huge difference in the city’s bike-ability.

The question is, would it have made more sense for CDOT to simply acknowledge the shift to a more realistic goal, rather than redefining buffered lanes as “protected” lanes just so that the city will be able to claim they met the hundred-mile goal? Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly graciously took time out on last Saturday to share his perspective on the issue with me.

Continue reading Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology

Introducing the Bike 2015 Plan Tracker


One of the strategies in the Bike 2015 Plan is to “establish 2 north-south bikeways and 4 east-west bikeways to and within the Loop by 2010” (see strategy details). No bikeways were built until the Madison Street westbound bikeway in 2011. Photo by Joseph Dennis. 

I was frustrated after a short bicycle ride on Lincoln Avenue Saturday night to the Heritage Bicycles party. A long stretch of the bike lane in the 43rd Ward received brand new striping and bicycle symbols last year but there were many “features” on the ride I didn’t appreciate: taxi drivers blocking the bike lane and making sudden u-turns, valets putting traffic cones in the bike lane, a pinch point under the ‘L’ viaduct at Lincoln and Wrightwood (created by the too-long parking lane), a long crack in the pavement where I wanted to ride to avoid the door zone, odd bike lane designs*, and lots of potholes. Dottie wrote about this sorry bike route in August.

Continue reading Introducing the Bike 2015 Plan Tracker

Community plans for life in Chicago and the region


Chicago and Chicagoland communities have officially adopted plans to provide more transportation opportunities, reduce obesity, and increase access to open space; they list how bicycling is or can be a strategy to achieve a healthy city, a bike-friendly city, and a green city. Here’s a sampling of those agendas:

I’d like there to be a Chicago-wide comprehensive plan that addresses goals and strategies outside the scope of these plans but still includes these efforts. A plan that concentrates on transit, congestion, on crime and safety, housing, education and the economy. Its purpose would be the same as the other plans, to outline targets and intentions and measures of achievement, but also to ensure that no plan and the people implementing the plan were working at cross-purposes. For example, if there’s a plan to increase the number of people who bike and the number of people who take transit, are the implementers of each plan working together to ensure a citizen’s smooth transition from one mode to the other in a single trip? Another example: If a goal is to increase the number of people who take transit, are implementers making buses run more on time by reducing single occupancy vehicle congestion and giving buses priorities at signals, two strategies that would speed up bus movement and make it easier to create a schedule they could stick to?

A plan like this that comes to mind is PlaNYC. From the article on Wikipedia about PlaNYC:

PlaNYC is an effort released by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007 to prepare the city for one million more residents, strengthen the economy, combat climate change, and enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The Plan brought together over 25 City agencies to work toward the vision of a greener, greater New York. PlaNYC specifically targets ten areas of interest: Housing and Neighborhoods; Parks and Public Spaces; Brownfields; Waterways; Water Supply; Transportation; Energy; Air Quality; Solid Waste; Climate Change.

Updated 21:36 to add more plans, thanks to the commenters. 

Harrison Street bridge: bike friendly but not during construction


The westbound lane is inside the construction zone and westbound travelers must drive in a narrowed part of the eastbound lanes – this makes the concrete-filled side, which are the safest place for bicycling on the bridge, inaccessible. Eastbound drivers block the concrete-filled side. 

The City of Chicago and its contractors show again that they can’t be responsible for providing appropriate and safe detours for bicyclists in or around construction projects.

I was downtown this morning for a meeting and had another meeting in Pilsen. It was raining, which is easy to deal with if you have fenders, lights, and a jacket. But it makes open metal grate bridges very slippery! From State and Adams south towards UIC or Pilsen, there’s only one bridge that’s treated, and that’s Harrison. Concrete was added to each side of the bridge during a rehabilitation project in 2009. I headed that way. Continue reading Harrison Street bridge: bike friendly but not during construction