The Chainlink

Are the upcoming protected bike lanes and bike boulevard slated for good locations?

At the recent Streets for Cycling meetings, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced the next steps in the city's plan to build 250 miles of innovative bikeways. A 4.1-miles protected bike lane route along the West Side boulevards, a 1.5-mile protected lane along Garfield Boulevard, and a .9-mile "neighborhood greenway" (AKA bike boulevard) on Berteau Street (4200 N.) between Lincoln and Clark, are slated to be built this spring.

But does it make sense to install protected lanes along the boulevards? And is Berteau, which terminates in the middle of Graceland Cemetery, the best choice for the city's first bike boulevard? CDOT's Mike Amsden provides a detailed explanation of the reasoning behind these choices: http://gridchicago.com/2012/are-the-upcoming-streets-for-cycling-pr...

Keep moving forward,

John Greenfield

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As Mike Amsden points out in the interview, the vast majority of the stretches of boulevards slated to get protected lanes do NOT have service drives. The exception is Franklin Boulevard, between Central Park and Kedzie, which does has service drives. Mike describes the city's reasoning behind putting protected lanes on Franklin - see his quotes below. Read the full interview for the rationale behind building the bike boulevard on Berteau.

Mike Amsden on why the city will be installing protected lanes on Franklin Boulevard:

"The service drives are good to ride on, but a lot of them are controlled with stop signs and they don’t always match up with the intersections – sometimes it’s tricky to cross. When you get to the ends of each they don’t always provide good connections to get back to the main road. It will come down to a case-by-case basis. On the North Side, where most of the boulevards do have service drives, who knows what could happen up there. Just because we’re doing something here doesn’t mean the same thing will be applied to other roadways.

The other thing with Franklin is that while protected bike lanes are great bike routes, they’re also really good traffic calming and safety improvement projects, especially for pedestrians. You’ve got Westinghouse High School on the south side of Franklin there, and the students have a four-lane road to cross. We did traffic counts on the boulevards and found that on Independence Boulevard, for example, during a 24-hour period there more than a thousand cars speeding at over 45 miles per hour."

 aldermen would sometimes ask us to install racks at the end of a cul-de-sac to keep cars from driving over the curb, not because anyone would actually want to park a bike there.


That explains a lot.  I've been wondering for a long time why cul-de-sacs seem to have bike racks so often. 

A connection from Lincoln to Clark is not particularly useful since both streets are bikeable diagonal routes to/from downtown – there’s no need to transfer between them.

I found that to be a strange statement.  It's funny, when I heard about this, it sounded great because  I *constantly* want to go between Lincoln and Clark.  They're both popular shopping and dining destinations, it's pretty natural to go from one to another and the current east-west options aren't really that good.  The fact that they meet down on North Ave. is irrelevant, especially if you live in the neighborhood.

It seems to me there's a theme running here between you and the CDOT rep.  You seem to be focused on commuting and thinking of longer commuting routes, while CDOT is thinking about how to move people around their own neighborhoods.  I think CDOT has the larger vision here.  In terms of increasing biking, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit in the sense of people who just want to be able to bike to the park or the local cafe on Saturday morning but don't feel safe doing so.  That doesn't describe many people here on chainlink, but CDOT is right that that's where the next big jump in biking is going to come from.

Mike Amsden's statement, below, that the West Side Boulevards route is geared towards local residents who are looking for the safest bike route for getting around their communities makes sense, and it was a bit of an eye-opener for me.

On the other hand, it seems like just about any street with a protected lane should be fairly safe and comfortable to ride on, so why not just put protected lanes on the most useful and convenient routes? Part of the reason is that they want to make the boulevards safer for peds and motorists as well by using the protected lanes to narrow the roadway and deter speeding - certainly a worthy goal.

Mike said:

"We’ve heard, especially at the West Side meeting, from the people who live out there, how great it is that we’re doing something. So we’re really trying to make sure we’re pleasing the people who live out there.

For people who have been riding a long time [the West Side Boulevards route] may not always make the most sense because it’s not the most direct, straight, fastest route. But the people that we’re trying to reach are not always concerned with the fastest route, they’re concerned with the safest route that gets them to where them to where they want to go, and that’s really what we think we’re doing here.

It’s neighborhood use, the parks and also there’s the Pink Line [California station] a quarter mile east of Marshall Boulevard, there’s the Blue Line [Pulaski stop] a quarter mile west of Independence. We’re trying to get neighborhood residents to use their bikes for a variety of different purposes."



David said:

 aldermen would sometimes ask us to install racks at the end of a cul-de-sac to keep cars from driving over the curb, not because anyone would actually want to park a bike there.


That explains a lot.  I've been wondering for a long time why cul-de-sacs seem to have bike racks so often. 

A connection from Lincoln to Clark is not particularly useful since both streets are bikeable diagonal routes to/from downtown – there’s no need to transfer between them.

I found that to be a strange statement.  It's funny, when I heard about this, it sounded great because  I *constantly* want to go between Lincoln and Clark.  They're both popular shopping and dining destinations, it's pretty natural to go from one to another and the current east-west options aren't really that good.  The fact that they meet down on North Ave. is irrelevant, especially if you live in the neighborhood.

It seems to me there's a theme running here between you and the CDOT rep.  You seem to be focused on commuting and thinking of longer commuting routes, while CDOT is thinking about how to move people around their own neighborhoods.  I think CDOT has the larger vision here.  In terms of increasing biking, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit in the sense of people who just want to be able to bike to the park or the local cafe on Saturday morning but don't feel safe doing so.  That doesn't describe many people here on chainlink, but CDOT is right that that's where the next big jump in biking is going to come from.

+1

"A connection from Lincoln to Clark is not particularly useful since both streets are bikeable diagonal routes to/from downtown – there’s no need to transfer between them."

I found that to be a strange statement.  It's funny, when I heard about this, it sounded great because  I *constantly* want to go between Lincoln and Clark.  They're both popular shopping and dining destinations, it's pretty natural to go from one to another and the current east-west options aren't really that good.  The fact that they meet down on North Ave. is irrelevant, especially if you live in the neighborhood.

 

It seems to me there's a theme running here between you and the CDOT rep.  You seem to be focused on commuting and thinking of longer commuting routes, while CDOT is thinking about how to move people around their own neighborhoods.  I think CDOT has the larger vision here.  In terms of increasing biking, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit in the sense of people who just want to be able to bike to the park or the local cafe on Saturday morning but don't feel safe doing so.  That doesn't describe many people here on chainlink, but CDOT is right that that's where the next big jump in biking is going to come from.

 

I completely agree with Cameron here except for the real issue on Logan isn't so much between Western and Kedzie but the actual crossing of Western and going under the train tracks and the Kennedy.  Those spots are downright dangerous.   Once one gets across Western and the pinchy-bumpouts at the Eastern edge of the intersection where the city thinks they can jam 5 lanes of traffic and bikes on either end in a pinched section the going is fairly decent other than the fact that it needs repaving in the worst way.  I've seen smoother mine-fields, especially in the outer-most portion of the road where bikes are pushed by the cars that are racing the drag-lights off the green. 

As far as the bike racks at the ends of cul-de-sacs it makes sense.  They are blowing bicycle-funding money on "car barriers" with cash that comes directly out of the budget that makes people say, "look how much money we spent on bike parking" when really it is being diverted to put up "fencing" or barriers to keep cars from jumping the curb.

This is typical of the kinds of waste this city is plagued with because of the crony-alderman system.  



Cameron Puetz said:

In general I would say that putting protected bike lanes on the boulevards is a waste because the service drives already offer good ridding conditions. However protected lanes could be useful in filling in the gaps in the service roads, like the stretch being used for the pilot project. They key would be to design the ends of the protected lane segments to allow cyclists to easily transition between the service drives and protected lanes. I'd also like to see this done on Humboldt Drive through the park and on Logan Boulevard between Western and Elston.

 

The Berteau project seems like an example of building something because it's easy, not because it's useful. It's short and only connects places that are already well connected.

I've got a feeling the Logan/Western "meatgrinder," as it's been called, will be addressed by the Streets for Cycling plan. Might be a good place for through-the-intersection bike lane markings, ala Cortland and Clybourn. I'm sure that lots of people have marked Logan/Western as a danger zone on the map of the West Side region provided at the meetings.

James BlackHeron said:

I completely agree with Cameron here except for the real issue on Logan isn't so much between Western and Kedzie but the actual crossing of Western and going under the train tracks and the Kennedy.  Those spots are downright dangerous.   Once one gets across Western and the pinchy-bumpouts at the Eastern edge of the intersection where the city thinks they can jam 5 lanes of traffic and bikes on either end in a pinched section the going is fairly decent other than the fact that it needs repaving in the worst way.  I've seen smoother mine-fields, especially in the outer-most portion of the road where bikes are pushed by the cars that are racing the drag-lights off the green. 

From an engineering point of view I am very interested in how they plan on "fixing" the mess that is the Logan Blvd underpass.

I feel that this area definitely fits under the "do the easy stuff first and the hard stuff last"  category on the hard side.

The intersection is dangerous enough for motor vehicles and I'd like to see some crash statistics for autos there.  I'm constantly surprised that with all the areas in town where right on red is not allowed that the off-ramp on Westbound 90/84 onto Western is NOT marked no right on red.  Traffic flies up northbound Western and with the bridge columns in the way the visibility is very limited to pull out on red.  I've seen quite a few close calls right there.

It's like the city has just given up on this entire intersection in disgust and with no plan of what to do and like Pontious Pilate has washed their hands of it and walked away.  I think the train overpass is a big part of the problem and looking at how the Kennedy bridge is so differently situated (with all the room they made into the skate park) that someone had different plans for it years ago and it never materialized.  I think because of the railroad and their not wanting to renovate or change that RR overpass has been much of the problem and hold-up.  

IMHO Trying to fix the intersection without doing something about that bridge is like attempting to put a band-aid on burst artery.  I think they feel they might as well let it bleed for now.  But I am really interested on what kind of band-aid they come up with.  Maybe some thinking out of the box might actually make an improvement.   But I don't think it is going to be easy and I fear because of this it is not going to come as soon as we all hope.   It's a double tragedy that the next-closest alternative route is Diversey -which the city just made worse this year with the new lane markings inexplicably shoving 4 lanes through that narrow corridor/underpass.

I agree but there would need to be at the very least a left-turn lane in each direction at the Western intersection.  This would probably leave enough room for a marked bike lane in each direction and still allow traffic to move (otherwise left-turning traffic would totally bring all movement to a stop.)

It still would lower the number of cars that could make it through the light from a stop and I think that maybe the city would worry that traffic would back up both ways -perhaps all the way back and interfere with traffic attempting to pull out of the Target lot or the building across the street with the Gym.  It might even back up all the way to Elston.  Who knows, but the math to figure this out isn't magic -they should at least run the numbers and see if it would work.

Even if this worked out I would be very uncomfortable with a lane running along the metal traffic barrier going Westbound unless it was an actual protected lane  People can't drive and this area would be unsafe IMHO even with painted lines or simple bollards.  I'd want concrete. I've seen cars totally space this curve and the scars on the metal guardrail attest to the many times it has been hit.  I don't want to be the bike between a car and this guardrail with no place to go  Those brave fools who ride the lane here now astound me.  I take the sidewalk here.  My life is worth more than that.  A bike "lane" wouldn't make me feel any safer as nothing would really have changed except for traffic would be even more backed up into one lane and people getting crazier in their cars.


Cameron Puetz said:

One of the main problems with that intersection is the turbulence from all the width shifts on Logan. Logan is a wide four lane with a service drive west of the mess, then a wide four lane under the expressway, then a pinched four lane under the railroad, and finally a two lane with bike lanes east of the mess. If Logan were kept to two lanes with a bike lane until after the pinch point created by the railroad tracks, and the extra space under the expressway was used to create a path for cyclists to transition from the bike lane to the service drive, that corner would be vastly improved. The current configuration where the bike lane disappears and the road widens just before the pinch point created by the railroad bridge is a recipe for disaster.




The problem with this hope and a prayer idea is that the west side region starts at the kennedy, where the north side ends. Will these regions be combined to create a unified system in which infrastructure crosses regions (where it is needed most - highways, river, viaducts)? And then, who will pay for it? Much of the plan counts on matched money from alderman menu funds. Guess who presides over the Logan-Western intersection? Technically two alderman but good luck getting either to touch it. This is the city that works (hard to avoid responsibility) after all.

John Greenfield said:

I've got a feeling the Logan/Western "meatgrinder," as it's been called, will be addressed by the Streets for Cycling plan. Might be a good place for through-the-intersection bike lane markings, ala Cortland and Clybourn. I'm sure that lots of people have marked Logan/Western as a danger zone on the map of the West Side region provided at the meetings.

I'm working on the answer for you right now, James. 


James BlackHeron said:

From an engineering point of view I am very interested in how they plan on "fixing" the mess that is the Logan Blvd underpass.

I feel that this area definitely fits under the "do the easy stuff first and the hard stuff last"  category on the hard side.

The intersection is dangerous enough for motor vehicles and I'd like to see some crash statistics for autos there.  I

I feel the same way.  The budget covers a limited number of bike rack installations every year.  Having 2 bike racks wasted along the curb where the Major Taylor Trail meets 95th St. seems stupid to me.  (Note: This street view image was taken BEFORE installation of the racks. They're now in the center foreground of the scene shown here.)  The adjacent Harris Bank has its own racks, and I've never seen anyone ride to other nearby businesses.  It would have made more sense simply to have reflective signs on posts and put those racks where we actually need them, like next to the 91st St. Metra station 1/2 mile to the north.

About Logan & Western, those pinch points on either side of the intersection are brutal.  I hope there's a good solution to make this horrible intersection safer for everyone.

James BlackHeron said:

As far as the bike racks at the ends of cul-de-sacs it makes sense.  They are blowing bicycle-funding money on "car barriers" with cash that comes directly out of the budget that makes people say, "look how much money we spent on bike parking" when really it is being diverted to put up "fencing" or barriers to keep cars from jumping the curb.

This is typical of the kinds of waste this city is plagued with because of the crony-alderman system.  

Is that the section of the path that was previously fenced off so you had to detour around the fencing on streets? If so, has the fencing been removed?

Anne Alt said:

I feel the same way.  The budget covers a limited number of bike rack installations every year.  Having 2 bike racks wasted along the curb where the Major Taylor Trail meets 95th St. seems stupid to me.  (Note: This street view image was taken BEFORE installation of the racks. They're now in the center foreground of the scene shown here.)  The adjacent Harris Bank has its own racks, and I've never seen anyone ride to other nearby businesses.  It would have made more sense simply to have reflective signs on posts and put those racks where we actually need them, like next to the 91st St. Metra station 1/2 mile to the north.

About Logan & Western, those pinch points on either side of the intersection are brutal.  I hope there's a good solution to make this horrible intersection safer for everyone.

James BlackHeron said:

As far as the bike racks at the ends of cul-de-sacs it makes sense.  They are blowing bicycle-funding money on "car barriers" with cash that comes directly out of the budget that makes people say, "look how much money we spent on bike parking" when really it is being diverted to put up "fencing" or barriers to keep cars from jumping the curb.

This is typical of the kinds of waste this city is plagued with because of the crony-alderman system.  

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