The Chainlink

Thanks to John for bringing this issue to light. 

Did you ever notice how the glass panels of standard CTA bus shelters don’t go all the to the roof, so that when you wait for a ride during a heavy rainstorm you tend to get wet anyway? Have you used a public bench that was sort of uncomfortable because city planners wanted to make sure it would be almost impossible to sleep on? Ever noticed that urban bridges often have large boulders placed underneath them to create an uneven surface, or how window frames sometimes feature spiky fixtures to deter people from sitting on them? That’s called defensive architecture, strategies to discourage loitering that often have the effect of making public space less useable and welcoming for all of us.

It appears that the city of Chicago wants to use bicycle infrastructure as a form of defensive architecture, by installing bike lanes on the wide sidewalks in Lake Shore Drive’s Lawrence and Wilson viaducts in Uptown. For years people experiencing homelessness have camped out on the sidewalks within the underpasses, many of them using provided by homeless advocates. On occasion the city has forced these folks to remove their belongings, such as before a 2015 Mumford & Sons concert at nearby Montrose Beach, which has often resulted in protests by advocates and threats of lawsuits. The situation has been a constant headache for city officials, especially bike-friendly local alderman James Cappleman.

To varying degrees, I’m sympathetic to all involved parties. It’s generally not lawful to camp out in public space in Chicago, and it’s understandable that some of Cappleman’s constituents don’t feel they should have to pass through an illegal homeless encampment in order to walk to the beach.

On the other hand, these tent cities provide the residents with shelter from the elements, safety in numbers, and a sense of community. These locations make it easy for them to be located by people who wish to offer donations of goods and services and check on their wellbeing. Moreover, the encampments are a high-profile symbol of our city’s failure to adequately address its homelessness problem, which is one reason they’re so embarrassing for politicians.

As reported by the Sun-Times’ Mark Brown, the city is planning to install bike lanes on the sidewalks of the viaducts as part of the reconstruction of the viaducts, which is slated to begin next month. Presumably the new bikeways will be similar to the sidewalk lanes in a Metra viaduct on Randolph between Canal and Clinton in the West Loop.

Full Article on Streetsblog Chicago:

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Very interesting.

Usually the installation of new cycling infrastructure creates good feelings: up with the egalitarian, accessible bike lanes, down with the polluting, expensive cars! ;)

But here, the cycling infrastructure seems to come at the expense of the least fortunate people in the city. Not such a good feeling.

The one on Randolph is a disaster, because it's usually blocked by pedestrians headed to the train and right-turning vehicles. A lot of cyclists just take the lane at this point to avoid the hassle.


How sad to learn that the disaster probably was created on purpose because homeless people used to sleep there.

Do you know that about Randolph, or are you assuming it based on the article?

There were no major issues with people camping out in the Randolph viaduct before the bike lane was installed. I'm still not a big fan of that set-up -- it would have been easy for the city to convert one of several travel lanes within the underpass to a protected bike lane, as was done on the rest of Randolph in the Loop, instead of putting the bike lane on the sidewalk.

If you're asking whether I personally know that homeless people used to sleep under the Randolph viaduct, the answer is yes, I know that they did.

Thanks. My memory aligns with John's, but I was curious whether you remembered otherwise.

I'm sure people occasionally slept under the Randolph viaduct, but it wasn't like there was a 24/7 tent city there, as is the case with the Uptown viaducts. I believe it's still possible to sleep on the south sidewalk the Randolph viaduct, so it seems unlikely that that the sidewalk bike lane was installed to prevent homeless people from sleeping in the underpass. Rather, this is the the last block before the Randolph protected lane meets up with the Clinton PBL, and the city decided to go with the sidewalk design rather than converting a travel lane in the viaduct.

Yes, this seems accurate.

The one block bike lane on Roosevelt is even worse as you have to come off the sidewalk cross over the crosswalk a bus lane and onto Roosevelt which ranks in bike friendliness along with Western or North ave.

Actually, what you're suppose to do there is head north on a path past the skate park to the 11th Street bridge, then follow paths east and south again under Columbus Drive and LAke Shore Drive to the Lakefront Trail by the Shedd Aquarium. It's indirect, but a safe alternative to Roosevelt. 

Meanwhile the Lathrop homes on Diversey and Clybourn are mostly vacant as the city fights over whether they should assisted/low income housing or market rate apartments.

The continuing gentrification of Uptown and the closing of SRO's men's housing and cheap hotels leave them no option.

No one wants to see the poor or homeless anyway.

It's an age long urban conundrum. There are homeless shelters, but not nearly enough. And only a subset of the homeless benefit from them, as they are temporary. The problem is that there aren't enough long term residences to answer the needs (and not enough services for those with addiction/substance abuse/ mental illness as causes of their homelessness). Finally, a small subset of the homeless will always actually prefer to live outside because they can't tolerate the restrictions/rules/adherence to structure required to gain permanent shelter.
Tents under the underpasses aren't the answer. There are health concerns with that, as well as the domino effect of risks that a missing walkway/bike lane bring on...The pedestrian/cyclist takes to the street and has a greater chance of being struck by a vehicle, etc.
They should build the bike lane, and our City should separately address the homelessness with a better solution than a city of tents under a roadway.



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