Updated June 5, 2011: New information obtained from the alderman’s email newsletter; new design suggestions added based on comments. Please read the discussion in the comments below or the discussion on The Chainlink.

Tony Arnold of WBEZ reported Saturday morning, seemingly based on Alderman Reilly’s latest newsletter (see below for excerpt), that Kinzie Street will be the location of the city’s first protected bike lane.

OLD: He didn’t mention the extents but I bet on the west end it will be at Milwaukee Avenue and Desplaines Street (see photos of this intersection below), where thousands of bicyclists per day come downtown from Milwaukee; on the east end it would be either Wells Street (a one-way, southbound street), which has a treated metal grate bridge and bike lane, or State Street (a two-way street), where the bridge is completely covered in concrete. To Wells Street is 0.53 miles, and to State Street is 0.84 miles, using the measurement tool on Google Maps.

NEW: The extent is from Milwaukee Avenue and Desplaines Street to Wells Street, a distance of 0.53 miles.

I’m excited that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) chose a good location, even though I don’t think this location meets either of my two criteria: that it attract new people to bicycling for everyday trips and that it reduce the number of crashes. It will do both, but only because that is intrinsic of this kind of infrastructure. The kind of bikeway will have more effect on this than the location. People who will use this protected bike lane are already cycling on Kinzie Street and there’re very few crashes here (there were 6 in 2007-2009).

So what makes Kinzie Street in River North a good location?

  • People will be riding and using it from Day 1. It’s a place where people are already riding. After a month, and after a year (heck, after three years), no one will be able to complain of its lack of use. For detractors, this is a main point used to advocate for bikeway removals.
  • There are low barriers to implementation: there’s a very supportive Alderman, the road is wide, and low automobile traffic (this is my observation; there’re no traffic counts recorded on the City’s website).

While I’m sure that CDOT planners and engineers have been working at a furious pace since May 16th to get this new bikeway designed and ready to install, I have a couple suggestions I hope they will consider slipping into the project plan to make it even better:

Intersection design

Problem 1: Improve the intersection at Milwaukee, Desplaines, and Kinzie. Going southbound on Milwaukee at this intersection, you are presented with two lanes. One that is “left turn only” and has a left turn signal, and one wide lane that is for “straight”. But there are three directions to go. One can turn right onto Desplaines, turn left onto Desplaines, or go straight with a slight left into Kinzie. In which lane do you position yourself and which signal do you follow? Actually, which signal to follow is easier because there’s a green right-turn light, and a regular through light. It’s really the lane and positioning that matters.

Possible Solution: This could be made more clear with a bike-only left turn lane (like this one at Milwaukee/Canal/Clinton) with a bike signal head (not sure if a bike-only phase in the signal cycle will be necessary).

Problem 2: Drivers in the right-most northbound lane on Desplaines may try to turn right into Kinzie and this will cause conflicting movements with bicyclists entering Kinzie from Milwaukee.

Possible Solution: Ban right turns on red at this corner (but probably all corners) and enforce the ban.

Slippery bridge

Problem: The bridge over the Chicago River has an open metal grate deck – these are very dangerous for bicycling, especially when wet.

Possible Solution: Treat them. Use concrete infill, non-slip metal plates, or non-slip fiberglass plates.

New route signage

Problem: The signed bike route signage is too late for bicyclists to base their turn decision on. The sign is at the intersection (see photo) and those who want to turn left towards Wells Street will then have to make a box turn instead of being able to make a left turn from the left turn lane.

Possible Solution: Install two signs, one before and one after the railroad viaduct which is north of this intersection along Milwaukee. The signs should say reach Wells Street via the Kinzie Cycle Track and position yourself in the left turn bike lane.

Bridge gap

Problem: The bridge seam on Desplaines at the south end of the intersection is extremely wide and deep. While not part of Kinzie, this problem could be fixed in the same project.

Possible Solution: Without reconstructing the bridge seam, I’m not aware of what can be done.

One more idea

Install a bike box at the intersection at westbound Kinzie at the top of the hill.

[flickr]photo:5796110579[/flickr]

Where thousands of bicyclists will probably start their journey on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane.

[flickr]photo:5796108567[/flickr]

I took this photo to try to demonstrate the confusion of where to position one’s self at the edge of the intersection if you want to travel “straight” into Kinzie Street (with a slight left). Do you put yourself in the left turn lane, or just to the right of the left turn lane?

This is history in the making – for Chicago only, of course. (These cities already have protected bike lanes.) Keep your eyes peeled for subsequent construction.

Excerpt about the lane from Alderman Reilly’s newsletter

Construction of the Kinzie cycle track is proposed to begin next week, and is expected to be completed by Chicago’s Bike to Work Day on June 17th. The Kinzie cycle track will introduce features that have not been seen to date with Chicago bike lanes, including:

  • flexible posts (delineators) to separate the bike lane from motor vehicle traffic;
  • pavement markings through intersections to indicate cyclist travel;
  • special pavement markings and signage; and
  • parking shifted off curb to provide additional buffer between cyclists and traffic. [It would be nice to know