Chicago’s first protected bike lane to go in on Kinzie Street

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.

Array

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

Array

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

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.
  • http://blog.theplannersdreamgonewrong.com jason tinkey

    Great news, I think it’s smart to implement on it an established route. But I agree, gotta do something about that bridge and intersection!

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Is there anything else about the intersection that needs to be improved, that I may have missed?

  • http://blog.theplannersdreamgonewrong.com jason tinkey

    Great news, I think it’s smart to implement on it an established route. But I agree, gotta do something about that bridge and intersection!

  • Bec

    Speaking of slippery bridges, have you seen the new concrete infill bike lanes on the Randolf Street bridge? http://dingdingletsride.com/2011/06/04/the-randolph-street-bridge-is-open-now-with-bike-lanes/

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I haven’t seen ‘em but I’ve heard about them. Concrete infill is wonderful. And I like how they’re on both sides of the bridge. This is good thinking: 1, it’s legal to ride a bike on the left side of a one-way street; 2, in the future, but doubtfully, the street could be two-way.

      They’re not officially bike lanes because they lack signage, markings, and connectivity to the network. 

  • Grandcrewno2

    One thing that will need to happen is that the right most northbound lane of Desplaines will need new signage prohibiting right turns on red so that there are not conflicts with bicyclists entering the start of the protected bike lane from Milwuakee, regardless of what new treatment the intersection is given (probably a dedicated left turn lane of some kind for cyclists off of Mke). But I trust the experts at CDOT’s bikeways planning department to do it right.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I agree with you completely and I’ve added your suggestion to the post. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m a big fan of protected bike lanes, but starting this lane at Milwaukee/DesPlaines just seems like a remarkably bad idea to me.  The problem is that there’s a very steep downhill decline between Desplaines and Clinton.   That means you constantly have lots of bikes traveling at very different speeds, and this lane is going to trap them in a small space designed for slower speeds.   Right now, this works fine because the cyclists spread out all over the right lane (because of the downhill speeds, taking over the lane is no problem). 

    Secondly, Clinton and Canal are a couple of dicey intersections with lots of turning traffic and no traffic lights.  This works out OK now because the cyclists largely tend to take over the right lane dramatically increasing their visibility.  If bikes are now going to appear from a completely different place that auto drivers are absolutely not used to, the chances of serious accidents are going to increase dramatically.

    My fear is that somebody in an office is looking at this thinking “there are stop signs there; the bikes will be fine because they’ll stop at the stop sign”.   As we all know, that’s just not reality.   Once drivers and cyclists are used to protected lanes, one might work fine in this stretch.  As the first experimental protected lane, though, it seems to me to be a terrible choice (though between the river and Wells or further would be fine).

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Your comment and complaint about this location seems to be more about intersection design than this specific location (I refer to your comment about the hill below).

      The issues you describe about Clinton and Canal intersections with Kinzie are the same that you will have at intersections with any other combination of streets. Intersections are a problem and need to be dealt with within each project on a junction by junction basis.

      CDOT has not communicated to the public anything about this project, so its entire design is relatively unknown (aside from what we know that was written in the alderman’s newsletter).

      Your observation about the maneuvers and behaviors cyclists exhibit on the down hill are new and unique. And something that CDOT, the project designer, should consider. There’s a place in Copenhagen and Portland where the bike lane was double in size but only on the uphill approach to a bridge. This was mainly so that faster moving cyclists can pass slower moving cyclists while still riding in the bike lane.

      You said, “Once drivers and cyclists are used to protected lanes, one might work fine in this stretch.” -This will be the case for every protected bike lane location. After an adjustment period, and if the bikeway was logically designed, everything will “work fine.”

      Since you’re anonymous, you won’t receive a notification that I replied, but I hope you come back to read my response.

      • Anonymous

        My comments about the intersections are also largely about the downhill.  Stand at those corners one day, bikes go through those stop signs at very high speeds because of the downhill.  It’s the combination of the downhill, 3-way intersections of busy streets (i.e., a high percentage of turning cars), and the presence of stop signs rather than traffic lights that make this stretch uniquely problematic for this test.  

        I really don’t think these are like other intersections in the city; they certainly aren’t like any other intersections I commonly encounter.  I’m admittedly extremely surprised that you think they are typical.  Chicago is a pretty flat city, these steep inclines are extremely rare and have unique issues.

        I was going to add that because of the issues with the park, I suspect the CDOT isn’t really going to start the lane at Milwaukee, but I see below that this really is the plan.  We’re putting the first protected bike lane on a very steep decline on a stretch that’s constantly filled with small kids going between their parents’ car and the park.  It really only takes one tragedy to mar this program for a long time.  I hope that doesn’t happen.

        I’d add that I think between the river and Wells on Kinzie is an excellent place for a model protected bike lane, so I’m not against the lanes in general at all.  It’s just the stretch between Desplaines and the river that’s dicey.

        • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

          On second thought, I see your point / description a little more clearly.

          I no longer see the Clinton intersection as typical, and it’s not typical because of the viaduct that goes over 90% of the intersection footprint. The columns and the darkness block views and sightlines.

          Clinton, I believe, is far enough from the hill that cyclists and drivers will “transition” from their fast downhill speed to a more regular speed. Personally I lightly apply brakes on the downhill portion so I never reach the full, natural downhill speed of my person and my bike. I don’t want to get involved in a crash at high speed. I presume others do this as well.

          Plans and projects can change. Keep your eyes and ears open tomorrow, which may be the first day of construction.

  • Michelle

    I’m was so excited to read this news on Reilly’s newsletter. Below is a copy, in case you haven’t seen it yet. It does specify Wells to Milwaukee. And construction begins next week and the project is supposed to be done by June 17th, for Bike to Work week. Wow.

    http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=fn8xeqcab&v=001qTUVg_-IEA7L6oAQqFqgFxODF0gxXFb_huwQh_hvAWl_VvNnB_10Mbvom6wTEtRHzdDCu85OsZcJBysQPjL0P40nsgj5lV9A2MOrKYciDuGUNcVAL1ca4A%3D%3D#kinziecycletrack

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Thanks for the link to the newsletter!

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Thanks for the link to the newsletter!

      • Michelle

        You’re welcome. I rode the stretch today to check it out for pros and cons. Pros are 1/ it connects two very bike-friendly streets (relatively, for Chicago) of Wells and Milwaukee. 2/ It is pretty wide and as you said, has low-ish vehicle traffic. 3/ It’s getting closer to areas from which tourists rent bikes (lakefront), and therefore one step closer to having a true integrated network of streets that feel safe enough to use by old, young and visitor. 4/ The scenery is nice and the river crossing at Kinzie with the view toward downtown is iconic. Yes, these things matter to me! 

        The cons are 1/ the bridge is narrow and so even with bright demarcation for the bike lane, there will be no buffer zone there. 2/ The route includes the ONE STEEP UP HILL in all of the city when you’re heading west. Well, nothing to do about that one, and at least Blommer’s gives out free chocolate smells as incentive to keep pushing the pedals. 3/ It’s such a short distance, and there’s so much more work to do. But man, to “rahm” something into place within a month of taking office — fantastic!

  • Anonymous

    Cross-posted from my comments on the chainlink:
    Some thoughts (in no particular order).
    - Say what you want about the new Emanuel administration, but they are not kidding around. After a serious lack of developments in the last few years of the Daley administration, this is a breath of fresh air. Emanuel shows a sense of urgency that this city lacked. How would I congratulate the parties involved in making this decision?
    - The article doesn’t state it clearly (or does it?), but will the tracks be in both directions? The article appears to be talking about east bound cycle traffic only.
    - Assuming the bike lane will be in both directions, I will ride it twice a day, In the morning from Wells to Clinton, In the afternoon from Clinton to Franklin.
    - Eastbound on Kinzie, just before the bridge, there are some serious potholes in the concrete. Would be nice if they could fix that before they put in a bike lane.
    - Are they planning on painting thru-lanes across the Kinzie-Canal intersection? Car traffic  from Canal making a right turn onto Kinzie often barely stops, and it would be nice if they get a visual cue about the existence of a bike lane.
    - I agree with your comment that this would be a great opportunity to improve the riding surface of the bridge.
    - Overall I am looking forward to it. I think it will be a great opportunity to show that cycle tracks can improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.
    - While the safety improvements will become clear in the crash statistics, there are a lot of things that can make a bikelane good or
    bad from a user perspective. They should have a formal evaluation
    process after 6 months or a year to see what works what and what
    doesn’t.- .53 miles is too short to really change riders behavior. I am not
    going to ride an extra few blocks so that I can ride the protected bike
    lane for a few blocks. From that respect it’s not a great choice.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Another issue at Kinzie-Canal is the lack of sight, going eastbound on Kinzie, caused by the mid-height concrete barrier separating the sidewalk and the adjacent parking lot. 

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Here’s my response:
      Thanks for your input.
      I don’t think there’s any reason to not assume it will be both directions.
      If the potholes aren’t fixed, call them in to 311. As it is concrete, this section of the roadway cannot/will not be as easily replaced as an asphalt-topped roadway.
      The newsletter says that “through” pavement markings will be installed at intersections, without specifying any intersections.
      I agree – a study should follow this project. By follow, I mean, alongside its progress and not come afterwards. I hope CDOT took traffic counts on this segment before construction starts.
      As Rahm “promised” 2 miles, this should just be the first quarter of that 2 miles.

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  • Joe

    Are they planning on marking the lanes? I ride this route every day and all week there were cars parked in the right lane.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I assume they will, as CDOT has marked every bike lane in the past. This would include a sign that says, “[this lane] bikes only,” as well as bicycle symbols on the pavement. Those are the additional elements that make a bike lane an official (and complete) bike lane. 

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I assume they will, as CDOT has marked every bike lane in the past. This would include a sign that says, “[this lane] bikes only,” as well as bicycle symbols on the pavement. Those are the additional elements that make a bike lane an official (and complete) bike lane. 

  • Mcass777

    I added this at the Activetransportation blog and thought I would post it here too…I think the lanes are confusing for bikers and drivers. I have been riding the stretch for about 10 years and always felt comfortable along Kinzie. With the new paint the whole street gets confusing and is dangerous right from the top of the Kinzie/Milwaukee intersection. Add the speed you get coming down the hill headed east, the occasional heavy traffic when the Mart has a big show (like this week) and you’re set up for problems for everyone. I am not sure where cars are supposed to park and where bikes are to drive so street and lane signage needs to be increased.If I have this right, the cyclists will be riding at the curb with parked cars kicked out about 8 feet into the street. But this takes the cyclist out of the traffic flow. The Jefferson and Clinton intersections funnel cyclists into the flow of traffic after the cyclists and cars have been separated. A car turning right may be unaware of a cyclist on their far right and the cyclist is unable to see the right turn signal of the car on their far left.The Kinzie St bridge is really wide enough for one car but when traffic is bad, side by side cars are the norm. For the biker it means an abrupt dead end to the bike lane and possibly being pushed up on the sidewalk. This has always been an issue at the location. It would be ideal to pave a bike lane into the bridge deck to help keep cars off the bike lane and keep bikes having to navigate around side by side cars on the bridge.Continuing east on Kinzie, the street seems to be wider (maybe because there is no parking on the south side of the street) and the cars ride side by side. I am not sure how the city will divide up this area but if car lanes are reduced to one lane in each direction, I guarantee the bike lanes will be ignored. What we will then have is a bike lane farther out in to traffic and more aggressive drivers trying to take back the space.I’d rather ride with the flow than coming in and out of it every block. I know this is not perfect but it seems that it is going to take some time for drivers, cyclists, parkers and pedestrians to get used to this layout. I cringe every morning coming thru this area.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how things work in one year. 
      For every new traffic configuration there’s an adjustment period. We’re already seeing that play out, last week and this week, when we see people parking their cars in the bike lane. It’s not completed yet and the police wouldn’t be able to enforce the “no parking in bike lanes” ordinance because there’s no signage or pavement markings. 

      P.S. I have never seen two cars side-by-side in one lane on the Kinzie Street bridge. I don’t think they fit.

      • Mcsss777

        I’ll post a pic tomorrow! I bet i wait less then 2 minutes!

        • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

          I’m looking forward to seeing it. 
          I was there at 17:50 tonight and traffic had already died. I guess rush hour on Kinzie is shorter than on other Loop streets. 

          • Mcass777

            Here are 2 photos from 9:10 AM – yesterday they were side by side across the bridge. I missed he best shot when the cars were closer to me. The Iphone shoots a little too slow when you need it! 

            I think this is the weakest link in the new bike lane. Cars were backed up to Milwaukee and they think they can cruise across the bridge. 

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            Thanks for the photos. I’d never seen this. 

            So when the bridge is treated with a bicycle-friendly deck, it will only be as wide as a bike lane and have a stripe to delineate the lanes. This should encourage drivers to not drive side by side. 

            I feel that with the changes on Kinzie Street, many drivers will find new routes as their current trip becomes slightly longer. Humans are great at adapting, even though they never want to ;)

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            Thanks for the photos. I’d never seen this. 

            So when the bridge is treated with a bicycle-friendly deck, it will only be as wide as a bike lane and have a stripe to delineate the lanes. This should encourage drivers to not drive side by side. 

            I feel that with the changes on Kinzie Street, many drivers will find new routes as their current trip becomes slightly longer. Humans are great at adapting, even though they never want to ;)

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            Thanks for the photos. I’d never seen this. 

            So when the bridge is treated with a bicycle-friendly deck, it will only be as wide as a bike lane and have a stripe to delineate the lanes. This should encourage drivers to not drive side by side. 

            I feel that with the changes on Kinzie Street, many drivers will find new routes as their current trip becomes slightly longer. Humans are great at adapting, even though they never want to ;)

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