Destination streets are rarely the best places to bike

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This family took to riding on the sidewalk of Division Street instead of in the bike lane. They’re riding the stylish workhorse WorkCycles Fr8. Once I saw them riding the blue one, I had to get a different color. 

My friend Calvin Brown, a circumstantial urban planner, is always giving me Jane Jacobs-style observations about how citizens use their cities.

“Destination streets are the ones I avoid biking on because there’s so much car traffic there. Traffic must be balanced between streets that are good for biking and ones that aren’t currently good.”

In other words, because it’s a destination street (a place where there are a lot of retail outlets, venues, points of interest) it induces a lot of car traffic. Lots of car traffic discourages people from riding bikes, and makes it difficult for those who already are.

To me, a great example of this is Division Street. There’s a bike lane there from Ashland to California Avenues, and has tons (tons!) of restaurants and some night clubs. Yet that causes a lot of taxi traffic, people driving their own cars, looking for parking, jutting into the bike lane to see why traffic is going slow or backed up (um, because there are ton of cars!), and valet and delivery drivers blocking the bike lane.

It’s exactly this traffic, though, that keeps these places vibrant, desirable, and healthy (from an economic standpoint). The solution for bicycling is easy: swap the car parking with the bike lane so that bicycling isn’t affected by a majority of the aforementioned traffic maneuvers.

Calvin’s “destination streets” examples were Grand Avenue and Chicago Avenue. Neither has bike lanes, and both have 2 travel lanes in each direction. Grand has destinations from Racine Avenue to Ashland Avenue and Chicago has destinations from Ada Street to Western Avenue. I’d wager that if you narrowed those roadways by installing a protected bike lane you’d get slower traffic and higher business receipts.

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Chicago Avenue at Hoyne Avenue is a particularly stupid part of Chicago Avenue: The Chicago Department of Transportation installed a pedestrian refuge island here. After several years and at least 4 replaced signs due to collisions of automobiles with it, the design hasn’t been modified. The island in and of itself did not change the speed of those who drive here, as the roadway’s width remained static.

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.
  • Adam Herstein

    This is essentially my experience every day on Clark and Wells streets. The bike lanes are constantly being blocked by buses, taxis, and oblivious drivers. Unfortunately, it is these kind of streets that also tend to go places that I need to go, as opposed to quieter side streets that typically are not continuous. Fortunately, however, these streets are also fairly narrow, so motor traffic moves at a relatively slow pace.

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

      Yep, I could have added that: these are the streets that go places you need to go.

  • John

    Is the purpose of a pedestrian refuge median to change driver behavior or to act as a pedestrian refuge (as it’s name implies)?

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

      In this situation, both, as it came with a lane shift.

      • John

        The lane shift is not intentional. It is required in order to install the island.

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

          Er, I don’t think I articulated that well. I assumed you’d read my mind about what I thought with the lane shift.

          I mean this: With the lane shift, parking was pulled back (pulled east) from Hoyne (if you’re looking at the first photo). But the curbside lane is still very wide, so any narrowing effect that the refuge island has – and narrowing translates to lower speeds – is mitigated by the still-wide curbside lane.

  • http://profiles.google.com/alottes Ash L

    I don’t know how comfortable I’d be taking refuge on that island after seeing how many times the sign has been creamed.

    As far as destination streets go, Division is better than most. When cars are double parked in the bike lane I always feel safe merging into vehicle travel lanes since between Wood and Leavitt cars essentially travel at cycling speed.

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

      The part from Wood to Milwaukee, with its width, and anti-urban uses (Wendy’s), needs repair.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    Are the motorists who destroy the sign cited and billed the full replacement cost?

    Also….INSTALL A REAL BOLLARD. If a pedestrian standing there gets hurt or killed, its an easy lawsuit against the city since its obvious that the area is not secure.

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

      I’m not sure.

      I am sure that when I worked at CDOT I would forward my photos of broken bike racks and any pertinent information to a specific staffer there and she would try to match up the dates and locations with police crash reports and attempt to bill that driver for the replacement cost of a bike rack (which was $320 per rack when I worked there).

  • http://jqr.posterous.com Jonathan R

    The best example of this I’ve seen is Bardstown Rd, in Louisville, KY. The street has five lanes, with parking on both sides, and a variable lane in the middle (I was there on the weekend, so the middle lane was out of commission). It’s packed with small shops and restaurants, but the cyclists I saw were on the sidewalk because of the busy car traffic.