TagKinzie Street

Why the next downtown Chicago cycle track shouldn’t be two-way

Divvying in a suit and a skirt

Riding south, in the gutter pan, on Dearborn’s two-way cycle track.

 

There are many problems inherent to having a two-way cycle track (or protected bike lane) on a one-way street in a busy urban center. I’ll list them here to convince you that the next time the Chicago Department of Transportation proposes a two-way cycle track on a one-way street you should heavily question it (except in one circumstance I’ll outline in the discussion).

In two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets…

0. It’s less safe than one-way cycle tracks on one or both sides of a street. (See OECD passage below.)

1. It’s hard to pass same-direction cyclists. A cyclist who wishes to pass someone going in the same direction must watch for oncoming traffic, increasing the danger of passing if they miscalculated when they should go and reducing the opportunities to do so. It also presents a hazard for all cyclists, who have to watch out for oncoming cyclists who are passing a same-direction cyclist!

2. It’s unlikely there will be space to offer turn lanes. Busy cycle tracks need turn lanes, to separate cyclists who are going to slow and turn or stop before turning (in the case of pedestrians crossing), and those who are going straight. A turn lane could be accommodated if the cycle track can widen at intersections, but in practice it seems to be easier to split the cycle track into turn and through lanes.

3. It costs more. Opposite direction cyclists can’t use existing traffic signals and must have costly traffic signals with bike symbols (which also cost a lot to program). The need to have a yellow center line also means a two-way cycle track requires more paint.

Erik pointed out in the comments how this isn’t right. I mostly agree, but then I changed my mind on how important this is: The appropriate and best design for a bicycle facility shouldn’t have its quality compromised because of cost.

4. It interferes with decades of intuition gained from crossing one-way streets. Most pedestrians around the world are used to monitoring a single direction of traffic on a one-way street.

5. They’re anti-social. Two-way cycle tracks are narrower than one-way cycle tracks because the city street engineers likely have the same space to work whether they allow one- or two-way cycling. This means you can’t cycle and chat next to a friend.

6. They require that someone has to ride in the gutter. When two-way cycle tracks are built curbside on existing roadways, one direction of cyclists will always have to ride in the gutter, a slanted area of the road filled with water and debris. We could eliminate this by building raised cycle tracks with a new drainage system (either drain into the roadway, or into new grates).

7. There’s less room to avoid obstacles. If there’s a rock, pothole, or upraised manhole cover in your path, you go around it. But if there’s someone coming in the other direction you’ll just have to hit it and take the beating.

8. They don’t provide cyclists access to both sides of a street that has destinations on both sides. This is a conditional item, and moot if the options are a two-way cycle track on one-side or a one-way cycle track on one side. A cycle track on each side of a one-way street will provide bicycle access to destinations on both sides.

Keep reading for a deeper discussion on the situations where a two-way cycle track could be good.

Note: A two-way cycle track is scheduled to be installed on the left (east) side of southbound Clinton Street as part of CDOT and CTA’s Loop Link bus lanes project.

There may be a place for two-way cycle tracks

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a review of international best practices for growing cycling and keeping cyclists safe (hat tip to Copenhagenize). The authors concluded (page 177):

  • “Bi-directional cycle tracks along roads invariably lead to non-conventional maneuvers at junctions and where such tracks terminate. These situations entail a significant risk of crashes. Two-directional cycle tracks along roads generally should be avoided, unless the advantages are very clear or the space constraints for two unidirectional cycle tracks insurmountable.” [Grand Avenue is under discussion right now and I would say that the street has a lot of excess space. It has a “pair” on Illinois Street, with similar excesses.]
  • Opposite direction cycling on streets where cyclists don’t need linear protection from motor vehicles (because of lower volumes or traffic speeds; like Chicago’s side streets) is a very different ballgame.

None of this is to say that having two single direction cycle tracks, on each side of a one-way street is bad. They’re better than having a two-way cycle track because cyclists would then have a bigger, direct network of good places to ride and reach destinations.

A two-way cycle track to access bike parking at a train station. It wouldn’t make sense here, in a car-free environment, to have a one-way cycle tracks on either side of something in the middle (there wouldn’t be a something in the middle). Photo: Jennifer Judge and Ben Russell

The Dutch have installed many (probably hundreds of) miles of two-way cycle tracks, but they are more akin to our two-way off-street multi-use trails as they’re only mildly aligned with streets, or they’re used in very particular situations – for example, to carry a busy segment of the cycle network on one side of a large road to a bridge on the other – and not in dense, tight, uniformly dimensioned urban street grids that dominate American cities and are rarer in Dutch cities.

Quite often the Dutch will build a two-way cycle track on each side of the street to accommodate their cycle route networks, avoid a busy junction or train station area, work in harmony with intersections that prioritize tram and bus traffic but that can still keep certain directions of cyclists moving without any delay, or to provide access to both sides of a busy retail area. Learn more about the geometry and engineering of two-way cycle track design on Peter Furth’s website.

Speaking of networks, two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets must be integrated into a bicycle route/path network differently. This isn’t to say it cannot be done, but it takes a different and more complicated approach because of the nature of the other streets that would have to be modified to “receive” bicyclists turning off of the two-way cycle track. It has so far not been implemented well in Chicago.

Furth’s website describes the advantages of a two-way cycle track as listed in the Dutch street design manual called CROW. They are convincing! Yet Dearborn Street in Chicago, the first urban two-way cycle track on a one-way street in a big American city, doesn’t fit those criteria. And neither does building two-way cycle tracks on other one-way streets in the central business district.

You wouldn’t have to reject the proposal for another two-way cycle track on a one-way street, though, if there was a single, thoughtful design plan – the evolution of a network proposal like Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan – for all of the streets and intersections involved attached with dedicated funds for the appropriate infrastructure redesigns. However, three years after the Dearborn cycle track was installed, it still doesn’t bicycle facilities connecting it to the Kinzie cycle track. There, a network plan and a design plan failed to materialize.

A local example of a complicated and deficient intersection design is that cyclists going northbound on Dearborn Street (a northbound, one-way street with a two-way cycle track) and want to turn east onto two-way Kinzie Street (which has no bicycle facilities) have no way to do so without putting themselves and others at risk or burden.

Here’s how I would make that turn: if the Dearborn light is green, come to a complete stop in the intersection and wait for the Dearborn light to turn red and the Kinzie light to turn green – ignore that I’m blocking northbound cycle traffic. If the Dearborn light is red, signal to cyclists behind you that you’re turning right, and then watch for Kinzie traffic, turn right, and merge into it. Neither situation is preferable.

It’s imperative to redesign intersections when adding cycle tracks, and two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets require a more intensive and complex design but add little to no benefit over having a single, one-way cycle track, or one-way cycle tracks on either side of the street.

This slide from an APBP webinar briefly lists why a two-way cycle track may be better than a one-way cycle track.

This slide from an APBP webinar briefly lists why a two-way cycle track may be better than a one-way cycle track.

P.S. I laughed when I saw these three reasons [PDF] supporting a two-way cycle track over a one-way cycle track, because all of them are the same labels I’ve used to denote the disadvantages of using a two-way cycle track.

  1. Space limitations. Advantage: You don’t have enough room to put in two, appropriate-sized one-way cycle tracks, so you build a two-way cycle track. Disadvantage: Each cyclist now has personal space limitations.
  2. Wrong-way bicyclists. Advantage: You provide a space for people who choose to cycle the wrong way. Disadvantage: A two-way cycle track is less an accommodation for this rider, and more an admission that your cycle network doesn’t accommodate the rider.
  3. Difficult street crossings. Advantage: I don’t think there are any! Disadvantage: Start reading from the top of this post.

Here’s how to fix the right-hook problem at Kinzie and Jefferson

Kinzie runs east-west, side to side in this Google Street View image. The ideal viewing angle between a motorist and bicyclist is 90 degrees, which is possible for the eastbound cyclist (from right to left) and the northbound motorist (pictured, in the white car). The eastbound motorist turning onto southbound Jefferson has an acute view angle to the cyclist and motorists typically believe they can make the right turn before it could possible harm the cyclist. Making the street one-way would mitigate this right-hook problem.

Kinzie runs east-west, side to side in this Google Street View image. The ideal viewing angle between a motorist and bicyclist is 90 degrees, which is possible for the eastbound cyclist (from right to left) and the northbound motorist (pictured, in the white car). The eastbound motorist turning onto southbound Jefferson has an acute view angle to the cyclist and motorists typically believe they can make the right turn before it could possible harm the cyclist. Making the street one-way would mitigate this right-hook problem.

Make Jefferson Street a one-way street going northbound so no more motorists will turn right onto southbound Jefferson and right-hook bicyclists going east on Kinzie Street.

It’s that simple. It should have been done four years ago when the Kinzie Street protected bike lane was created from a road diet (4 to 2 conversion). Instead, I get reports like this one. In fact, this exact scenario has played out several times since the lane’s inception, including with a truck in the first weeks after the lane opened.

I was traveling eastbound in the bike lane on Kinzie Street. A car was traveling in the same direction, but did not yield to me as it turned in front of me. I had my attention on the car in advance in case it did something like this, so I had sufficient time to slow down and avoid running into it as it turned to the right in front of me.

I’m glad this person was experienced enough to avoid the crash, but we can’t expect that bicyclists and motorists have the right experience when traveling within the city.

A two-way Jefferson isn’t necessary to provide access to the parking behind the residential building here because access can be gained from Canal (a two-way street) and the two-way driveway leading from Canal.

If maintaining Jefferson as a two-way street is imperative, then we can make some really intense infrastructure – intense by Chicago standards – and create a neckdown and raised intersection so that only one direction of traffic can cross the bike lane at any time. If there’s a northbound motorist waiting to turn onto Kinzie from Jefferson, and there’s a motorist on Kinzie wanting to turn onto Jefferson, then the Kinzie motorist would wait for the Jefferson motorist to turn.

The raised intersection is an additional traffic calming measure that also improves pedestrian accessibility.

What sucks about the state of infrastructure in the United States is the lack of understanding and knowledge about atypical designs (limited and rare examples of practical applications across the country) and this leads to deficient implementations of designs proven to work millions of times a day elsewhere.

The person who submitted this Close Call suggested more signs or a flashing overhead light. Yet those are tools that don’t actually require the motorist (or the bicyclist) to react in any way, whereas a piece of infrastructure – concrete, asphalt, and their topography – does more than just remind or encourage.

I would go so far as to suggest a policy that sets a target reduction in signage in the city, because eliminated signage must be replaced by the appropriate infrastructure. The best example? We have a law in Chicago where, if there’s a sign saying so, you cannot park a car within 20 feet of a crosswalk.

Get rid of the sign – they’re so ugly – and the need to pay attention to it by building a bumpout with a bioswale. Not only have you enforced the “no parking” regulation now until the concrete crumbles, and given pedestrians a shorter walk across the roadway, you also add stormwater infrastructure that reduces the burden on our combined sewer system.

The bollards are in – ’nuff said

Update June 15, 2011: The Chicago Bicycle Program has uploaded 22 photos and videos today. Here’s a video of workers painting the bike box at southbound Milwaukee. Also, I’ve been wrong about a bike-friendly bridge treatment on Kinzie – I don’t have evidence to support this assertion. We’ll see what happens.

Protected bike lane? Yep.

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It should be 100x more clear now that cars are not allowed here. But I’m sure we’ll still seem some goof in the bike lane at least once in the next few days.

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Crews installed the base, getting ready to install the pole.

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And the bridge has bollards as well! No more double-driving on the bridge. Now it’s time for the new bike lane bridge deck!

Brandon Souba took the photos. Thank you so much.

Take a look at Day 7 construction on Kinzie Street

This must be the fastest project ever accomplished by city government – or at least this City’s government. The funding source makes a huge difference: The city is using its own money, using “mini capital project” funding that was budgeted but not yet allocated. If the city was using grant money from the state or federal governments, a four-week turnaround time for a protected bike lane would not be possible.

The pace continues at breakneck speed!

On Tuesday, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) crews were working on both the eastbound and westbound directions on the west side of the Kinzie Street bridge.

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Crews work on the eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street, right before the bridge. It does not appear there’s a buffer here (guide lines painted before the stripes aren’t seen).

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Painting stripes on eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street, right before the bridge.

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CDOT workers inspect the stripes at the stop bar and crosswalk at eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street. It appears the stop bar is further from the crosswalk than at most intersections in Chicago.

photo of bike lane

Photo of workers (from StreetPrint?) applying green paint to a bike box and left turn lane on southbound Milwaukee at Desplaines/Kinzie. Photo by Thomas Gonzales.

Recap for the June 2011 MBAC meeting

Updated June 15, 2011: Added section on snow removal for the Kinzie Street bike lane. Updated October 16, 2011, to add quotes protected bike lane planning. 

Every three months, staff from the Chicago Department of Transportation and Chicago Bicycle Program come to Room 1103 in City Hall to tell the bicycle community at large what they’re up to – it’s the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council. Other organizations get an opportunity to speak as well (especially Active Transportation Alliance) but a majority of the time is dedicated to the divisions of the Bicycle Program (namely bikeways, bike parking, and education).

Wednesday’s meeting was the only one I’ve been to where I felt that CDOT was doing something new, different, and interesting. And I’ve been to many, all as an employee of CDOT – at least 10 meetings since 2007. A LOT of new information was imparted at this meeting.

Thanks to Jim Limber, you can watch the meetings live. Or watch the recordings: Part 1, Part 2.


Here’s my MBAC recap, originally written for the weekly Chainlink newsletter:

Streets for cycling and protected bike lanes

Ben Gomberg introduced Mark de Lavergne of Sam Schwartz Engineering who will be leading the new Streets for Cycling planning process that will include 3-6 public meetings across the city to talk about future locations of Chicago’s bikeway network. The plan will include a toolbox of ideas and implementations adapted from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The report will be completed by Bike To Work Day 2012.

The first 25 miles of protected bike lane locations has apparently already been assessed and will be done right away, without waiting for the plan to be completed. The starting place for these protected bike lanes is getting people in and out of downtown.

Bicycle Program coordinator Ben Gomberg said that the location of 25 miles had already been assessed. Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton said,

We’re being asked to be creative and come up with new information quickly by the new mayor, but we already did some planning before the new mayor. Our starting place: How to get in and out of downtown.

People interested in providing their ideas before the public planning process begins can send them to Mike Amsden. [email protected]

Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign

Adolfo Hernandez from Active Transportation Alliance announced the Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign, to be led by John Lankford (not present). Here’s a paraphrasing of what he said: “There will be a fight early on about bikeways. The people in this room love these things. Businesses to be supportive of this, our local alderman. This isn’t on every alderman’s radar. As cycling advocates, we need to talk to our neighbors, businesses, churches, and schools. As part of the campaign for 100 miles, we are going to meet with people to do some organizing, spreading messages, building support, before the backlash. People are going to be upset, not going to like it.”

Kinzie Street snow removal

When a meeting attendee asked how snow would be dealt with on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton mentioned that new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein built similar lanes in Washington, D.C., where it also snows, and will bring his experience in this to Chicago. 

Poor bicycling conditions on Vincennes

Anne Alt showed in a slideshow and described the reasons why Vincennes Avenue is a great bike route (even if bike lanes were removed and never reinstalled) but it has a lot of problems. She highlighted problems, especially at the train viaduct at 83rd and Parnell. Luann said that CDOT would help Anne identify the responsible railroad as a first step to getting the nearly invisible potholes under the viaduct repaired.

She posted her narratives and photos on The Chainlink.

I took a lot more notes so if you have any questions about something else that was said or wasn’t said, let me know and I’ll update it. I picked these as the most interesting and important parts of the meeting. One more thing: The Bicycle Program officially announced the on-street bike parking in Wicker Park, which I discussed a couple weeks ago.

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Gin and I rode on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane together right after the meeting. Notice how wide it is! I’ve said it before: bikes are social. I’d already written over this a few times prior to the meeting, but I wanted to ride with someone else to see that experience. There’s normally not enough room in the bike lanes to ride next to someone, but here there is. I’m very excited about the opportunities this kind of facility opens up.

Chicago catches up to NYC in one 3-day project

What were Mayor Daley and the previous Transportation commissioners waiting for when it came installing modern and then-innovative bikeway facilities?

Why have Rahm Emanuel, Gabe Klein, and the Chicago Bicycle Program installed every modern and previously-innovative bikeway treatment under the sun in just three days? The project’s not over, but a lot has happened since Monday.

On Day 3 of construction of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, CDOT builds (photos from the Bicycle Program’s Flickr photostream):

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Bike-only left turn on southbound Milwaukee to Kinzie (perfect)

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Through-intersection bike lane using European-style “yield squares” (okay, they’re actually called elephant’s feet)*

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Same yield squares (elephant’s feet) at driveways.

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Very wide!

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New signage telling turning drivers to stop for people walking across the street and riding their bikes.

*I always forget that Chicago created its first through-intersection bike lane at Sheridan and Ardmore, at the north terminus of the Lakefront Trail, to get bicyclists onto the on-street bike lane network.

Stony Island cycle track still on, but conflicting reports

Update June 9, 2011: At Wednesday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC), Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton reiterated that the Stony Island project was still on and that the long timeline to complete (2014) will be largely because of design reviews and other considerations required when using state and federal funding. She also mentioned that the Chicago Tribune printed a correction in its Wednesday morning paper

The Chicago Tribune wrote about the Kinzie Street protected bike lane on Monday and may have implied at the end of the article that the Stony Island cycle track project, which has earmarked federal funding through the Illinois Transportation Enhancements Program, was canceled (“dropped from consideration”).

On second read, this probably means it was no longer being considered the location for the city’s first protected bike lane. News reports and interviews with city officials put the completion and opening of this protected bike lane in 2014, at the end of Rahm’s first term.

Conflicting reports

In February, Chicago Tribune transportation reporter John Hilkevitch quoted CDOT spokesperson, Brian Steele, saying, “There is already a lot of bicycling on the route, and we envision the cycle track as being a good connection to Jackson Park, the lakefront and the larger bike network in the city.”

Then yesterday, in June, the same reporter wrote, “But the location, chosen mainly because Stony Island has abundant lane capacity, was dropped from consideration because too few bicyclists use the corridor, officials said.” [NBC Chicago reported the same today alongside their video of today’s press conference.]

How many people ride their bikes on Stony Island? What is CDOT’s criteria for choosing protected bike lane locations?

Still on the drawing board

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A person rides their bicycle on what will soon be the buffer between the bike lane and parking lane. Flexible delineators, also known as soft-hit bollards, will demarcate the zones.

Bike box, another first on Kinzie Street

Update June 7, 2011: CDOT and Mayor Emanuel acknowledge the project with a Tuesday morning press conference. Here’s the press release (that doesn’t reveal anything we don’t already know) and photos from the event. NBC Chicago has video from the press conference (2:27).

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A bike box is a well-marked area where bicyclists can queue at signalized intersections ahead of cars, a way to get ahead and make bicyclists more visible to drivers. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) installed one Tuesday morning, on Day 2 of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane project (read about Day 1). I asked a CDOT worker if it will be painted green or another color and they replied it would probably would. It appears that the design for the project is still being done while construction proceeds. I expect a section of the next block will be worked on tomorrow.

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See a bike box in Portland.

More new information about this project

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CDOT was also grinding out pavement markings on Kinzie Street in front of Jewel-Osco, where the CDOT worker explained a left-turn lane would be created for westbound travelers (matching the left-turn lane in the eastbound direction next to the bike box).

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The uphill bike lane will not be protected. Chicagoist commenter BlueFairline pointed out a conflict with trucks delivering goods via hose to the Blommer chocolate factory. The truck needs to be curbside. Today confirmed how this would work out.

Lastly, the CDOT worker could not confirm if there will be a bike-only left-turn lane on southbound Milwaukee at Kinzie Street, as I suggested earlier.

First photos of protected bike lane on Kinzie Street

As I suspected, construction began today, Monday, June 6, 2011, on Chicago’s first 0.5 miles of protected bike lanes at Kinzie and Desplaines.

Chicago Department of Transportation employees were out on the street this morning striping the bike lane and bike lane buffer, as well as a painted “median” at the start of the bike lane that will presumably keep out automobiles.

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Looking east on Kinzie from Desplaines, down hill. More photos.

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Looking west on Kinzie from Jefferson, up hill. More photos.

The configuration is probably a 5-feet bike lane, 3-feet buffer zone (which will soon have soft-hit bollards), 8-feet car parking lane, and 10-feet travel lane. As of 9:30 AM this morning, when the photos were taken, crews had not worked on westbound Kinzie Street.

More

Comments on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane

After reading about the new protected bike lane on Kinzie Street, people are speaking up.

From Chicargobike:

I have to admit that this doesn’t seem to be a location that fulfills any of the criteria I just mentioned – it seems instead to be directed at people who already are bicycle commuters to the Loop, largely young, fit adults. I don’t think they are the people who can benefit from a track and it should be placed elsewhere.

Excerpted from Protected bike lanes get a wobbly start.

From Duppie:

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.

Excerpted from their comments on The Chainlink.

From 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).

Excerpted from Saturday’s post on Steven Can Plan.

From BlueFairline:

Your photos remind me of another problem with this specific location, as you often have a Blommer truck parked on the westbound side with a large hose running between the truck and a nozzle on the side of the building. This hose will have to run across the protected bike lane. You’re going to have to have bicyclists either jump between the dividers into the traffic lane to go left of the truck, or stop and lift their bikes over the hose. Any advice on which option is the more reasonable for bicyclists?

From their comment on Chicagoist. Find more naysaying on this Chicagoist article.

What are your thoughts on the location, protected bike lanes, or bicycling in Chicago?

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A group of people riding their bikes wait at the light at Division and Milwaukee, going southbound.

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