Tagphoto essay

#Space4Cycling: Chicago needs intuitive bike lanes and other street markings

Two bicyclists take different routes around this driver blocking the bike lane with their car

In this case at Milwaukee and Green, space was made and well-marked for cycling but no space was outlined for driving. The driver of the black car must pull up this far to see beyond the parked silver car. In the Netherlands they’ve come up with a solution that would work here: shift the green bike lane toward the crosswalk so that the motorist crosses the crosswalk and bike lane at the same time and has space to wait to turn left between the bike lane and the travel lane.

What does an intuitive bike lane or other street marking mean?

It means that the street user can reasonably (yeah) guess, and guess right, what they’re supposed to do.

For bicyclists in Chicago, the lack of bike lane markings that continue to the edge of an intersection (often demarcated at the stop bar) creates an unintuitive bike lane design.

At intersections, an intuitive bike lane design would mean that the bicyclist and the motorist know where and how to position their vehicles in respect to the other, even if there isn’t a car there yet, or there’s not a bike there yet. Many intersections in Chicago that have protected bike lanes do this; especially the ones with separate signal phases. And these intersections work really well for bicyclists: they stand safely away from motorists, and motorists don’t attempt to occupy these spaces.

Inverted sharrow

The “sharrow before and after the intersection because the city dropped the bike lane” is the most common “didn’t make space for cycling” problem. There was plenty of space to make for cycling here, and nearly every other “sharrow…” situation: it’s along the curb and it’s subsidized, curbside parking for drivers.

But currently at dozens, if not hundreds, of Chicago intersections where the bike lane drops before the intersection, you’ll see bicyclists behave and maneuver in several ways, none of which are accommodated by the street’s design.

Some people will bike between two lanes of cars to the front of the line, and when they get there, lacking a bike box or advanced stop line, they’ll stand with their bike in the area between the crosswalk and the stop bar. If the first car is over the stop bar, then people will usually stand with their bike on the crosswalk.

Riding north on Damen towards Fullerton-Elston

The sharrow painted on the pavement, and an accompanying sign saying, “shared lane – yield to bikes” are unintuitive because no one can occupy the same space at the same time, and the symbols don’t communicate who gets first right to a specific part of the road space. In the end, though, in a situation like this, I’ve never seen someone wait back this far on their bike, and many will consider riding on the sidewalk to get to the front. When they get there, though, they won’t find any #space4cycling.

Others will bike between a lane of cars and the curb to get to the front of the line.

New buffered bike lane on Halsted just ends

This is another version of the “sharrow before and after the intersection because the city dropped the bike lane”. Why’d they drop it in this instance? To make space for Halsted Street drivers turning right, and to push more drivers northward through its intersection with Clybourn Avenue.

Others will wait to the side of drivers, and other still will wait behind a line of cars, putting themselves at a major time disadvantage as the people who biked up to the front. Not to mention they’ll choke on more fumes.

Then, when the light turns green, motorists behave differently. Some will follow behind the first bicyclist, while others will try to pass but closely because they’re essentially sharing a lane side-by-side – this exerts a lot of mental stress on the bicyclist.

Where the city has built space that’s absolutely not to be shared (meaning it’s for the exclusive use by people bicycling), then the designs are substandard because they still allow or seem open to driving. Otherwise, though, space for cycling that’s “part time” is only usable space for those holding the most power and not for the people riding bikes who need it.

frankling at washington bike lane (composite image)

In this new design that built a “protected intersection” for bicyclists going north on Franklin and east on Washington Street, the bike space is still a drivable area. (Top photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz; bottom photo by Skip Montanaro)

These deficiencies in Chicago’s bike lane network are often the result of failing to make, or make well, space for cycling from space used for parking or turn lanes.

Bicycling on the Dearborn Street bike lane

Three years after the City of Chicago built the novel and well-used two-way cycle track on one-way Dearborn, this situation north of the track still exists. And somehow they expect drivers on a 4-lane road to travel at 20 MPH.

This is 2015 and we continue to “not make space for cycling” despite every policy that calls for making bicycling in Chicago safe and convenient so that more people will do it. It’s just that in the unwritten policies it says that you can implement that policy if it doesn’t impede driving*.

* The City of Chicago has built many road diets (a reduction in the number of travel lanes) in the last four years, and some before that. A few of these have worked well for bicyclists, like on 55th and Vincennes where they built protected and buffered bike lanes, respectively (and Dearborn through the Loop).

I put road diets in a note after “impede driving” because they’re only done where they also won’t make local traffic more congested on that street or an intersecting streets.

On the face of it, that’s exactly what many people believe they’ll do because a road diet removes or converts lanes and that’s seen as the same as reducing car capacity which will shift that car traffic to other streets. That pretty much doesn’t happen and the city only implements road diets on streets that have MORE capacity than is used.

Freight trains in the city: photos from Ping Tom Park

The train is entering the crossing. 

If you weren’t aware, Chicago has a ridiculous number of trains passing through here. We’ve been the freight train capital of the country for over 100 years (I’m not going to verify this). And apparently it takes a train the same amount of time to pass through Chicago as it takes to travel from here to Los Angeles.

One of the interesting places they pass through in Chicago is at Ping Tom Park, in Chinatown, on the Chicago River at 18th Street. A double track part of the CN line borders the park on the east, separating the park from rowhouses in Chinatown. The Chicago Transit Authority’s Orange Line elevated viaduct shares the right of way.

I was showing the park to some visitors from Spain after we ate at Joy Yee Noodles (2159 S China Place)*. The at-grade crossing bells starting to ring, and the red lights started to flash. Then the gates came down. We were trapped! That’s the neat thing about the freight railroad here and the park: there’s a single entrance that’s blocked by a train. And this one was long.

A pagoda in Ping Tom Park. Here’s another view of the pagoda where you can also clearly see the Orange Line viaduct. 

As we just arrived, we weren’t interested in leaving. We explored the new north section of the park. This outing gave me several opportunities to test out the capabilities of my new camera, a Panasonic GH1, and accompanying lens, a LUMIX G 20/f1.7mm (that means it’s fairly wide angle and has an enormous aperture)**. It takes great photos in the dark without a flash. I was photographing the train, using the “panning” technique – this means you set the focus beforehand and then move (pan) the camera with the object to ensure it appears in focus in the resulting image. I succeeded with 50% of the photos; my issue was choosing the right speed at which to pan the camera.

This photo is one of the better panning shots I created. 

The train, as many Illinois railfans probably expect, was carrying ethanol and empty flatbed cars, but also some hydrochloric acid. I’m going to guess some of the tankers were filled with America’s favorite artificial sugar: high-fructose corn syrup.

* There are two Joy Yee Noodles restaurants in the same Chinatown Square shopping center. They are of the same company.

** I bought the body from a friend and I bought the lens separately. I paid more for the lens than the body.

What is Conversation Cycling?

Mikael Colville-Anderson posted a link to this photo set called Conversation Cycling (his photo above). The concept of Conversation Cycling is simple:

Build a bikeway so two people can cycle side-by-side to have a pleasant chat. 

I want this for Chicago. When you ride with friends, how would you prefer to ride: yelling ahead in our narrow bike lanes or conversing to the side? This is sometimes possible on the Lakefront Trail, but not always: the Lakefront Trail’s maximum width is the same as the standard with for cycle tracks in Europe!

Bike lanes in the United States, when they’re available and not being parked in, are not even wide enough for one person to ride without danger of being doored. It’s not surprising this is the case. In addition to how we prioritize the movement of automobiles and the placement of parking before pedaling, the national minimum width for a bike lane is 4 feet (without gutter), or 5 feet when next to parked cars or with a gutter.

I gathered some hard evidence: My handlebars are 28 inches wide. The door of my roommate’s car is 32 inches wide. 28+32 = 60 inches, or 5 feet. And that’s without a buffer. Essentially, bike lanes as we’ve built them are not compatible with the rest of the street.

Two Department of Revenue workers cycle side by side, meeting the edges of the bike lane, on Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park. Photo by Mike Travis. 

Door zone bike lanes are not unique to any American city. Illustration by Gary Kavanagh. 

A group cycles on Damen Avenue in and out of the bike lane. Photo by Eric Rogers. 

Europe: A year ago at this time

A year ago during Christmas, New Year’s, and today, I was on my 18-day trip through Europe. To share that trip (again), I’ve been uploading more photos from the trip to my Flickr. I’ll double the number uploaded in a couple of days. A year ago on January 3rd, I traveled from Bremen to Wuppertal, Germany, and then to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with train transfers in Venlo (at the border) and Eindhoven.

Italy

I added a bunch of new photos from Italy, mostly from the mountain bike ride I took in Como and Brunate with my friend’s brother. This was December 27, 2010.

Matteo and I on a mountain above Lake Como and very near the border with Switzerland on Monte Boletto. View on OpenStreetMap

A panoramic view of Lake Como and central Como. Brunate is a village on top of the mountain in the middle. We took the funicular up there

Germany

I also uploaded new photos of Bremen, Germany. I added many more pictures of the Valentin submarine pens, the ferry ride across the Weser River into Vegesack, and the trams that run constantly 24/7.

The tram station in front of the Bremen Haupthbahnhof (central station). Notice how familiar the people are with walking near and around the trams. View this on OpenStreetMapThis was January 1, 2011. 

What the submarine pen looks like from the land side, south of it. Read more about these storage facilities of Nazi submarinesThis was January 2, 2011. 

From the Weser River ferry into Vegesack I saw this enormous shipbuilding facility with a yacht parked out front. It appears comparable in size to the submarine pen. This was January 2, 2011. 

More photos

The list above contains the dates for which I uploaded many photos recently. Here’s the full set of photos and here’s a collection of the different topics.

Past posts about this trip

I’ve written many times about this trip. If you want to read more, I suggest you go to my index of all trips I took in 2009 through 2011. The different cities and countries are linked there. But here are a couple other posts that are more than photos:

Urbanity fails again

Photo by my friend and UIC alum, Joshua Koonce.

I asked him about the photo’s title, “Urbanity fails again.” He replied:

I just thought it up on the fly, but you do see a lot of just these really little urban failures. Like, decayed bike lanes, weeds, potholes, gaps, sidewalk plates missing, leaky viaducts, “minor urban disasters” so to speak.

I feature Josh’s photos often on Steven Can Plan and now Grid. I also created a Flickr group for Grid where you can showcase your photos about sustainable transportation in Chicagoland.

Flying

If I had a car, or lived closer to O’Hare, I would spend more time taking photographs of airplanes. As it stands, it costs a lot of time and money, for transit, for me to get out to places that have good viewing of the planes. I find these places (“the suburbs”) uncomfortable to bike in.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Boeing 747-406M, registration PH-BFS. Find more photos of this specific aircraft on Airliners.net. It’s really cool that there’s a huge community of people who take photographs of airplanes around the world.

Park beauty

My friend and her son cross the lagoon on their bike in Humboldt Park, Chicago.

Other views of the park:

“Angry geese in Humboldt Park. They were really hissing.” Photo by Joshua Koonce.

“A lovely gravel path by a lagoon in Humboldt Park.” Photo by Eric Rogers.

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.

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.

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

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.

Bike to work week now, but what about next week?

Groupon mentioned on its blog that 126 employees rode to their Chicago office Monday.

Since the city has a goal of having 5% of trips under 5 miles by bicycle*, how do we ensure those same 126 employees ride their bike next week? Or tomorrow even!

With more of this:

A protected bike lane on Kinzie Street. These have been shown to reduce the number of crashes as well as slow down car traffic.

And some of this:

A family riding their bikes on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, New York City. This bikeway is unique because it has both directions and is protected from traffic by parked cars. Photo by Elizabeth Press.

We’ll also need some left turn bays for bicyclists:

This will help cyclists make safer left turns across intersections. As seen in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Then we’ll see this:

Happy people riding together in our neighborhoods. With lights at night, for sure.

Oh, we’ll probably need additional bike parking, like this station at Amsterdam Zuid station (think Chicago’s Union Station or New York City’s Penn Station):

Free, underground, double-decker bike parking.

*We’re probably somewhere between 0.5% and 1.5% (of trips under 5 miles by bike). No data’s actually available on this; not for the baseline year of 2006 and most likely will not be available for the goal year, 2015.

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):

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

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

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

Very wide!

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.

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