Tagprotected bike lane

Desplaines Street bike lane design facilitates right hooks for bicyclists

Photo 1 of 2: At Randolph Street I approach the “mixing zone” and position my bicycle to ride from the bike lane to the left side of the drivers waiting to turn right. 

In some of my social circles where bicycling is frequently discussed (with fellow transportation planners, advocates, or just people who bike commute frequently) we talk about Chicago’s new protected bike lanes, which started appearing in 2011.

The subject of their design is brought forth: they exacerbate turning conflicts between bicyclists going straight and drivers turning right (and to a lesser extent, left). Participants in these discussions usually express appreciation for the protected bike lanes, largely because of their ability to  reduce injuries overall and influence in bringing new people to bicycling, but are hard pressed to ignore this issue.

The issue is created in some instances when bicyclists are removed from sight of drivers because the bike lane is separated from the travel lanes by a vision-blocking lane of parked cars. However, the Chicago Department of Transportation has attempted to mitigate the turning issue by creating “mixing zones” where turning cars are and through-bicycles are mixed into the same, very wide lane prior to the intersection. When there is a green light, drivers typically merge into the mixing zone without much deceleration and then make the turn regardless of the bicyclist’s position.

Allowing turning cars and through-bicycles to go through these movements in the same place at the same time is a situation of incompatible demands.

Photo 2 of 2: I apparently didn’t position myself far enough to the left because the driver of this black Toyota turned right across my path. 

It’s highly unclear where the bicyclist is supposed to go and how they’re supposed to maneuver themselves in the mixing zone. If the bicyclist follows the lane and then the sharrows, they will be stuck behind cars. One of the pavement markings shows a small arrow above a bicycle symbol possible indicating that bicyclists must turn here (even though a sign says bicyclists and buses don’t have to turn from the lane).

The mixing zones on Desplaines Street are the worst at this, possibly because of the street’s nature as one that moves drivers exiting the city onto streets that lead into the Kennedy Expressway. People are gunning for the highway to get home and people bicycling tend to be in the way.

Additionally, the mixing zones on Desplaines Street differ from other protected bike lane installations (like the first one on Kinzie and subsequent ones on Elston, 18th, and Milwaukee) in that they lack the green lanes that CDOT has been using to highlight where car traffic crosses bike lane traffic.

Desplaines Street has another issue that arises when the signal is red and a bicyclist and a driver are both waiting for a green light. The bicyclist is between the car and the curb. The driver then makes a right turn on red (disregard whether or not a sign control makes this illegal) across the path of the stopped bicyclist. No harm done, right? Maybe, but there are a couple possibilities where this could be dangerous: the driver makes this movement as the light turns green and the bicyclist is attempting to move straight. Or there’s the possibility that the bicyclist also wants to turn right and the driver and bicyclist do so simultaneously without accommodating what the other may be doing. Both situations could lead to the dreaded “right hook”.

The driver of this white Hyundai makes a legal right turn from a “mixing zone” to Madison Street. However, what if the bicyclist wanted to also turn right, or the driver made this as the light was turning green?

The solution to the incompatible desire for one group of roadway users to turn and for the other group to go straight is to separate their movements with traffic signals, which CDOT has done on Dearborn Street.

With these situations in mind, it’s not unexpected to see a bicyclist move through the intersection on a red light to avoid a potential incident at the intersection, the site of most bike-car crashes. CDOT has reported that the red light compliance of people bicycling on Dearborn Street – the only street with bike-only signals – “has increased from only 31 percent of cyclists stopping for reds before the lanes and bike-specific traffic signals were installed, to 81 percent afterwards”.

I don’t think there’s not a problem with protected bike lanes but their precarious design in Chicago as well as the variations within Chicago and across the United States.

Destination streets are rarely the best places to bike

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.

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.

My new favorite traffic crash impact analogy, as heard at a meeting about a road diet

At Wednesday night’s community meeting at the University of Chicago Alumni House (5555 S Woodlawn) in Hyde Park about a proposed road diet and installation of protected bike lanes on 55th Street, a resident spoke up and asked about possible negative bus and bicycle interactions in the shared space bus stops.

In the proposed street reconfiguration plan, bus stops remain at the curb. The protected bike lane is curbside as well. Where they overlap, an unprotected bike lane “occurs” around the space created for the bus stop.

He likened the interaction to this (which is paraphrased): “It doesn’t matter if a rock falls on a melon, or if a melon falls on a rock, the melon still cracks open”.

Driving in the protected bike lane, eh

Updated 4/5/12 to add links to other discussions on this topic, my response to one of the discussions, and a link to my tweet mention this issue to 25th Ward Alderman Solis. 

I was hanging out on 18th Street on Tuesday, watching traffic as I often do, and interviewing Alyson Fletcher about her bike count project. I captured this driver of a Chevy Malibu casually driving in the protected bike lane.

Aside from emailing this to Alderman Solis and the Chicago Department of Transportation, I have no idea what to do about this (I haven’t done either of those things yet – maybe you, as a resident, should do that; I tweeted to Alderman Solis on April 4, 2012). I think the design could be modified to physically prevent automobile traffic here (except, perhaps, emergency vehicles). Other things could be added to make this more apparent as a bike lane, by adding more color and doubling the size of the pavement bicycle symbols.

I also photographed two other people driving in the bike lane. Is there not a place where people can cycle without the danger of drivers impeding their space?

Kia Forte driver.

BMW driver.

Follow the discussion elsewhere:

  • The Expired Meter - Author poses question about possible lack of clarity in the signage, symbols, or road design that sends the message that the curbside lane is for cycling only. I haven’t investigated this part. I don’t know if there are signs at the entrances to the lane that describe it as “right lane bike only” (I’m not sure if this sign is acceptable to the MUTCD – I can’t find it there – but there are many instances of it being used in Chicago). However, that sign’s posted restriction is further than what’s necessary. A sign that says “bike lane” (R3-17) is sufficient to cause that any driving in said lane is a citable offense under Municipal Code of Chicago 9-40-060.
  • EveryBlock - I posted it here.
  • Grid Chicago – I posted this about this topic later on Grid Chicago asking which bike issues most concerns readers.

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.

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.

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).

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

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.

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

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.

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?

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

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.

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

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

Where would you ride

Infrastructure and street design is the most influencing factor in how we behave and maneuver our vehicles (bicycles included, even if Illinois doesn’t think so and California does) in the roadway.

I’m taking a non-scientific poll.

1. Given the lane configuration in the photo below, and the dearth of vehicles in any lane you see, where would you ride your bicycle, and why?

2. Now take a look at this photo mockup of a protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue through the 1st Ward in Wicker Park. Where would you ride your bicycle, and why?

Which facility would you prefer to ride your bicycle in?

1, or 2?

Read more about cycle tracks/protected bike lanes on Steven Can Plan.

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