Tag: protected 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.