When it comes to cycling around our city not much scares me. This is not because I am particularly brave. It is just that I do it a lot and I am used to the congestion, the crappy roads and other challenges that exist in our urban streetscape. There is one exception though: The area around the intersection of Logan Boulevard and Western Avenue scares the hell out of me. At the same time I find it necessary to ride through there fairly often. Logan Boulevard provides a link to the Logan Square neighborhood and places where I shop frequently, Target, Pet Smart, Strack and Van Til, Microcenter, etc. I suspect I am not the only one. Logan Square is the sort of unofficial hub of Chicago bicycle culture these days. If you live here you know. If you do not, come on over and see what I mean. We have The Bike Lane, Boulevard Bikes, Milwaukee Avenue, Coles and the Tour de Fat. A lot of people here do not just ride bikes, they use their bikes as transportation year round to shop, get to work and just to go from place to place. Yet this important link -- Logan and Western -- between our neighborhood and an important shopping district is one of the most dangerous bicycle transit points in the city.
My friends over at Grid Chicago have attempted to analyze crash data from the area, but much information is missing. There is no immediately apparent engineering solution to the problem; at least not without filling in the missing data points, which Grid Chicago's Steven Vance lists succinctly.
There are several factors which make the ride, both eastbound and westbound, on Logan across Western dangerous. There is no bike lane, or sharrows designation in either direction. The bicyclist must ride to the right side of the roadway and motorists are required to provide him or her with three feet of space when passing. However, motorists face a changes in lighting, a blind curves and somewhat narrow traffic lanes in both directions. There are no shoulders. These factors mean that (1) it will be difficult for motorists to see the cyclist and (2) once seen, it may be challenging, depending on traffic conditions, for the motorist to give the cyclist the mandated three feet of space. It may be prudent for the cyclist to take the lane to prevent the motorist from trying to squeeze by, but the lighting conditions and blind curves mean that a bicyclist in the middle of the lane could be struck from behind by an inattentive driver.
So what is a bicyclist to do? Riding eastbound, I use the sidewalk. It is illegal to do so. In Chicago only children are permitted to ride on the sidewalk. It is also inconsiderate to pedestrians. However, I find that traveling east it is the most prudent course. Just before getting to Western Avenue I hop off of the curb and back into the street, looking carefully behind me first. Motor vehicles at the intersection are almost always preparing to stop at the light and are slowing down. Once the light turns, I proceed along the right side of the road, just soaking up the bumps and pot holes on the east side of Western Avenue. Again, the lane is tight so I am generally disinclined to veer to the left. At the curb cut to turn into the Target parking lot a bike lane appears and I breath a sigh of relief.
The eastbound approach:
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Riding westbound is scarier. I generally find myself taking the lane as I wait for the light at Logan and Western. The lane is so narrow that there just is not much room to ride along the ride side of the road. I then remain in the lane as I go around that terrifying blind curve past the skateboard park. I pedal pretty hard through that section because I simply want to get through it as quickly as possible. After the skate park I hang a right onto the inner section of Logan Boulevard then relax.
The westbound approach:
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Notwithstanding the risks I have described it is important to be absolutely clear about this: Motorists traveling through this area must follow the law by watching for bicyclists and give them three feet of space. That it may be more difficult to do so here than at other roadway spots is no defense. If a driver fails to follow the law and injures or kills a cyclist he or she will and should face significant legal consequences. (They certainly would if I am involved in the case.) However, no cyclist wants a "good case." We want to get where we are going safely. At and near the intersection of Logan Boulevard and Western Avenue there is, I submit, a greater potential for the inattentive driver to cause harm.
The Chicago Department of Transportation, The Illinois Department of Transportation, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office are friendly to bicyclists and are working hard these days to make our infrastructure safer for cyclists. At Logan and Western, I respectfully request that they roll up their sleeves and find a solution.