Sunday, December 16, 2012

Riding Chicago's New Dearborn Bike Lane, In Beta

Since my holiday shopping plans took me to the Loop today I decided to check out the new Dearborn bike lane for the first time.  I secured a video camera to my helmet and rode.  (See the video below).  I was concerned that riding it on a grey and cloudy Sunday would not provide a "typical" downtown riding experience.  Usually, the Loop is deserted on a Sunday.  However, today being only nine days until Christmas it was quite busy with both pedestrians and motor vehicles.

All and all I enjoyed the experience.  It was down right luxurious to have space to ride through the Loop that I as a bicyclist could call my own.  That said, the new bike lane is definitely in beta, and as such, great caution should be taken when riding it.  Many pedestrians and motorists clearly do not know how to deal with the new infrastructure.  The most interesting parts of the video are:

4:20 - A pedestrian crosses right in front of me without looking.  (I suppose I could have been more polite in reminding her that she should do so.)

4:30 - Four pedestrians are just standing in the lane apparently unaware of where they were.

6:59 - A taxi driver enters the lane and confronts me head on.  We have a brief conversation in which he tells me that there is a taxi stand at that location.  He is right, but I tell him that he no longer can stop there.  He is quite pleasant actually and seemed genuinely confused as to what he was supposed to do.  I watch him exit the bike lane.  In fairness to him, taxi drivers should receive some instruction regarding relocation of taxi stands in light of the new bike lane.

As the video shows there is a great deal of standing water in the bike lane.  It rained all day yesterday.  Were it colder that water would have of course turned to ice making travel in the bike lane quite dangerous.  Certainly the City will need to monitor the situation throughout the winter so the bike lane can be utilized safely.


  1. I looked at the video. Interesting.

    I know this is a fist attempt with space limitations but the cycletrack still seams really narrow for two-way traffic. The curb and standing water make the outboard two feet of the cycletrack nearly unnavigable, just about forcing contraflow traffic into the oncoming bike lane. If there had been any oncoming bike traffic the video would have been even more interesting. If there was a high volume of free-flowing bicycle traffic, I don't know if it could still function. Where there are long stretches of gore striping in what would be the floating parking / turn lane, I would us that space to widen the cycling track at least two feet to make it easier to pass. I would even consider taking a foot away from door zone buffer to make more room for the contraflow traffic.

    The left turn box at 1:38 is an interesting idea but it seems a little exposed out there in the street. It's not where I would position myself without the box. Ahhh!!! At 8:08 that is where I would but the turning box is there but how do the oncoming cyclists know where it is? I'll confess, I don't have a solution for that either.

    Otherwise this is a neat facility. I like how it is on the left side of motor traffic as it puts contraflow traffic on the right and correct side of the roadway. There is another famous example that has the two-way cycle track on to the right side of motor traffic, putting contra-flow traffic on the left and wrong side of the roadway which is a concerning to say the least as there are numerous points of potential conflict at curb-cuts and intersections.

    Good luck Chicago!

  2. The only thing missing was a good bicycle bell.

  3. Thank you for making this video. Here in Boston there are some proposals for similar bi-directional facilities on major one-way downtown streets. As a cyclist, and one who enjoys taking it a little slower, I would welcome such facilities, so it's pretty cool to get a glimpse of what Chicago is doing.

    One thing that confuses me is that if I were a cyclists traveling in the direction of car traffic, and I wanted to make a right turn, there doesn't seem to be any safe way to do that or any built in queuing areas for this movement. I saw a few left turn boxes for cyclists traveling against the flow of car traffic, but nothing for right turning cyclists traveling with the car traffic.

    It looks like the only options would be to either merge right across the lanes of car traffic ahead of the intersection (not a very safe or appealing option) or to wait for the light to turn red and cross as a pedestrian.

    I know the track is still in "beta", but do you know if the city plans to find a way to address that issue? The 15th street cycle track in Washington DC, also bi-directional for bikes on a one-way street for cars, has built in turning lanes for bikes, so I know it can be done.


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