Wednesday, March 12, 2014

City Policy Makers May Hear Concerns Today About Winter Maintenance of Bicycle Lanes

Today is the perfect day to voice concerns to the City over how it has maintained (or not) Chicago's bike lanes over the winter.  From 3:00 to 4:30 this afternoon the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC) will meet at City Hall to discuss the state of all things bicycle.  The meeting is open to the general public and will take place in Room 1103, 121 North LaSalle Street.  MBAC meetings are held four times a year and provide an excellent opportunity to hear about the latest bikey happenings and to discuss issues with actual policy makers.

There is much to discuss about how the City has dealt with a difficult winter season.  Judging solely by appearances, the City seems to have largely thrown in the towel when it comes to maintaining our (no longer) shiny new bicycle infrastructure.  Our bike lanes, particularly our protected bike lanes, are in terrible shape. Plastic posts meant to separate bikes from cars have in numerous instances been ripped from the asphalt, often by the City's own snow plows.  Potholes, are not merely an annoyance but are so deep and prevalent in areas designated for bike traffic that they are down right dangerous.  In the Kinzie protected bicycle lane there is a sewer cover that has recessed deeply into the ground so as to present a hazard to cyclists using what was once a gleaming example of where the we wanted to go as a city.  Someone placed a orange safety cone in it some weeks ago.  It now lays mashed in the hole, a limp symbol of our present sad state.

As my law partner, Jim Freeman, documented a short time ago on this blog, snow removal in Chicago bicycle lanes has been inconsistent this winter.  This morning conditions in both the Kinzie bike lane and the Loop's Dearborn bike lane were down right treacherous.  Both were filled with a thick mix of slush and ice that probably could have been avoided had the City simply placed salt in the bike lanes.  This is what Kinzie looked like at around 8:30 a.m.:
Chicago's Kinzie Bike Lane this morning
Many cyclists were forced to abandon the lane and ride on the sidewalk.

This is what the Dearborn bike lane looked like a short time later:
Chicago's Dearborn Bike Lane this morning
It was accurately worse than it looks and it looked bad for the lane's entire length through the Loop.  In the case of Dearborn, the City does not seem to have attempted snow removal.  Also, the situation was made worse by building property managers along the route pushing snow directly into the bike lane.  (I'm looking at you Monadnock Building.)  This has been a problem all winter long and the City is quite aware of it.  After snow storms Chicago police should be patrolling Dearborn handing out tickets to those dumping snow in the bike lane.  

My guess is that the City's response to many of these concerns will be that, you know, this was an exceptionally bad winter.  It was.  But the weather was certainly not unprecedented.  No one should be surprised when a Chicago winter is cold and snowy.  Perfection is not expected, but the current state of affairs is unacceptable and worrisome.  Is Chicago truly committed to making cycling safe and accessible for people "8 to 80" year 'round, or not?  If it is, then hard work and planning is required.

If you share the concerns raised here, or have additional concerns, show up today and make yourself heard. I know, the winter is nearly over and everyone is sick to death of thinking about snow and the removal thereof.  But the time is now to start making sure that next winter the City does a better job of making our bike lanes safe for everyone to use.


  1. I can't make it, but I hope one of you will be able to be there. There was someone on the Chainlink heralding the city for clearing Milwaukee and Kinzie at 8:40 this morning! I know a whole lot of people, including you, who are riding those lanes way before 8:40 a.m.
    Also, I find it most frustrating that the buildings are allowed to push snow into the bike lanes. The Westin hotel and the Daley Center are the two worst offenders on the section I ride. 55 West Wacker and the Goodman have been pretty good this year, except for Goodman occasionally clearing a walkway from the sidewalk and pushing snow from that small area into the lanes.

  2. Hopefully some good will come out of this. CDOT's current position is to not touch the lanes until Streets and San is done with the street portion. I think its safe to say that's unacceptable. Can you imagine is S&S said "we'll plow when someone else gets their job done". The city would lynch the Mayor in a second. The way CDOT treats these lanes and thus us, makes me really feel like a second class citizen taking a second class form of transportation.

    Also, I hope someone pointed out at the meeting, if you're heading SB on Dearborn and you learn the lanes aren't clear, you can't take the lane. Well, you can, but I highly suggest you don't salmon on Dearborn.

    1. As a follow up, at 8pm last night the Kinzie lanes were a literal death trap coming down the hill from Milwaukee.

      Wednesday morning, I woke up, saw snowfall and decided to work at home instead of going into the office because I'm aware how poor CDOT has been at clearing the lanes this winter. Luckily I have the option to stay at home, many who depend on safe cycling routes do not have this option.

    2. You don't mean a "literal" death trap, unless someone died. People who misuse literally drive me figuratively insane.

  3. Wide curb lanes avoid this problem, along with all the other problems of bike lanes.

    BTW, the more work demanded, the more it costs, the more it costs, the more likely bicycling will be taxed. If for nothing more the symbolism.

    1. Wide curb lanes don't avoid this problem any better than a better snow removal system. The kind of system used in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and cities in Canada. It's not a bike lane design problem but one of technique and CDOT has had three winters to improve that.

    2. A wide curb lane is accessible to the plow that plows the streets. A PBL with plastic sticks or like the one pictured with the article is not. It is a design which requires extra labor and equipment to deal with.

      This is Chicago, Illinois, USA, not somewhere in Europe, not Canada. Something which requires more city workers to deal with is a design problem. Eventually the city will demand tribute for the service of keeping PBL's clean of snow and debris. Then they still won't do it. That's how the city that works, works.

  4. I'd also like to see the city ticketing the cars that park in bike lanes when the parking lanes are too snowy. The inconvenience of finding another spot to park shouldn't trump following the law, but I've yet to see a single one of these cars ticketed, even when it's apparent that they've been there for several days.


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