Chicago Gets Its First Curb-Protected Bike Lane, More On The Way

By Rachel Cromidas in News on May 20, 2015 7:15PM

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(CDOT)

Chicago is moving forward with its first curb-protected bike lane, and two more are on the way.

Over the past week, Chicago Department of Transportation workers have been installing the city's first curb-protected bike lane on a quarter-mile stretch of Sacramento Avenue between Ogden Avenue and Douglas Boulevard on the Southwest Side. This type of bike lane protects cyclists by separating them from traffic with a poured-concrete raised curb, similar to a sidewalk curb.

Later this year, two more will be installed. The first will be on a small stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Elston Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway that CDOT expects will be done this summer. The two- to three-block stretch will be capped off by vehicle parking spots, which will separate cyclists even further from the flow of traffic. Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Transportation will also begin installing a curb-protected bike lane on a stretch of Clybourn Avenue near where cyclist Bobby Cann was killed two years ago. Summit Construction Company has been awarded a $700,000 contract for that project, according to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, and the lane should be up and running in the fall, though no exact dates have been set.

For many cyclists a concrete separation, as opposed to painted bike lane lines or plastic bollards between the bike lane and traffic, is the gold standard for safe urban cycling. This style of bike lane provides "permanent infrastructure that will discourage motorists from parking/driving in the bike lane [and is] more aesthetically pleasing than pavement markings and bollards," CDOT spokesman Michael Claffey said in an e-mail.

Why can't all Chicago bike lanes be curb-protected? Claffey says a lot of factors have to come together to make it feasible on all city streets. The streets must be wide enough to allow maintenance vehicles to clear snow and other debris and the streets need to have proper drainage even with the curb. Of course, there must also be funds available for the construction project.

Local cycling safety advocates from the Active Transportation Alliance have heralded the curb-protected bike lane, already popular in New York City and other major metro areas, for their ability to clearly define where motorists and cyclists belong on a street, reducing confusion and the potential for collisions. But some critics have worried that these bike lanes would take away from on-street parking and increase congestion on already cramped roadways.

CDOT has been working steadily toward City Hall's goal of building 100 miles of barrier- and buffer-protected bike lanes by 2015. Streetsblog Chicago has a more complete list of the bike lane projects currently underway.