For Chicago’s Bicycling Infrastructure Push : The Devil Is In The Details


Despite the lightness of this loving season ChainLink Forum participants find time for snakiness. Here is another good example:

Chicago made big progress improving crosswalks in 2012

From the Tribune online today in Getting Around:

39 miles of bike lanes striped, repainted safety zones around 331 schools

Volunteer crosswalk monitor Laurie Hasbrook works at keeping pedestrians safe near Hayt Elementary School on the North Side of Chicago. (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)
Jon Hilkevitch: Getting Around
December 24, 2012

Worn-out crosswalk striping and other poorly visible pavement markings have impaired safety in recent years on Chicago streets, where about 3,000 vehicle-pedestrian accidents occur annually, but the problem is starting to disappear, according to city officials.

The city had planned to spend $2.3 million in 2012 on refreshing pedestrian crosswalk bars, vehicle lane lines, stop bars at traffic signals, speed humps and bicycle-lane striping, the Tribune reported in December 2011. The Tribune reported on how such routine maintenance had been deferred in the midst of budget shortfalls the past four years.

But drawing on local motor fuel tax and bond funds as well as state and federal funding, this year’s tally on striping work totaled about $6.2 million, according to data the Tribune requested from the Chicago Department of Transportation. CDOT provided spreadsheets listing more than 58,700 individual markings or locations covering at least 121 miles.

About 39 miles of bike lanes were striped, accounting for almost half of the total money spent, the records show.

“Part of the reason so much more striping was done than in the past was that we did dramatically more street paving this year, covering about 80 miles of arterial streets,” said Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein. Unspent federal stimulus funds were tapped for some of the work, he said.

The job of hitting every segment of pavement with new paint, reflective tape and thermoplastic markings, which are applied using heat, will take years to complete, as Chicago has more than 4,000 miles of streets, officials said.

One key focus in 2012 was at children’s safety zones, officials said. The intersections within a one-block radius of 331 schools were repainted this year.

“In the past years, CDOT would try to resurface the crosswalks at as many schools as requested,” department spokesman Pete Scales said. “This year, we began a program that would work to refresh the crosswalks around all of the 900 schools in Chicago every three years.”

New or updated crosswalks in the continental crosswalk design — made up of a sequence of thick bars — will be done around at least 300 more schools in 2013, he said. In many locations, the continental markings will replace parallel lines that are not as apparent for drivers to detect that they are coming up to a crosswalk, officials said.

Different paint methods are also being tested to determine the most durable solutions, Scales said. Two coats of paint were put down at intersections near 23 schools this year, and after the winter inspectors will check to see whether they held up better than locations that were refreshed with one coat, he said.

Thermoplastic markings are a more efficient longer-term answer, but a larger upfront investment is required, officials said.

“Thermoplastic is a more expensive process than paint, but it lasts seven to eight, sometimes 10 years,” Klein said. A painted asphalt surface generally is good for several years, but it tends to last a shorter time in locations that receive especially heavy wear, including bus stops and areas where other large vehicles brake and make turns, he said.

Thermoplastic work is currently is done in Chicago by private companies because the city does not own the necessary equipment, Klein said.

“But we could lease trucks and do the work in-house. Washington recently moved from paint to thermo for in-house crews,” he said.

Under the city’s still-developing pedestrian safety program, which includes an array of technology aimed at reducing accidents, pavement markings represent the low-hanging fruit, officials said. But spending on renewing pavement markings declined to a low of $700,000 in 2009, according to city records.

About 80 percent of the approximately 3,000 vehicle-pedestrian accidents in the city each year occur at intersections, according to a recent study.

The more than 250 recommendations in the pedestrian plan call for short- and long-term improvements to boost safety, especially for children and senior citizens around schools and parks, as well as increasing space for pedestrians. Wider sidewalks that were built in the newly completed section of Wacker Drive are one example of the new design philosophy, officials said.

Other new design elements — including pedestrian islands in the middle of multilane streets, more pedestrian countdown timers at crossings, and better signals and beacons — will be expanded upon when streets are scheduled for reconstruction, officials said.…

For the ChainLink Forum crowd no good deed ever is allowed to not be undone. This is a group for which there is “no shortage of carping” available at a moments notice. If you can find a fault in anything done by the City of Chicago, the Chicago Police or most notably motorists (who use the same roadways) or even columnists (who prod your tender parts in order to bring a little sanity to the party), it will be highlighted.

So let the snarking begin:

Reply by h’yesterday

Sidewalk Blind Bumps

Sidewalk Blind Bumps

I’ve been noticing that almost every single ‘traction plate’ that was installed on corners in my part of town is loose, broken, or missing altogether lately– I’d estimate less than 20% of corners I see are intact.  Seems like it has gone downhill more quickly lately.

Another respondent also points on the increased use of “zebra crossings“. The post is for the most part positive. A third post returns to the problems with the “blind bumps“. It is an attempt to confirm that the problem exists in more than one area of the city.

Then along comes a fellow who tries to explain the difficulty in operating a large city street maintenance program and what the pitfalls are:

Reply by Steven Vance 15 hours ago
I’m happy to see zebra/international/continental/ladder-style crosswalks become the standard in Chicago and are making their way into more and more neighborhoods.

These are detection plates for people who cannot see the edge of the road. They have been made with several materials over the years. The ones that break the fastest seem to be made of some kind of rock (concrete or plaster). Some appear to be made of some kind of plastic. “Neenah Foundry”, the maker of most (if not all) metal utility covers, is seen stamped in some of the plates.

Next comes the usual silliness from ChainLink Forum folks who perhaps have little to contribute but really, desperately want to be thought witty and clever:

Reply by Thunder Snow 9 hours ago

Zebra Crossing Humor?

Zebra Crossing Humor?

No harm. No foul. But the humorous graphic does not serve to aid the conversation. It is merely a momentary distraction before the snarky comments descend:

Reply by h’ 8 hours ago
I see. So now they alert the blind person by tripping them.

As with the humorous graphic one has to wonder why it is so difficult for ChainLink Forum members to “stay on point”?

As with most “activists” their strong suit is showing up for photo ops when someone is rolling out just about anything that they have been told is good for urban cycling. Apart from that they have singular skills in finding friends who write at the lower echelons of the news media who can craft a hasty report on an accident using wording that suits the urban cycling narrative and not always the actual facts.

The latest trend is to never call a collision involving a cyclist and an automobile an accident. Somehow or another this is supposed to imply that anything a motorist does is avoidable. Never mind that the cyclist’s behavior could have been a contributing factor, the motorist is always wrong.

The Maintenance Issues Are Going To Increase

Dearborn Bike Lanes

Dearborn Bike Lanes

So from this discussion thus far we glean knowledge that the city is alerting blind pedestrians by attempting to trip them. A stupid remark but then if there is anything to which a good “Trained Seal” aspires it is the release of sardonic comments in hopes that his fellow anarchists will find him clever and appealing.

But frankly this is a discussion for “big boys” not smart-asses. Sometime this winter somebody on a bike is going to skid and fall and break an elbow while riding down Dearborn Street on those pretty green bike lanes whose surface is uneven enough to trap water. Ice will form and then “Bob’s Your Uncle“. It is inevitable. And all of that smiling giddiness that was noticeable at the grand opening will turn to something not so nice when the “whiners” come out to play.

Never mind the fact that countless people who have favorably reported on this $450,000 boondoggle have mentioned the problem, there will still be yet another cyclist and her ambulance chasing lawyer who will complain that the city should have anticipated this problem and done something about it. And she even might be coerced to admit on the stand that she read those articles about the problem. But nevertheless someone on that fateful 12-block stretch will find a way to get injured.

What will be priceless is if they go down in such a way as a injure a pedestrian or another cyclist and then listen to them try and whine their way out of being culpable (despite foreknowledge) for having caused the accident. (You need to think about the fixed gear rider in California who plowed through a crowded pedestrian walkway killing an elderly person and who offered in his own defense the fact that parts of his bike saddle were ruined during the crash.)

Folks, mark my words. There will be issues involving both lack of maintenance and failure to fix known problems before opening up a stretch of bicycle infrastructure for use by the public. Every big city does this and they factor in the costs of lawsuits before making their moves. It is just that simple.

Infrastructure Design In Chicago Is Undergoing A Metamorphosis

The fact is that there are all sorts of way s to design bicycle infrastructure. And it appears that each and every possible iteration is being used as we move our way across the city installing pretty green lanes. Some of the movement towards infrastructure is probably done in too great a haste. But there is a fine line between being precipitate and losing the momentum that politicians and activists alike, love. So when we next gather for a “photo op“, keep in mind that something being done in the name of safety is probably going to get someone killed.

Right hooks out west have already caused the deaths of cyclists who were correctly positioned in bike lanes and even in bike boxes. Nevertheless a cyclist gets crushed and we find out that the lane itself produces an unwanted effect that can only effectively be remedied by modifications to the mirroring system on trucks. See references below:

What our politicians and cycling advocacy groups do not really want to do is admit that they are in some sense “blowing smoke up our collective dresses“. They are a bit like pharmaceutical companies that having invested millions of dollars in a wonder drug are loathe to admit that it is going to have to be removed from the marketplace because of dangerous side effects.

The same is true of our “pretty green lanes“. Admitting the fact that we are groping blind in many cases, trying to see what works and does not work would be helpful to the urban cycling community. Right now we are collectively operating under the impression that the sooner we get all these lanes installed the safer we will be. Not gonna happen.

It will sadly take a few deaths to expose the weaknesses in some of these designs being used. It might take a serious injury between two cyclists on Dearborn Street before Active Transportation Alliance gets up the nerve to openly question the feasibility of using such narrow lanes for cycling traffic in that instance. I hope it never happens, but I am not holding my breath.

I watched last Sunday as cyclist after cyclist came whizzing past me (as I waited near the Chicago Post Office) doing 20 MPH on a lane which in winter will get icy. And when that happens the likelihood of a front-end collision between two cyclists will become a certainty. And if that collision results in a death will there be a memorial gathering along that route? And will there be stickers made to slap on the bike frames of all riders or will we just quietly agree not to embarrass ourselves with evidence of our own foolish behaviors?

My guess is that there will be a discussion as to how to approach the city with a complaint about a design we applauded that fateful day in December, 2012. And that we could not get the word out about fast enough on the internet. But I hold little hope that things will be corrected in time to avoid serious injury. And in any case we might be able to pin the fault on some unsuspecting motorist a few blocks down who in making a turn caused some imagined distraction that made the cyclist doing 20 MPH on an icy roadway spin out. Yep! That’s our story and we are going to stick to it.