Now That A Sufficient Amount Of Smoke Has Been Blown Up Our Dresses…


You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

— Abraham Lincoln

Gabe Klein Is Moving The Goal Posts

John Greenfield writes:

CDOT is now defining buffered bike lanes as “protected” and counting them towards its 100-miles goal
Posted by John Greenfield on January 4, 2013

Wabash Bike Lane© John Greenfield

Wabash Bike Lane
© John Greenfield

In his Chicago 2011 Transition Plan, Rahm Emanuel set the extremely ambitious goal of installing hundred miles of protected bike lanes, defined in the document as “separated from traveling cars and sit[ting] between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic,” within his first term. Since then the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) has been doing yeoman’s work installing protected and buffered lanes, completing or starting construction on a total of 12.5 miles of protected and 14.5 miles of buffered lanes by the end of 2012.

Recently CDOT began referring to protected lanes as “barrier-protected” and buffered lanes as “buffer-protected,” and counting buffered lanes towards the 100-mile goal, changing its definition of what a protected bike lane is. I think it would be terrific if the city installs, say, 65 miles of protected and 35 miles of buffered lanes by 2015. The question is, would it make more sense for CDOT to acknowledge the shift to a more realistic goal, rather than changing the definition of “protected”? CDOT deputy commissioner Scott Kubly gave me the department’s perspective on the issue:


  • Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology

Keep moving forward,
John Greenfield

We Are Experimenting

We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us.

We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us.

This should come as no surprise. Bike lane design is not an exact science. Think a dress design. It works on a wraith-like figure but looks terrible on a size 16 Earth Mother. Lane designs are no different. And most importantly somebody needs to go out and ride the damned roads before a single drop of paint is laid down. That was evidently not done or at least not done well with respect to the Dearborn Street boondoggle just opened a week or so ago. And while it is easy to point fingers, anybody who showed up to that opening and applauded each word said by the various dignitaries is complicit in that charade.

There is no excuse for making the lanes so narrow and even more so no excuse for having the roadway so uneven as to already be collecting water and eventually ice. It is embarrassing to see traffic cones up already to alert riders that a danger is present in the roadway.

And there are already riders who are abandoning that 12-block stretch for the various reasons mentioned. Sad but true. But on the bright side we now know where the warts are.

Some Observations Buffered vs. Protected

Reply by John Greenfield 13 hours ago
It does seem like many “strong and fearless” cyclists prefer buffered lanes to protected ones. The goal of protected lanes is to attract the “interested but concerned” contingent.

Reply by in it to win it 8.0 mi 13 hours ago
Buffered vote here.

Reply by 122782_ 13 hours ago
Agreed. I like both, but think we need more protected lanes. There are still a ton of people that would like to bike in the city, but think it’s too dangerous.

Reply by h’ 1.0 13 hours ago
Protected to me means physical barrier, like we saw on the North Ave bridge during construction.
It sounds like the number of cyclists that die or are permanently disabled due to sharing space with cars and trucks each year is generally acceptable to the bike community. So be it then.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 13 hours ago
Protected lanes require a lot more attention to intersection design than CDOT has shown in most cases. NACTO design guides include several recommendations for channeling turning traffic crossing a protected lane and designing intersections to improve sight lines that would address a lot of my concerns with protected lanes as they’ve been implemented so far.

Most crashes happen at intersections, but protected lanes only provide more safety mid block and may make intersections more dangerous because of the poor sight lines.

Dearborn was a definite step in the right direction, but most of Chicago’s protected lanes need improvements to their intersection design.

Reply by Liz 10 hours ago
I tend to feel less safe in the protected lanes than the buffered lanes and would rather see buffered over protected lanes.
I’m not sure what if any research exists to say which of these configurations would attract the “interested but concerned” group. I really think overall safety vs. perception of what would bring more riders in better should be the first deciding factor.

The Elston protected lanes are a perfect example of buffered lanes being the better option. All the weaving back and forth is just confusing and makes what was a great cycling route unappealing.

Reply by Mark 9 hours ago
I agree. Crashes are more likely to occur at intersections than from being hit from behind. Visibility and predictability are key for avoiding crashes. Riding behind parked cars make bikers less visible and give them restricted options at intersections – like avoiding a right hook. Unless parking is eliminated like in the photos, buffered lanes are the way to go!

Reply by Joe Schmoe 8 hours ago
The protected-lanes restrict my ability to take evasive action, and I still don’t get how I’m supposed to make a right turn across traffic from a setup like they have on Dearborn. Bikes are traffic, and integrate the most smoothly when they’re treated as such. I understand that some people are scared to ride in the street. But guess what? Some people are scared to ride on the LFP, and some people are scared to ride a bike period. You have to be able to deal with at least a limited amount of risk of physical harm to ride a bicycle. We all fall/crash eventually. I would like to see usable, versatile infrastructure for cyclists that gives them space, but encourages compliance with (most) traffic laws, with reasonable safety accommodations made. I don’t like infrastructure that prevents me from passing. I live in Rogers Park. Most of my rides outside of my neighborhood are 8 miles+. I’m trying to make good time to get back home, and I don’t like to wait behind slow cyclists on a tiny corner of the road they’ve blocked off as specifically for cyclists.
Buffered bike lanes all day, e’er day.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 7 hours ago
As usual we have taken a topic and turned it into whatever we want ;-). But, since we already have, I will put my two cents in. I want to see well thought our protected lanes. I am comfortable in buffered lanes. I even manage to ride on Milwaukee now without being scared to death. But that has evolved in the scant eight months since I took up cycling again at the tender age of closer to 60 than to 50. I started on the LFP at times when it was not crowded and worked my way up. IMHO, that is how we will get more people cycling.

The lanes in the Montreal photos seem to be good lanes–cars can see bikes and bikes can see cars. Dearborn is a start, but CDOT needs to do what they said they will do and but in concrete barriers. And maybe lane dividers at each intersectio that will stop the clueless Chicago drivers from driving or parking in the bike lanes, but I think over time people will figure that out anyway. Those lanes have only been open for less than a month, and they are a first in Chicago.

I take the position, though, that it does not matter where you are riding–you need to pay particular attention at intersections to watch for what we all know are potential hazards.

As to this issue of passing–I am a slow rider and people pass me safely all of the time on Dearborn. I don’t expect a faster rider to ride at my pace. Just look to see that the oncoming lane is clear and go around me. If I know you are there, I will even move over to the right if it is safe for me to do it. And when you catch up to me at a light, don’t stop behind me. Go right ahead and take off first. I don’t understand why this is a problem.

Reply by Mike Holzer 7 hours ago
i could not agree more about the confusion with the elston protected bike lane. the old system of buffered lane was much safer and predictable.

Reply by h’ 1.0 6 hours ago
I don’t know what data you’re basing this on, but if one were only to look at the crashes that were fatal for cyclists over the past few years, I don’t think they would bear this out.

Reply by Reba 4.0 mi 4 hours ago
Hmmmm what kind of bike lanes would we prefer? What kind of bike lanes keep riders safe? What kind of bike lanes promote cycling in our city?

These questions don’t necessarily all add up to the same answer.

I’m with Lisa 100% on how people become cyclists – baby steps until they get comfortable with riding in traffic. And, I doubt there are a large number of accidents caused by cyclists passing us slower riders.

As to what we prefer, I think we can agree on two things:

  • we’d like to see more and be seen more
  • intersections need structural alterations to accommodate bike lanes

Incidentally, both times I came close to being hit by a car (I mean close!) was mid block: once by getting doored – went over the hood instead; and the second, by falling off my bike on the railroad tracks and into traffic – the car stopped and literally picked me and my bike up.

Reply by Daniel G 9 hours ago
No one will bike until it is safe and sharing the road with moving/parked cars is. not. safe. The main thoroughfares must be protected/segregated lanes, or the entire network is unusable. Chicago should be very satisfied with becoming a nearly-bikable city ten years out from now. Revising definitions to meet impossible criteria indicates a city which is not serious about its own agreed-upon goals.

Reply by Manny Fuentes, 9.2 mi. 7 hours ago
I like the “buffered” lanes (like in the picture) better.
More area/space to react to various incidents, than in the Dearborn lanes. Especially with people trying to cross streets from in between vehicles (or ignorant bicyclists that blow through red lights at intersections).
Has anyone been on the Dearborn bike lanes when they are busy? How much traffic is on them at that time? Seemed like it would be tight for bicyclists to ride on them while busy. Will you be set in the speed of the person at the front of the lane, like on the expressways during rush hours, until you can find an “off-ramp”/cross street?
I rode it for the first time during December’s Critical Mass. It seemed very narrow. And when we were riding back (at the end of CCM) you can’t really ride side-by-side to have a conversation, because we had a few of those “bike ninjas” come speeding down the oncoming lane with no lights/helmets wearing dark clothing, yelling at us to get out of their way. Just wondering what the benefit of such narrow lanes is ? I would feel safer with the “buffered lane” (in pic) on both sides of the street (following the “rules of the road” by riding on the right side of the road).
(also, it would allow me to pass “slow-pokes” like the dude with the training wheels in the pic…LOL ! Just kidding ! I would protect him from traffic.)
As far as the city (CDOT) renaming “buffered” as “protected” lanes (or vice versa), it seems like they (just like society in general) is trying to NOT have to do the necessary work ! If they add all the “buffered”/”protected”/other bike lanes, they will achieve their goal of “X” amount of miles of biking infrastructure sooner (making them look good in the “public’s eye” for finishing a project under budget-attempt to save money that they really aren’t, and finishing a project earlier than expected. Both of these sound good in a news blurb, yet no one will ask where the savings went ! We will still be short of our amount of “protected” or “buffered” lanes, and someone within the city will pocket the money.)
Someone is trying to do a magic trick. “Look ! We got you all 100 miles of “protected”/”buffered”/other bike lanes done before the 10 yrs is up !”
And in reality, they will have only done 10 new miles, and just repainted the old lanes (which, obviously, do NOT add up to 100 miles, or they would never have had to make the Dearborn lanes !)

Just my opinion.



Reply by Jennifer on the lake 5 hours ago
If fiddling with the nomenclature is what it takes to get all the major bike routes restriped finally, I’m all for it.

Reply by Nancy L. Fagin 34 minutes ago
Many thanks – I think there should be zones – denser populated areas need protected lanes (downtown), then phasing into buffered (with good coats of paint) in out lying areas. Gradually, those buffered zones could be reconfigured into protected lanes (curbside or not).
For example, if Elston was completely protected, I’m sure more people would commute on it and even move closer to it…but economics and financing may not be with us for now. Street usage can change overnight – I remember when parts of North and Division Avenue were basically industrial (Old Chicago Brewing?), the streets were bare. Not today. Build a shopping mall and forget about pedestrians and bikers – build suburbia in the “inner city”.
Also education must be part of the plan.
Yes, I’ve thought of using Theater/Drama class 101 – grabbing my chest, dragging my damaged leg, swinging a twisted hip. Sometimes just making a good note of their license plate works

Working Backwards

Reba asks, “What kinds of lanes?” The answer to that question must always be “safe ones“. Sometimes you see references to “subjective safety“. That is kind of like saying if you had your choice between a steel door or a wooden one with a chain attached which would you choose. The wooden door with the chain provides “subjective safety” to its user. The steel door while less fashionable looking is the safer one.

Pretty green lanes provide “subjective safety“. But as some have pointed out they demand some thought on the part of the traffic engineer in how to effect certain kinds of turns without impeding traffic or causing dangerous collisions. But even more to the point, when you have had a pretty green lane in place for a season it will need maintenance. Protected bike lanes are a nightmare where this sort of practical thinking is involved.

How for instance does one drive a plow down a protected bike lane without destroying the PVC pipe bollards. In fact why ever place a bike lane along the gutter of a roadway where the drainage is located? All of the road debris on crowned roadways travels to the edges. That is exactly where the vulnerable bike tires will encounter the greater danger of puncture. And as we have seen this is also where poor drainage and ice formation have the greatest ill effect on bicycles.

In warmer climes this might not be a problem. But folks, we live in Illinois. We get some serious snow each year and we have to salt and plow. This is not a locale for pretty green lanes if they cannot be easily maintained. The few protected bike lanes I have ridden are going to be a maintenance nightmare.

If the volume of traffic is too great on a roadway then things like bike boxes really do not make much sense. These are designed for low volume streets where a handful of cyclists can take advantage of them when effecting left turns. But hundreds of cyclists cannot fit in these bikes. And if we really are contemplating attracting some 3-5x as many riders as are currently on the roadway we will need to plan better.

Narrow bi-directional lanes like the one on Dearborn Street are a mistake. It is troublesome that this is a showcase lane design. Groups like Active Transportation Alliance are supposedly serving as consulting agents. Who on their staff was tasked with giving feedback on the conditions on Dearborn Street prior to the installation? My guess is that if this is the best that we can do, then we need to try harder.

More Responses

I added a few of the additional responses collected overnight. Chicago riders are a very compliant bunch when it comes to their demands. It would be wonderful if the entire crew of 200 or so contributors to the recent ChainLink Forum “boondoggle campaign” could be flown to Amsterdam to see for themselves what the major differences between our environment and that one really are like.

It might help reset our expectations as a cycling community and make it a more realistic movement overall. Right now if you want to push through pretty green lanes all you have to do is describe them as European and visions of Bike Heaven float in front of most listeners as they nod in agreement with what you want to do.

When it becomes painfully clear that the price of those pretty green lanes and the estimates of what it will take to maintain them in deadly winter storms here in Chicago is fairly steep you will see folks modify their offerings (as is being done here) to get things in line with reality. Mayor Rahm Emanuel already knows from the responses by Active Transportation Alliance and the folks on ChainLink when asked to pay for anything that they are more than reluctant, they are downright incensed that registrations, licensing or any other collection instrument to help defray costs for upgrading cycling infrastructure is considered an Anti-Cycling Activity. John Kass has proved this point more than once.

Chicago’s Urban Cycling Community is all about saving money while never giving back to help with costs. Heck if you can’t get 8,500 ChainLink Forum members to each donate $2 how the heck would you ever expect them to be anything more than “takers“.

Less than 300 people of that total 8,500 even bothered to give $2 to something they claim to love.