Updated: Cracks Are Appearing In More Than Just The Pavement (VIDEO)


Background Reading:

The hype-machine is in overdrive as the Cycling Advocacy engine churns out feel good stories about “protected bike lanes” (PBL) all over the country. But frankly sometimes the reality does not live up to the hype. That is most certainly the case with our newly minted Dearborn Street bike lane. It is only 12-blocks long and we spent $450,000 in getting it ready for a grand opening a few weeks ago. All the loyal activists rolled up in their “finery” to bear witness to this momentous event.

And then this thread started happening:

Reply by Sarah Lewert 13 hours ago
I’m beginning to think the Dearborn PBL is actually more dangerous than just riding in the street with cars. Just on my ride this morning from Polk to Lake I got hit by a biker behind me when I slammed on my brakes for a pedestrian that jumped out in front of me, had 6 other pedestrians step out in front of me at Monroe, Madison and Washington, then turning right onto Lake almost got hit by a cab doing about 50 mph. What gives? This type of thing, at least for me, is becoming the norm.

This kind of reaction from a True Believer in the Church of Urban Cycling is distressing. But she has a point, the setup on Dearborn Street is too narrow. In fact it is narrow enough that my first impression was that here we have a planned bike lane with all of the effects of an unplanned salmoning situation.

The most charitable thing I can think to say is that Gabe Klein must have failed to ride this stretch before it was installed or planned it to be wider but the guys who did the actual striping of the street “dropped the ball”. Either way someone from City Hall should have been looking at the work in progression. You always measure twice and cut once.

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 12 hours ago
Do you use a mirror for riding in traffic? I have them on all my bikes. If someone is following closely and I’m stopping, I loudly call out “Stopping” so the person behind can hear me and have a better chance of avoid a collision. It’s something I learned from years of group riding that can be useful in an on-street lane.

I don’t have a good answer for the speeding cabbie. I wish more of them would get tickets more often, and that judges wouldn’t let them skate for high speed violations like that. I know police officers who love writing tickets on guys like that. Of course, for the system to work appropriately, it depends on the police officer showing up for the court date (doesn’t always happen) and the judge applying an appropriate penalty (doesn’t seem to happen often enough).

I agree with Anne’s assessment. This rider needs some Vehicular Cycling training to get her up-to-speed. But wait a minute. If Ron Burke and Gabe Klein are correct, better infrastructure will cure all ills. They of course are parroting the mouthings of Europeans like Mikael Colville-Andersen who despise Vehicular Cycling and feel it to be some sort of wacko cult-like practice. But as it clear in this one instance the improved infrastructure alone is not sufficient to make up for classroom training or at minimum group riding with other Vehicular Cyclists. Guess the Bishop of Bike Heaven does not speak ex cathedra.

Keep in mind too that Protected Bike Lanes are essentially designed with the novice rider in mind. Their primary purpose is to be so inviting that hesitant newbies can be coaxed off their couches and onto the roadway each morning.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 12 hours ago
The city dumped about a wheelbarrow of salt at that spot on the northwest corner of Dearborn and Randolph where the puddle takes up the entire southbound lane. They also appear to have broken up the ice–I guess to have the salt actually do something. Seems to be melting the edges, at least, which will allow it to evaporate.

I think it was just stupid driver day today. They were everywhere on my route to work and they weren’t just being stupid to cyclists–lots of car drivers were being annoyed by stupid car drivers.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 11 hours ago
I’m honestly done with Dearborn. I’d been on the fence about it since it opened because of the conflicts with vallets, delivery trucks, and driveways coupled with light timing that ment stopping every block. There just wasn’t enough effort put into intersection design to make a PBL work there.

Then over the weekend I crashed on the grate bridge and was done with Dearborn for good. Why CDOT routed a major bike route over such a terrible bridge I’ll never understand. Every meeting I’ve attended grate bridges are near the top of the concerns list, but there continues to be no action.

Reply by Deet 4.5mi 11 hours ago
Compared to riding for you life down wabash or state i think it is fine, slow but fine. That salt is insane though, it is like a gravel road in places.

Reply by maryrachel 10 hours ago
I agree with Deet. My commute going north in the evening is fine. Especially when I remember traveling north on Dearborn before the DBL. That was terrifying. I still avoid traveling south. At least until the small ponds of ice disappear.

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 9 hours ago

Our Brand New Dearborn Protected Bike Lane© Anne Alt

Our Brand New Dearborn Protected Bike Lane
© Anne Alt

Took a walk at lunchtime today. Use extreme caution if you’re southbound between Madison and Monroe. Even though a lot of salt has been used, there was a LOT of water along the curb, so now it’s a mix of slush and ice. There’s a much smaller patch of ice-ringed slush in the middle of the same block. From Van Buren to Washington, this is by far the worse worst hazard I’ve seen.

Reply by Chi Lowe 12.5+ mi 7 hours ago
I think Dearborn is going to require (a) some patience and (b) some work. The Lake intersection is a particular problem: Peds at this location (particularly those on the North side of the intersection) seem to think the bike lane is a sidewalk extension.

I’ve taken to calling out, in a TV announcer voice: “He folks, this is a BIKE ROAD. You wouldn’t stand in the CAR ROAD, so why are you standing in the BIKE ROAD?”

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 4 hours ago
It has never been done before in Chicago–it is really a pretty drastic change. It is winter and the traffic is relatively low. The city says they are going to improve the pavement problems, and they will get plates, I am sure. (Just when and why it is taking so long is a valid question.) It has only been open for a month.

I ride it every day and I am seeing incremental improvements. To expect that this lane was going to open and it was going to be magically perfect is unrealistic. Society does not adapt quickly to drastic change. I believe that it is going to work. But don’t ever expect to fly up and down Dearborn in this lane. It is not intended for that and it will never happen. For some folks, it is not the right thing. That is okay. You know, “different strokes . . . .”

Reply by Chi Lowe 12.5+ mi 3 hours ago

Now You're Talking...

Now You’re Talking…

I really do think it will get better – a least in all the ways it can.

For the missing plates and unimproved curbside areas – I think the powers wanted to get it *done*, and they didn’t let getting it *pefect* get in the way of that. I can respect that approach as long as there is follow-up: next summer, CDOT *should* level out those rough areas – when the work can be done overnght, in one shot.

As to the peds… Well, peds walk, jog, and stand in bike lanes all over (I encounter them on Kinzie, for example). Dearborn just has more of them. They’ll learn, eventually – or CDOT will keep trying to find ways to alert them to the danger (for example, the * LOOK * signs recently painted in).

The key in all this is to ride that strip of road like crazy, every time we can, and keep communicating experiences and ideas with CDOT where and when we can. The mayor took real political risk in converting a major thoroughfare in a major city into a statement about sustainability, a major step in a bid to change the culture of the city (and attract start-ups, improve civic health, reduce pollution, etc…)

That seems worthy of some patience.

Indeed patience is called for. But I sense that some of the True Believers are functioning a bit more like Trained Seals. If this has been a $450,000 home and the floors were as uneven as is the street, patience would not be the watch word for the homeowners. I can imagine the contractor asking for patience but he is not the one who just shelled out a half-million bucks for warped floors.

Gabe Klein did a recent interview in which the updated NACTO Bike Guide was spot lighted. The whole point of this sort of guide is to provide guidance for municipalities so that they can work their way through the problems they are likely to encounter as they update their infrastructure. So understanding the “do’s and dont’s” is not the problem.

The problem is that nobody is getting on a bike and riding over these newly installed lanes to see if they are going to work for real human beings. This is work that represents more window-dressing that actual thoughtfulness. If this were a football team the coach would be fired.

I called it a minefield.© Steve Vance

I called it a minefield.
© Steve Vance

And judging from other streets that have been painted and pronounced part of the system things are being done with a typical Chicago lack of precision. You do not paint a bike lane over pavement like that pictured to the right.

Patience is not what is needed in Chicago but rather diligence. If you are the fellow in charge of these lanes then you need to get off your cushioned butt and see that the work is done well. And if it is not being done to your satisfaction you walk “down the hall” to the head of whatever department is actually doing the work and tell him to do the same. This sort of thing is disgraceful.

And if we are trying to convince people in “low-income” neighborhoods who don’t even ride bikes that our main concern with commandeering the parking space around the one institution they do care about, is “safety” then perhaps the guys in City Hall need a refresher on the meaning of that word in the context of the type of work they do.

More Support Cometh…

Reply by Michelle Stenzel 7 hours ago
I’m still a fan of the protected bike lane. There are absolutely problems with it, but these can and I’m confident will be solved in spring, once construction season begins. In addition to filling in potholes and improving drainage, I’d suggest they increase visibility of the bike lane at alleys and curb cuts like at that hotel between the river and Kinzie with more paint, different colors, or something. The PBL is rough and there’s ice, but compared to having no lane at all and just riding among the cars on Dearborn in the Loop like I’d been doing for years before this, it’s still an improvement. And, they could have waited until May or June 2013 to get it all perfect before rolling it out, but in August 2012, the mayor said the lane would materialize by the end of the year, and so points awarded for keeping his word. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I’ve only seen one occasion ever where a motor vehicle user was parked IN the PBL since it officially opened. And errant pedestrians don’t bother me. That is a problem that will be around forever, basically. I’d rather be mixing it up on Dearborn with people on foot than people driving 18-wheel Coca Cola delivery trucks any time.

Now let me mention the bike box at Dearborn and Washington (the box is on Washington to assist bicyclists who are turning east onto eastbound Washington). I’ve never once used the box in spite of turning eastbound on Washington at that intersection dozens of times now, and that’s because if I arrive on Dearborn from the north at any time during a red light for southbound bike traffic, it’s inefficient to wait for the green, get on the box, and wait an entire ‘nother cycle for the green to go east. It’s more efficient to hop off the bike, walk the bike with the peds across Dearborn, wait briefly for the green, and then hop on the bike to cross Washington and keep going. Has anyone else noticed this? Do you use those bike boxes?

So why the rush to get this lane open just before the onset of winter? Either there is a presumed curtailment of funding ahead or somebody had a political motive for this sort of “grandstanding“. Putting up lanes like this (i.e. showcase lanes) presumes that they are models of what the City of Chicago plans to do all over town.

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 6 hours ago
I consider it a work in progress, and I think we’ll see changes/improvements over the next year.

That alley Julie mentions between Monroe and Adams has a fair amount of truck traffic throughout a 9-5 workday, and not much on nights and weekends. Truck drivers who regularly visit that location are often fairly careful about watching for cross traffic. Non-regulars are a crap shoot. (I worked in an office next to that alley for 10 years, so I’m very familiar with traffic patterns there.)

If you’re southbound, you get a little more warning, because the building on that side is set back from the street. If you’re northbound, the Marquette Building comes right up to the regular-width sidewalk, so there’s about 8-10 between the building and the bike lane – not much warning at all.

Dearborn Street garners my contempt because it is indeed a work-in-progress. It’s a bit like every other human endeavor. You throw some Jello on the wall and you see what sticks. If proffered in that vein I can live with it. But we have been touting the “safety” factor of bike lanes both here and in New York and elsewhere. Given that rationale the very last thing you want to see is something which is destined to create safety issues rather than be the panacea.

It is so very bizarre but frankly expected that cyclists who are so very dismissive of anything that motorists and their supporters do would be so accepting of this kind of crap.

The New 80-8 Design Plan© Bicycle Alliance of Washington

The New 80-8 Design Plan
© Bicycle Alliance of Washington

The very last thing some wag decided to post was this illustration (see at right). I have to give the Bicycle Alliance of Washington credit for an eye-catching graphic. But again we are positing that the solutions we offer are “sound and proven“. And every time we have to modify our work it becomes clearer to both the folks who have no idea why millions are being spent on what they deem as useless bike lanes that destroy the parking integrity of their Church Life, we look like the stumbling, bumbling fools we seem to be.

Low-income neighborhoods are more than familiar with Final Solutions as offered up by those who thought Willis Wagons and Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes were grand Progressive notions. Evolutionary development aside there is nothing about the shoe-horning of protected bike lanes onto crumbling streets that seems consistent with “safety”.

And if we cannot figure out how to avoid serious injury of two-wheeled vehicles crossing iced over bridges then “why the heck would we want to give the Lion’s Share of the roadway over to our tiny-minded bike infrastructure designs?”

That is all!

Want To See A “Real” Protected Bike Lane?

Compared to this Dearborn Street is a joke! Next time you hear a Europeans talk about protected bike lanes think this and not whatever shoe-horned piece of crap lane in Chicago you had in mind.

And for all you ChainLink-types cannot bear to have pedestrians in the bike lane, watch them pushing strollers in this video. And as for anyone parking in the bike lane wait until you see what got parked in this one. Bet you not one single Dutchman thought to grab a snapshot and whine on Amsterdamize about the fact that somebody had violated their precious “airspace“. Chicagoans really need to “get their act together“. We are such prima donnas.

MUV4, comfy ride in the rain with electric assist from twilwel on Vimeo.

Published on Jan 7, 2013
Mango Urban Vehicle part 4. A slightly edited version is on Vimeo http://vimeo.com/user319658/muv4

Testing “Electrango” in the city Groningen. This pedelec or electric assisted velomobile has a Sunstar 250Watt motor. Operation is more than simple, because the system measures how hard you pedal and matches/surpasses your own effort with a boost of the electric engine. The engine is positioned at the bottom bracket, so it works through the gears of the Mango.

An unexpected side effect of the assist is that it helps me recover from an Achilles injury. The chance of putting too much strain on the tendon is minimal, because the motor immediately engages with maximum power when I start to pedal hard.

At the highest level of assistance, I can ride in normal clothes and not get sweaty at all. Inside the Mango, with the hood over my head the comfort level is very good. Noise of the motor is only really noticeable when I pedal hard, so when I accelerate from a stop for instance.