Updated: IDOT Gets It Right – ‘Trust But Verify’


Background Reading

When I arrived at Wheaton College is was my first chance to see how wealthy white kids behaved when they thought themselves to be out of the sight of their elders. These were kids who upon leaving high school had been able to visit Europe for a year and knew several languages because they had either studied them in boarding school or had grown up in foreign countries where their parents were working as missionaries. My experience at travel extended to visiting Canada on the way up to my uncle’s home in Detroit and I knew a smattering of both German and Spanish. My father had studied the latter in school and I had taken German in high school owing to the fact that the neighborhood where that school was located had a large German immigrant population.

But what was the greatest eye opener for me was something that both I and Supreme Court Clarence Thomas experienced while attending religious colleges. It was the shock of seeing and hearing Christians applaud at the announcement that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been gunned down in Memphis, TN. It was at this point in my life that I was conflicted about politics. If you remember back to those days Southern Democrats were the ones fighting tooth and nail for the right to continue Jim Crow practices in the South. That was a time when all of the things that Tea Party members complain and rail against today, their ancestors were doing to African-Americans living in the Old South.

My grandmother was from Birmingham, AL and so I knew firsthand what folks living there thought of the church bombing in which four little girls died that fateful Sunday in 1963. And having grown up in the same church as Emmett Till I was not stranger to the arrogance of white Southerners. They could be seen smiling out from the cover of Life Magazine during the trial for his murder. But unlike he rest of the country I got to stand next to his coffin in church and see what had been done to his body. So hearing my classmates cheer when Dr. King was assassinated left me with a wariness of our society and the innate arrogance of power that is with me to this day.

Regardless of whether the power emanates from Liberal or Conservative sources it can have a “blind spot” when it comes to arrogance. Reading the remarks of a StreetsBlog official when describing his disappointment with folks on the South Side of Chicago who disliked having their Sundays parking spots disrupted left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. I did not come to the Cycling Movement to once again hear someone like h’ dismiss a black person as a “waste of space“.

As I said when you are dealing with arrogant people nothing is too insensitive for them to say or think.

So it is hardly a surprise to me to see kids from relatively affluent backgrounds who have gone off to live in the Big City and become activists suddenly find out that the world is not there to answer to their “beck and call“. These are kids who despite being 30 years of age or older in some instances behave as if they were just a year or two out of college. They still take delight in being “bad boys” and poking fun at the folks who live in the suburban and rural areas from when they came.

When you get this sort of world view you suddenly see yourself as having all the “right answers“. And despite the fact that your politics are Liberal you are as big an ass as any Conservative when it comes to “knowing it all“. You can with a straight face declare that protected bike lanes in neighborhoods that neither asked for them or like their current configuration are not to be refused by those who do not know better. And of course the notion of entitlement or arrogance never crosses their “tiny little minds“.

It was not until I had graduated from college and become a teacher that I even knew that Dennis Hastert was an alumnus. I was the yearbook photography sponsor for our students who like using cameras. And it was in that capacity I first met Speaker Hastert. He was a wrestling coach and our school hosted a tournament in which his wrestlers participated. Years later I was to understand a bit more about the world than I knew existed.

Compromise is the key to moving forward.

The bugaboo of Tea Party members and ChainLink Cycling Activists is their basic inability to understand compromise in terms other than “selling out“. Every time a Conservative addresses the media it is with the surety that his way of seeing the world is the correct one. Liberals have the same blind spot just about different things.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is moving slowly on bicycle infrastructure. Bully or them! John Greenfield opens up the discussion on the ChainLink like this:

Why is the Illinois Department of Transportation bike-blocking Chicago’s protected lanes?

Posted by John Greenfield on February 5, 2013 at 12:44pm

© John Greenfield

© John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation has committed to installing 100 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes by 2015. However, Steven Vance discovered that the Illinois Department of Transport is blocking the installation of protected bike lanes, which have been proven to reduce crashes, not only for cyclists but also pedestrians and motorists. Here’s Steven’s article on the subject.

Steven found out that IDOT’s policy is to not allow CDOT to build protected bike lanes (which shelter bicycle riders from traffic with a line of parked cars) on IDOT-jurisdiction roadways within the city until mid-2014. This is because the state transportation department wants three years of Chicago-based safety data on protected lanes before it allows them on its streets, but Chicago didn’t build its first protected lane until mid-2011. This makes no sense because there already is data from cities like NYC and Berkeley going back more than three years proving that the lanes improve safety.

IDOT’s backwards-thinking policy has already hurt safety efforts in Chicago. When CDOT  recently installed a protected bike lane on Jackson Boulevard in the West Loop, IDOT would not allow protected lanes on the IDOT-jurisdiction section of Jackson east of Odgen Avenue. As a result, this portion only got buffered lanes (with additional dead space striped on either side of the lane), which offer zero physical protection from cars. This policy will also block CDOT from building protected lanes on several other streets, such as Clybourn Avenue, which are included as potential bike routes in the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.

And of course the arrogance gets delivered on cue from the Trained Seals whose every word and thought delivered to them from the High Priests of the Church of Urban Cycling:

Reply by Justin Van Denend 6 hours ago
i think you mean IDiOT

It is not possible for anyone to contradict their view of the world without being an “idiot” any more than a Tea Party Conservative or an NRA member can avoid ranting about President Obama being a Socialist or his wife being “a fat gorilla“:

School district officials are investigating allegations that a Lauderdale County High School teacher made slurs in the presence of students regarding first lady Michelle Obama and gays. Superintendent Jennifer Gray confirmed the investigation concerns the school’s head football coach, Bob Grisham, who also teaches driver’s education and psychology.

The investigation includes a 1-minute, 24-second audiotape of Grisham asking who knows who is behind the 600-calorie school lunch.

“Fat butt Michelle Obama,” he said. “Look at her. She looks like she weighs 185 or 190. She’s overweight.”

Male voices interject comments during the discussion, at one point referring to Michelle Obama as a “fat gorilla.”

Later in the tape, Grisham referred to the U.S. as going in the “wrong direction” and tells the students they can “get pissed off at me or not. You can go tell the principal, call the superintendent and tell her. I don’t believe in queers. I don’t like queers, I don’t hate them as a person, but what they do is wrong and an abomination against God.” The tape was reportedly recorded by a student Monday and took place on school campus during the school day.

[Link to the audio clip.]

Here are the simple facts:

At IDOT's insistence, this part of Jackson Boulevard was left with a buffered bike lane instead of the originally proposed protected bike lane.

At IDOT’s insistence, this part of Jackson Boulevard was left with a buffered bike lane instead of the originally proposed protected bike lane.

Last month we noted that the Illinois Department of Transportation prevented the installation of a protected bike lane planned for Jackson Boulevard, allowing only a buffered bike lane on the segment of the street it controls. Now we know why: IDOT will not allow protected bike lanes to be installed on Chicago streets under its jurisdiction until mid-2014, at the earliest, because the agency wants to see three years of data (presumably crash data) before signing off on this type of street redesign.

Since several Chicago streets are under IDOT jurisdiction, this policy could affect implementation of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and impede the installation of protected bike lanes. Street redesigns that have proven safety benefits may be delayed or downgraded to less effective buffered lanes.

So why is IDOT delaying designs that several American cities have already been implementing for years? The agency says it wants to measure safety impacts based on robust statistical evidence, and that three years provides a representative sample.

The rationale for requiring this information would be reasonable if Chicago was the first city to ever implement protected bike lanes, but it doesn’t hold up because the results have been the same wherever protected bike lanes have been installed: The injury rate of all street users is reduced, be they walking, biking, or driving.

IDOT has not clarified whether data from New York City, Washington, and countless cities worldwide was reviewed before deciding to implement the three-year moratorium here.

Jackson Boulevard is one I take routinely when traveling into the downtown area of Chicago. I wrote recently about what I feel is a rather blatant “fail” in the cycle lane installation having to do with right turns. There should be a right turn bike box but the implementation methodology that they used at CDOT was a bit lacking in perception.

Were I on the staff of IDOT the thing I would be most interested in knowing is why no accommodation for bike bikes was made. In fact Jackson Boulevard highlights one of the general problems with bike lanes of any sort and that is “segregation“.

When you erect a bike lane (buffered or protected) you signal to cyclists and motorists alike that bikes are not just getting their rightful recognition of road access but that this is where cyclists must be and motorists cannot be.

This problem has played out in New York City just that way. Cyclists were given tickets by patrolmen for not using the bike lane. In the case of Jackson Boulevard not having a bike box means that to turn right a cyclist really ought to leave the bike lane and occupy the rightmost car lane when approaching any of the intersections like the one at Morgan.

If CDOT is inept enough to have laid out the streets in the manner they did then why would IDOT not want to see some evidence that they know what they are doing. In fact why is not StreetsBlog Chicago not pointing out this glaring deficiency? Perhaps that sort of thing being spotlighted might make their whining less effective?

Additional Thoughts

After sleeping on it I woke up wondering whether the good writers at StreetsBlog Chicago were attempting to lay the blame for the lousy design on Jackson onto the shoulders of IDOT? I hope they are above that sort of running for cover strategy when something as important as getting things right despite the imposition of restrictions. If this is the case then perhaps we need to stop and ask what the heck is wrong here?

The Party Line on Protected Bicycle Lanes (PBL) is that they are for “newbies”. These are supposed to offer the greatest aid and comfort to new riders. But some ChainLinkers have indicated that the Buffered Bicycle Lane (BBL) is preferable. They cite the more fluid nature of this design and the fact that it allows greater rider discretion when things go “sideways“.

I am inclined to agree that the Buffered Bicycle Lane that flows past the Lincoln Park REI is preferable to the Protected Bicycle Lane on Dearborn Street. And perhaps Dearborn is too easy a target to shoot at. Let’s say instead the PBL in Hyde Park that runs along 55th Street. That particular implementation I find clumsy. But above all else the BBL is the one which allows for the most effective plowing of the bike lane without resorting to specialized snow removal equipment. Living here in Chicago where we can get some pretty horrific snow storms there is something to be said for ease of maintenance.

Oddly enough Sharrow Lanes offer the greater flexibility with less of the comfort factor, but on busy streets where folks are trying to actually get somewhere and not serve as props for a showcase situation like Dearborn they make more sense.

What is most troubling however is that even if IDOT refused to allow CDOT the use of a PBL on Jackson (after crossing Ogden) there should never be a situation in which a BBL is devoid of controls to allow a simple right turn at Jackson and Morgan. If you are going to argue that the solution there is to have the cyclist migrate from the lefthand bicycle lane over to the righthand car lane then I would ask why not make the entire street Sharrow lanes?

What I am afraid is become true is that by placing lines on the street we have begun to box ourselves in as cyclists. We are suddenly faced with a situation where the cyclist is no longer free to take a lane to better prepare for a turn and instead is having to be a square peg in a round hole. This is dangerous. There will not be room or the possibility of PBLs on every street, nor should there have to be.

If this painted lane bicycle infrastructure is going to be workable everyone (including the drivers) should understand that the cyclist might indeed move out of the bicycle lane into a car lane to effect a turn. It is the inconsistency of having a mixed bag of lane and street design types that is becoming a nightmare.

PBL or BBL or PBJ?

Sorry for the flippancy in this subtitle, but frankly I think the whole notion of bicycle infrastructure is far too clumsy to have the kind of fluidity that real life demands. This is a bit like the tap dance between the sexes after Women’s Liberation. At some point you have to ask yourself should I hold the door open for a lady or is that demeaning? And as is the case now if she is my equal and is allowed to enjoy the benefits of combat pay in war zones, doesn’t that make all women eligible for the Selective Service? You bet!

I am thinking it might have made more sense on Jackson to have painted in Sharrow lanes along both sides of the street and let the cyclist choose which one to use. Right now a cyclist gets to an intersection and is suddenly presented with the lack of real options to make right turns. That is silly and no amount of finger pointing at IDOT is going to convince me that a better solution (than doing nothing) was possible.