Dearborn Street PBL Woes, Again…


Background Reading

Our Brand New Dearborn Protected Bike Lane © Anne Alt
Our Brand New Dearborn Protected Bike Lane
© Anne Alt

The ChainLink Forum crowd is still “getting its feet wet” in terms of its reactions to the newly minted Dearborn Street showcase protected bike lane (PBL). After the honeymoon period the warts are starting to appear:

I rode Dearborn today…anyone else?
Posted by Morgan 6 mi on December 14, 2012 at 5:14pm

I just missed the press conference and just hung out at lunch to see how it would all work. It seemed easy enough, so I took Dearborn as my starting route home to Roscoe Village. Normally I hit Franklin to Orleans then north to Lincoln.

I have to say, it was pretty easy and relatively safe. The ambassadors were helpful with the the auto traffic. The walkers were easy enough to avoid. I had to chuckle at two riders riding side by side in the lane.

What I didn’t see was any oncoming traffic; southbound riders. I am guessing that will come in time or at other times during the day.

Way to go Mayor RE! This is really making a statement.

Who else rode the new path?

Here is a recent assessment of the route:

Reply by Will 7.87 miles yesterday
I rode the new Dearborn lane south for the first time today, from Lake to Harrison.

There is a lot of standing water, snow, slush, and some ice in the lane, especially the southbound lane. I had a couple of encounters with pedestrians who didn’t know or didn’t see that I had the right of way, but I managed to avoid hitting them. One driver turned left off Dearborn against the red light, but I already cleared the intersection by then.

Overall, I’m not terribly impressed with this first ride. It’s dangerous.

Assuming that the IDOT folks are peeking at this forum from time-to-time it is understandable why such a governmental agency would want to take a “wait and see” attitude before “plunging in” on streets for which it has responsibility. The line to pay attention to is the one where the responder offers the most critical complaint of all “It’s dangerous“. There is no reason for putting up these bicycle lanes if they are not safe. Attracting newbie riders to dangerous conditions is a “fools errand”.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) yesterday
Yep, that’s pretty much what everyone’s been saying since it opened. Welcome to Dearborn!

For a $450,000 boondoggle this is not a welcomed reaction. One wonders how so much money was spent with so little focus on getting things right?

Reply by Tricolor yesterday
I rode North from Jackson Monday and Tuesday and it was wet with some big puddles but not too bad. Most pedestrians around 5:45 seemed to be a little more wary about stepping into the street than I remember in January. I was passed by another biker with no lights that hit the side of a cab that made a right turn into one of the hotels in front of us. It was a pretty slow speed hit and the guy said he was okay though I think one of his old pedals was broken.

There’s no real good way to get to the lake front trail from Dearborn. The trail keeps going north a few blocks above the river but then just ends, stranding you on the left side of traffic. I went over to State and followed that to North Ave where I rejoined the trail.

Now besides the obvious remark that bicyclists really do need to assume to responsibility of running with “lights on”, I am wondering aloud whether the crosswalk along the route are not the Zebra-type crossings? If so this means that pedestrians have the right-of-way and not the cyclists, right?

Sometimes the sense of entitlement among cyclists is a bit overdeveloped.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi yesterday
There is a bike lane on the west side of Dearborn all of the way to Chicago, although in places definitely not my favorite. If I am heading that way, I stay on Dearborn to Oak, turn left to Clark and then take Clark up to North Avenue where you can head east again. Clark has a “buffered” bike lane from just north of Oak to North Avenue. If you go that way, just watch out at Latin School if you are there when charming parents in SUVs are picking up their charming children.

Buffered lanes are definitely my favorite for use in the city. I really cannot (having seen the results of protected bike lanes) give them a thumbs up. Here are some of my gripes:

  • PBLs put the cyclist along the curb. This is an area which in Chicago is not easily cleared of either snow or rubbish because it appears to be too narrow for a standard vehicle to travel through.
  • Businesses and governmental agencies that have sidewalks facing PBLs are certain to shovel snow into them (a longstanding practice).
  • Traffic flow pushes debris into the PBLs where cyclists are surely going to experience more flats unless they are riding “substantial” tires.
  • Those PVC bollards are a very silly idea. Kind of like putting decals all over your car before the first ever car wash. Afterwards they are hanging limply, having been pried loose by the cleaning cloths and then heated up during the drying phase so that their glue weakens. Who thought they were a good idea?

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi yesterday
I typically take Wabash southbound and haven’t found a northbound route I like. When Dearborn opened I tried to like it, but between open grate bridge and several close calls with vehicles crossing the PBL in driveways, it just didn’t work for me.

This comment is another “kick in the gut”:

Reply by Anika 10 hours ago
I’ve only ridden Dearborn 4 times since it opened. Not totally impressed – I guessed my expectations were a lot higher. Here’s my issue though – why have them of there is no enforcement on them. This morning, an unmarked car parked in it taking the entire lane. Ironically it was the same unmarked car that parked two weeks ago there. The officers were on their way to get coffee by the looks of their meandering. There were other parking places available not in the lane. I had to ride into oncoming traffic to get around them. How is that protected and if they can’t be respectful of the lanes how will anyone else be?

Ironically, 2 blocks later a delivery truck kept yelling for me to move so they could drive down the lane to make a delivery. Uh no. My 7+ foot bike was loaded with a few hundred pounds today. Where do you think I’m going to go?

Urban Cyclists are going to have to “get a grip” on their emotions where bicycle lanes are concerned. This is a two-edged sword. There are plenty of places where you need to leave the bicycle lane and take a car lane to make a turn. What you do not wish to reinforce in the minds of motorists is that your lane is sacrosanct. If you do that then you run the risk of having motorists “rip you a new one” every time you venture out of your pretty green lane.

Think of it this way. What lanes really provide is clear evidence that we are not only permitted but more importantly intended users of the roadway. The lanes are really there to give testimony to that fact. I would counsel against getting your knickers in a twist over people “sharing” the lane. If you do then you also run the risk of confusing motorists who will have grown so accustomed to your presence in a specific lane that they hardly notice it when you need to move out of that lane for whatever reason.

Adjust your sense of entitlement downward. I would always assume that in any and all situations pedestrians are always given the right-of-way over bicycles. The same holds true of bicycles when encountering automobiles. We should always be given the right-of-way in such conditions. I get the sense that some cyclists have staked out territory in their “tiny little minds” that is going to come back and bite them in the butt.

Bike lanes should be treated like most cyclists seem to treat stop signs and red lights as suggestions (i.e. yield signs). The lane is there for my use if I want it, but it should always be understood that debris or opening car doors or street repairs or other cyclists riding against the traffic or police getting donuts are going to force me out of that lane. No biggie. My bike has handlebars that allow me to veer around obstacles. I would assume that even ChainLinkers’ have sufficiently modern equipment to accomplish the same maneuver.

Reply by Tricolor 8 hours ago
A concrete curb instead of plastic bollards would stop a lot of these casual intruders. Let’s hope it’s a lesson learned for the next project.

Reply by 122782_ 7 hours ago
Yes! Those bollards are run over all of the time, and they took out a lot of them on Kinzie. Makes it super easy for people to cut in and out of the bike lane.

Buffered lanes or real barriers, please.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 6 hours ago
Gabe Klein said that a long-term goal is to upgrade Dearborn to concrete curbs instead of bollards.

But again (here I go beating that dead horse once more) why on earth was it not obvious from the outset that plastic bollards were a joke? When you end up spending the kind of money we seem proud to divulge on a roadway like this you would expect that the curbside lanes would not be inundated with water every time it rains and that the widths of the two bike lanes would be wide enough.

There are actual manuals which spell out what to do in most situations. And this is not Gabe’s first rodeo. He was doing this sort of thing in DC and has presumably been all over the globe looking at how others have undertaken to make their streets safer. Whence then comes the disconnect?

I lay this problem at the feet of people trying to rush through showcase projects without having done the necessary groundwork to ensure that the finished product has been tested. If we were paying the likes of a Mikael Colville-Andersen to come over and help us out, then he owes us a “refund”. If we went over there and sat in on discussions and came back and put up this kind of crap then we are indeed “slow learners”.

John Kass is not our problem. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Given the kind of grilling our military and State Department officials are undergoing on problems dealing with attacks in Benghazi it would not surprise me that someone during negotiations for additional bicycle infrastructure funding did not point to this thread and others like it as evidence that we do not really know what we are doing.

Safety is job one when building cycling infrastructure. Trotting out excuses about not being able to put up PBLs on Jackson Boulevard as an explanation for why right turns are so darned difficult is silly and a sure sign that everyone is “circling the wagons” looking for a scape goat. Aside from the average “Trained Seal” who has been gushing over the wonderful new Dearborn PBL most folks with sensation above their necks have been honest in calling out this farcical plan. You do not spend $450,000 on something and then have to put up orange cones to alert riders of bikes that ice and water are presenting a safety hazard. And you sure as hell don’t have a rally to announce its opening. That just adds insult to injury.