The Snow Chronicles


Background Reading

Let’s listen in on the conversation about cycling on cold, snowy days in Chicago:

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) yesterday

Goodman Theatre Snow RemovalThe Goodman Theatre did a pretty half-assed job clearing the Dearborn bike lane. It’s still covered with ice/snow, albeit less than yesterday. Still dangerous to bike though; I almost slipped on a patch of ice in front of the main entrance. They should have salted in addition to shoveling. It’s clear that no salt was applied.

The “nerve” of these people at the Goodman. Cycling entitlement meter is spiking.

Reply by Kevin C 4.1 mi yesterday
There are Chicago Ordinances requiring residents and businesses to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice. Though not part of the Ordinances, the City offers additional guidance for snow removal requesting residents and businesses not push snow from the sidewalk into the street. The City of Chicago is responsible for clearing snow and ice from the public way, which would include bicycle infrastructure. Goodman is required to clear snow from its sidewalk. It is recommended that Goodman not push snow from the sidewalk into the public way. There is no requirement that Goodman clear snow from the PBL in either a full or partial assed way.

Okay, now we come back over the top…

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) yesterday
This is certainly true, but when the theatre promised to remedy the issue, I (incorrectly) assumed that they would actually clear the bike lane instead of just making it seem like they did something.

Marie Antoinette would be proud…

Reply by Jenn_5.5 mi yesterday
Adam, yesterday when I went out at 11:15 am, it was clean. Maybe not done well, but for the most part they cleaned their mess. Remember we did get additional snow in the afternoon, so maybe CDOT(or whomever) needs to swing through again to plow/salt. (In my perfect fantasy world!)

I hate it when people try to be reasonable…

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi yesterday
The way I read their messages in the other thread, they just agreed not to push their snow into the bike lane again.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) yesterday
You’re right; I forgot about the 20 minute blizzard we got yesterday afternoon.

I always wonder what the bosses of most cyclists would say about our work ethic in the office. Are we as demanding of ourselves as we are of others?

Reply by Apie 10.64 yesterday
Adam, I think your expections are fairly high. Even if that was a pic after they resolved the issue, its not that bad of a job. I imagine having to shovel/blow the snow back to the sidewalk after they pushed it to the bike lane was not very fun or rewarding. The smugness of your expectations on how non-cyclists should treat us/PBL’s, et al – it’s wearing me down, Man!

I’m not sure if you have shoveled during the last few snowfalls, but it is heavy stuff. Its ridiculous to think anywhere but main roads should be salted to excess so you and your bike will have a perfectly smooth snow/ice/water free path.

I’m gonna stand with Adam here… It’s a slippery slope if we allow the “little people” who do menial shoveling work to defile the PBL. Next thing you know people in wheelchairs will think they can use “our” lane whenever they want. Not on my watch…

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) yesterday
Expecting someone to actually follow through 100% with a promise to do something is not unreasonable. Claiming that they will clean up the lane, then only clearing 80% of the snow out is unacceptable. The bike lane was not in riding condition, so IMO it was not cleaned.

You tell ’em Adam. If anyone thinks that we cyclists should have to use our handlebars to steer away from snow in the roadway, then they have another think coming, right? In fact Goodman is the least of our worries. Who put all this snow on the streets and sidewalks in the first place? Let’s go complain to him, he is the one causing all the problems.

Reply by Apie 10.64 yesterday
Obviously you do not shovel snow.

Of course he does not shovel. That would mean manual labor of some sort.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) yesterday
So it’s ridiculous to assume that the new protected bike lane on Dearborn that the city spent tons of time and money on should basically be left to ice over all winter and become unusable?

FYI, the city has a mini plow specifically for bike lanes.

I wonder if in the haste to create that $450,000 protected bike lane anyone looked into the self-cleaning oven option?

Reply by 122782_ yesterday
Adam – I know the original bike plow was too wide for sections of the Kinzie bike lane. Not sure about Dearborn.
Is this the same plow?

This is unacceptable. Are you telling me that the snow cleaning equipment is too wide? Arrgh! Why is it so hard to find good help?

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) yesterday
As far as I know, they only have one mini-plow.

Reply by Jenn_5.5 mi yesterday
I want that job… The Mini-Plow driver! 🙂 The bike lanes would be amazing!!

Reply by Apie 10.64 yesterday
No but it is ridiculous to assume it will be spotless, which can only be understood if you shovel/move snow during winter. It’s just not as simple as you think it is to keep snow, water and ice off of streets sidewalks and BLs, at all times. 1 mini plow for all of Chicago? And you assume it should keep all BL’s clear all of the time? I don’t understand your logic but I do understand where you are coming from, and it is a place of cyclist-entitlement. Perhaps you should go tell the guy who clears the snow how to do it correctly.

I’ll let Adam have the final word on entitlement…

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) yesterday
It’s not entitlement. If the city is building infrastructure for cyclists, then they’d better be damn sure that said infrastructure is maintained throughout the year. It is a slap in the face to build protected bike lanes, only to let them ice over and become unusable during the colder months. Especially considering the city manages to properly plow and salt the roads and sidewalks in the winter. Imagine the backlash if the city decided to not plow Lake Shore Drive, or let snow pile up in the sidewalks in the Loop.

That being said, I do think CDOT / Streets and San are doing a decent job keeping the bike lanes clear for the most part. There is more they could be doing, such as plates on the Dearborn bridge and better de-icing, however. My main complaint is with the businesses that have been dumping snow into the protected bike lanes, causing them to ice over, then claiming the city is responsable for correcting the business’ mistake.

The only bike lanes that need the mini-plow are the protected ones. Buffered and door-zone lanes can be plowed with a normal-sized plow, since there are no bollards to run over.

The real problem here is that we are all so very proud of our showcase lanes and such. But no one ever gave much thought to the maintenance of any of these lanes. The PBL design is a bust for Chicago. It is too fussy for the City of Big Shoulders. Adam has it right when he talks about the use of Buffer bike lanes. They work better than the PBLs.

But sadly Adam, there is another problem developing that is troubling. Sure the lanes should be kept clear of snow. But if I understand the problem you are facing it has to do with your contention that the bike lane is your only alternative. And frankly it is not and should not be viewed as such.

There is a line from the Blue Bike Lane project in Portland that bothers me:

Many European cities use colored markings at bicycle–motor vehicle crossings to reduce conflicts. To determine whether such colored markings help improve safety at American bicycle–motor vehicle crossings, the city of Portland, Oregon, studied the use of blue pavement markings and a novel signage system to delineate selected conflict areas. The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC), under contract to FHWA, analyzed the project data. From 1997 to 1999, Portland marked 10 conflict areas with paint, blue thermoplastic, and an accompanying “Yield to Cyclist” sign. All of the sites had a high level of cyclist and motorist interaction, as well as a history of complaints. The crossings were all at locations where the cyclist travels straight and the motorist crosses the bicycle lane in order to exit a roadway (such as an off-ramp situation), enter a right-turn lane, or merge onto a street from a ramp. The study used videotape analysis and found most behavior changes to be positive. Significantly higher numbers of motorists yielded to cyclists and slowed or stopped before entering the blue pavement areas, and more cyclists followed the colored bike-lane path. However, the blue pavement also resulted in fewer cyclists turning their heads to scan for traffic or using hand signals, perhaps signifying an increased comfort level. The overwhelming majority of cyclists and close to a majority of motorists surveyed felt the blue areas enhanced safety. Colored pavement and signage should continue to be used and evaluated in bicycle–motor vehicle conflict areas.

We are slowly relinquishing our right to the use of the entire roadway. By focusing on the bike lane as sacred turf we forget that there are always going to be situations where leaving the lane is preferable and in some cases essential. There should never come a day when cyclists are being ticketed for not using the bike lane.

And more importantly we should never allow ourselves to be lulled into the dangerous habits of:

  • not scanning for traffic
  • not using hand signals

PBLs are not our friends. They are simply devices to announce to motorists that cyclists are on the roadway, pay attention. They are not only allowed to use the thoroughfare but are also intended users. Now if both cyclists and motorists begin to think of the bike lane as a place to which cyclists are confined then we have a problem.

What Adam is reflecting is this very notion. The bike lane is where we are confined and so its territory should be defended at all costs. But when a bike lane setup does not allow you to do what you need to do to get to your destination, you should have the quickness of wit to venture out of the bike lane and use a car lane to make your turn or whatever.

Methinks that there needs to be a re-emphasis of some of the basics of Vehicular Cycling even while learning to adjust to bike lanes. I am reminded of the fate of retails stores whose check-out lines are manned by folks who no longer know how to do simple monetary calculations in their heads or even on paper. Our society is stymied whenever there is a power loss.

When that happens the lack of cash registers that tell the cashiers how much change to return force them to “leave the bike lane and navigate on their own”. And frankly most of them are clueless in such circumstances.

Let’s not make the cash register mistake when it comes to bicycle navigation. There are handlebars on all bikes that allow for navigation out of the bike lane when needed. And our minds and senses should never be turned off in favor of blindly following the green paint. That would be like allowing your GPS navigation system to lead you off a cliff.