Snow Removal : The Achille’s Heel of Protected Bike Lanes

Background Reading


The ChainLink crowd is up to it usual spate of whining every time the snow flies. They are often quite offended when they find snow in their protected bike lanes. When this happens they like to make phone calls and/or dash off angry letters to the managers of buildings that exist alongside the snow drifts. Let’s listen in on today’s whine discussion:

Snow In The Bike Lane © Adam Herstein

Snow In The Bike Lane
© Adam Herstein

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 9 hours ago
Lots of snow in the southbound lane. I spend about a third of my time riding in the opposite lane. There was also this gem in front of the Westin.

Adam is the resident “whiner” on the ChainLink. Judging by his tone one would image him to have been a “trust fund baby” who simply cannot abide the haphazard work of those in the social order who are beneath him, those who have to shovel snow. He loves to complain as often as any on the ChainLink.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 9 hours ago
That is not the Westin. That is the back of the 181 N. Clark building. The Westin has been very good with the snow this year.

Now comes the comical part of the conversation. One has to wonder what these folks do at work. Evidently most of their morning time is spent contacting the ChainLink Forum. Does their boss ever complain about all of this non-work-related stuff that goes on? Guess that the folks whom they suspect of shoveling snow into the bike lane have their peers within the ranks of the ChainLink (i.e. folks not paying attention to what they are supposed to be doing and instead surfing the internet during business hours.)

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 8 hours ago
Ah, my bad. Is that an office building? How can I contact someone from the building regarding this issue?

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 8 hours ago
My bad! That is not 181 N. Clark. That is a different newer building next to a building in which I used to work. ;-). The building that backs up to Dearborn there is the newer building on the southeast corner of Clark and Kinzie and I don’t know the address. Sorry!

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 6 hours ago
Oops, I missed that too. 181 N Clark would be in the Loop, and this is just north of the river. I believe this building is 353 N Clark:

Okay. So we have mea culpas all around. It really does bring tears to my eyes to see how wonderfully selfless everyone is when agreeing that they have no idea where they are half the time. But I can give you a clue. You are sitting at the desk of your boss’s firm and you are making “kissy face” with a fellow ChainLinkers on his dime. And all the while complaining about someone else’s “work product”. Simply hilarious. Like I said they sound like trust fund babies who are distance relatives of Marie Antoinette.

But let’s get back to eavesdropping on their non-work-related conversations.

Think American worker productivity — Imagine office workers looking down at street repair crew members who are looking back up at office workers as both groups complain about the lack of commitment to productivity.

There has to be the potential for a SNL skit in this somewhere.

Reply by Anne Alt 5 hours ago
353 N Clark is the right building. The leasing/property management contacts would be a good place to start. Perhaps emailing them the photo above and explaining why it is unacceptable for their maintenance people to block the bike lane with snow would get the message across.

Reply by Anne Alt 5 hours ago
311 calls might help, too.

Yet another office worker whose boss is getting their money’s worth (or not)… I suppose if confronted they will tell me either to mind my own business or that all of this was being done on their “coffee break”? Yeah, right.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 3 hours ago
I emailed the property managers listed on the 353 N Clark website (thanks Anne!).

See what I told you. He loves to whine and do so with emails and phone calls about workers who are failing to do their jobs. You would think this crowd was full of GOP-Tea Party types. But now these are Leftist Cycling Advocates (in the main) who are worried about American worker productivity at the lower levels of the Food Chain. You know the 47%-ers who as Mitt Romney explained are the “takers”. What however do you call office worker types who cannot spend time on their bosses needs and instead have plenty of time for a back-and-forth on snow removal?

Reply by Lindsay 16 minutes ago

Clark Street Protected Bike Lane © Lindsay

Clark Street Protected Bike Lane
© Lindsay

I pretty much got that same photo this morning…

Steve Vance pointed me in the direction of this conversation. I’ve also noticed this issue by K Station. For 353 N. Clark, I emailed the leasing / property management folks the following:

I’ve been commuting in to my job in the loop on the Dearborn bike lanes since they were installed this season. I’ve noticed that CDOT goes to all this effort to plow the bike lanes, but certain buildings along the way clear their sidewalks and dump it into the bike lane. This makes riding a bike quite a challenge. Here was my view this morning (as posted on twitter):
Is there a particular person at 353 N. Clark who is responsible for snow clearing? It would be most appreciated if the snow could be piled up on the sidewalk or cleared so that it doesn’t block bike traffic.
Thank you,

Networked complainers must leave awfully early for their offices. Otherwise how on earth do they have time to:

  • stop and take phones of protected bike lanes
  • find time to contact Steve Vance about another thread culled from the ChainLink Forum archives
  • and then afterwards send off an email
  • followed by a copy of the email and their related activity
  • and still get their darned work done

Reply by MagMileMarauder 5 minutes ago
I rode through the Kinzie PBL today and encountered similar piles of snow by the Merchandise Mart. Either their employees are oblivious to what they’re doing or have contempt for cyclists.

Some Thoughts On What’s Happening

So for a moment I will resist further fun-poking at these whiners and imagine for a moment that they are as “clueless” as they appear to be. These are city dwellers who are no doubt residing in apartment complexes where someone else is doing the manual labor of shoveling the snow from their entry ways and sidewalks. And besides not having to shovel snow they are probably unfamiliar with simple tasks like mowing the lawn, water that some lawn or perhaps even planting, hoeing, weeding and watering a garden.

I doubt many of them have had to even paint the walls of their apartments or spackle the holes left from previous tenant. All that sort of thing gets done by the same sort of folks who “incompetently shovel snow into the bike lane”. But I have a hunch that this is wrong. Let me explain why.

I live in the suburbs where the lawn care is generally done by the folks who live in the homes. We are also known to wash our windows, paint our houses and even shovel our sidewalks. I know, we miss out on the lovely amenities in the city. For instance we seldom get to write about our days excitement while riding through our neighborhood:

Head’s up! Robbed while riding early Sunday Morning.
Posted by allison on February 24, 2013 at 5:21pm

Just wanted to give people a heads up:
This morning (5:30am Sunday) I was taking my usual route to work (straight down Milwaukee – Desplaines) when I ran into some trouble.
I had just crossed over Division when I noticed a group of guys walking North on the West side of Milwaukee, one of them started walking at me in the bike lane. I just assumed he was either avoiding the snow on the sidewalk, or trying to hail a cab. He wasn’t moving out of the way as I got closer so I rode into the car’s lane. As I was about to pass him he said “Give me that bike bitch” and then went after me. I tried to speed past him, but he managed to push the rear of my bike which made me loose balance an veer off to the other side of the road. I fell off my bike once it tried to hop the curb and he grabbed me and pinned me up against the iron fence. I was screaming and he was choking me and telling me to “give me what you got”. I kept telling him I didn’t have anything, but remembered I had a $20 in my pocket and asked if he wanted that. He took it, told me he loved me and then kissed me on the cheek a couple of times and took off running.
F’d up!
so F’d up
I just want to give you all a heads up of what happened in an area I usually feel safe in and maybe keep an eye out for each other. A few cars passed as I was pinned against the fence, but no one stopped. Maybe they didn’t see, maybe they did.
I was lucky and managed to keep everything that mattered to me and came away just really shaken up.
A report has been filed
It was a group of 4 or so guys, but only one guy chased me down. He was an african american probably early 20’s wearing a dark green jacket (waist length and not “winter time poofy” ) with some sort of white character on the back of it. He had shoulder length dreads and was wearing a dark colored knit cap.

But hey, to listen to some of the responders tell it there are always trade-offs for living in urban areas:

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 4 hours ago
I did not think of the security cameras, Will. There is a liquor store on the south side that probably has a camera, and I bet that high-rise co-op building on the corner has one, too. Allison, did they give you a contact at the police department? It could not hurt, if you want to follow up, to call and suggest they investigate that.
I don’t know if Wicker Park is slipping backward. Many areas of the city, including the Gold Coast, have these kinds of things happening. We live in a city, and there is no neighborhood in the city that one could call entirely safe. I choose to live here because there are so many advantages to living in the city as opposed to living in the suburbs, but we take on some additional risk in exchange for the advantages. All we can do is try to minimize the risk.

I’d just love to see that list of advantages Lisa. I am in the city quite often and enjoy as much of what it has to offer as I can. I have never felt deprived by living as you say “in the suburbs”. But I am willing to learn from the feet of Gamaliel. Teach me, oh Great One!

Suppose The Source Of The Snow Are City Plows?

Because we shovel (and snowplow) our sidewalks we notice the effect of having the snow removal trucks pass our home as they clean the arterial streets during a snow storm. If you are lucky the guy driving the truck that does the plowing leaves about a foot of unplowed street surface against the curb. When they do this it means that the sidewalk you just finish shoveling does not get more snow dumped onto it. That means you can rest assured that once you have done your clearing of the sidewalk it should stay that way until the sun gets to bake away that think layer of snow left behind when you use a two-stage blower. (I won’t get into details here since urban cyclists probably have no idea what a two-stage blower is.)

What does get plowed under on a regular basis however is the bottom of your driveway. There is simply nothing to do about this. You simply are resigned to digging it out and the end of the walkway from your front door and maybe even the corner walkway areas that abut the street. It’s just the price you pay for having to live in the “terrible, culturally deprived suburbs”.

Now here is what I am seeing in the two photographs posted above (virtually identical):

  • Someone has driven a vehicle into the bike lane and exited just beyond the last parked car
  • I take this mean that someone tried to clear the lane of snow
  • Note how the snow drift is fatter where the plow has left the lane and narrower along the stretch where the cars are parked?
  • I am guessing that cars along this street cannot park overnight (especially on snow days)
  • So plows come along down the car lanes and push the snow to their left into the bike lane
  • Someone comes back and tries to remove as much as possible but there really is not place to put that snow except back into the automobile lane

Maybe, just maybe what we are looking at here is the Achille’s Heel of Protected Bike Lanes where snow removal is concerned. A buffered lane where the cars are up against the curb and the bike lane is more towards the center of the street can be cleared easily because the snow is pushed up against the curb.

The people who get the “short end of the stick” are motorists who have to park in that crap. But the cyclists are just fine. You see this phenomenon on Taylor Street where the bike lane is always cleared but the parking areas are fully of snow and passengers getting out of cars on the curbside have to be careful.

Now if I am right about the source of the snow I am guessing that on streets like Dearborn there would have to be a small snow blower used that was capable of now only removing the snow from the bike lane but carting it off in a trailing carrier to some place where it gets stacked. All over the suburbs you see this technique used. Show gets plowed into key intersections (at night) and they front loaders pick it up and carrying it down the street to a staging area before it get removed by dump trucks. Where they take it is a mystery to me.

Protected Bike Lanes Are The Worse Possible Choice In Snowy Climates

Chicago really needs to commit resources to handle PBL snow removal or notify folks like Adam to stop whining about buildings being the culprit and own up to its part in being a source of the snow. Buffered lanes while a bit more intimidating to newbies are still the best for maintenance in our kind of climate.

We get far too much snow (in normal years) to be fussing with clearing a bike lane of snow and ice. And of course cyclists perhaps need to take a break from cycling on really bad snow days or choose alternate routes. But whatever they do, it would be nice to know that they:

  • Have stopped their incessant whining (leave that crap in New York)
  • Got down to doing the jobs they were hired to do instead of spending so much time on the ChainLink Forum during business hours

Follow On Thread Conversation

Today a couple more thread items appeared:

Reply by Tony Adams 6.6 mi 1 hour ago

140 S. Dearborn, the historic Marquette Building, is owned by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation. © Tony Adams

140 S. Dearborn, the historic Marquette Building, is owned by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.
© Tony Adams

It turns out that 140 S. Dearborn, the historic Marquette Building, is owned by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation. I emailed the foundation yesterday about the snow situation in the Dearborn lanes. This morning I saw these guys shoveling snow back out of the southbound lane and onto the sidewalk. The dude I spoke with was not happy about the situation which is understandable. I thanked him profusely about eleven times, but I’m not sure that cheered him up very much.

Don’t be silly Tony. Why would this sort of thing cheer anyone up? Do cyclists seem cheerful when they get pulled over and made to pay a fine for running red lights? Certainly the fellows and gals in San Francisco do not. The real question is whether these are indeed the “bad guys”.

Reply by Lindsay 7 minutes ago
Excellent! I noticed that the Dearborn lanes by 353 N. Clark were cleared today. And I got this response from the property manager at 353 this morning:

Good Morning Lindsay,

We are happy to support the city’s efforts to encourage more sustainable commuting practices. Our standard practice for excess snow removal from the property is to have it immediately removed and hauled away to an offsite facility rather than piling snow along the curbs of the property making it difficult to access sidewalks from the street. This procedure to ensure the surrounding pedestrian areas of the building are clear come at a rather significant cost to our tenants. Unfortunately the excess snow you may have encountered in the bike lane may have been abandoned by the city as this is city property. I am happy to place a call with 311 to request the immediate removal.

Kind regards,
Heather Holderman
Property Manager
353 N. Clark Street, Suite 2000
Chicago, IL 60654
312/445-5200 main

I am guessing that the property manager in this instance is “correct”. As I wrote above pattern of the snow as it sticks to the bollards (thrown there by the plow clearing the automobile lanes) and then lots of snow (where the bollards cannot create a deflection barrier) leads me to conclude that there is a problem in removing snow where the bollards are non-existent.

Keep in mind that the City of Chicago is not using the kinds of snow removal techniques seen in states like Minnesota. Up there they have giant attachments which fit to the front of trucks in place of plows that serve as giant snow throwers. They either direct the snow up and onto the grass alongside the roadway (in rural areas) or in urban areas they have a truck or trailer alongside that catches the redirected snow.

Chicago is using a plow and then front loader method to get up the snow. It looks as if they come along behind the car parking lane (actually driving in the bike lane) and scoop us the snow that piles us just to the outside of the bollards. Note the tire tracks of a vehicle that had come in to clean out the snow.

The remaining piles were probably tossed by the plow but never got removed. By the time that would have occurred perhaps Rush Hour was in full swing. And the snow in question would have had to have been pushed down to the intersection for removal since the rest of that stretch is bollard protected. That makes it trickier if the trucks cannot get to the cleanup before the Rush Hour starts.

Once again, it is my opinion that Protected Bike Lanes (as viewed from the maintenance perspective) are the worst possible solution where cyclists are concerned.

And for all of the cyclists who are full of a sense of entitlement, here is your worst nightmare:

Published on Feb 21, 2013
Need Sound. This guy is Funny as hell. 🙂 blackdoggxxx Published on Feb 9, 2013 Plowing snow with DOGG! pushing back snowbanks, to clear the

Published on Feb 23, 2013
DOGG the plow driver issues a statement.

Truer Words Were Never Spoken

Finally someone at the ChainLink “gets it”. Here is today’s bit of wisdom:

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 4 hours ago
This morning just before 8:00 the lanes behind 353 N. Clark were clear. Not sure if the building management cleared them because it looked like a plow had come along and pushed the snow back up on the sidewalk. 😉 There were two workers out shoveling snow into two big dumpsters.

Pay attention class. This is a teachable moment! What we have here is a “failure to communicate“. The first and foremost problem is that cycling advocates and governmental agencies are staffed with what I will gently refer to as “knuckleheads“. Their forte is people skills. These guys could not find their way around a machine if you paid them. If they could they would be doing that instead of trying to “order the world around green painted lanes“. Nobody with half a brain could have made such a monumental foul-up as putting bike lanes along the curbside in a busy downtown district, except a cycling advocate who was masquerading as a consultant.

In this instant the only thing they know to consult about is stuff they heard at a conference being mouthed by someone like Mikael Colville-Andersen regarding what was being done in Copenhagen. Different is not the same. And to compound the “numb-nutteriness” of the situation you’ve got folks on this side of the Pond who are trying to get the Governor of Illinois to push forward this lunacy because it will make things “safer“. Meanwhile actual users of that fiasco of a lane we call Dearborn Street get to ride along its length and “bitch and moan” because folks tasked with cleaning up our streets and sidewalks are having a turf war with the snow. Only in Chicago.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 3 hours ago
Walk around the Loop when snow is coming down and look at how buildings handle it. Places with a large plaza may be trucking it away, but you’ll see many buildings that just push it into the street. Since they’re clearing constantly they’re never pushing that much snow into the street at once and on most streets traffic melts it as fast as it gets pushed out. I suspect that no one at either the city or buildings gave any thought to how sidewalk snow removal would work with the protected lane until the complaints started coming in.

Snow Removal Is Something Of A Science

That last sentence above is priceless. “Suits” are not “real” people. They live in a world where looking accomplished is more important (or at least as important) as actually being accomplished. The problem is that they populate government offices, church hierarchies and run corporations. They make far more money than they should and with each rung up that ladder of wealth, fame and power they become just that much less real. What is truly infuriating are the number of supposedly smart folks who buy their drivel. They either run around repeating the mantras they have been taught or trying to get others who are telling them the damned bastard is marching down the street naked that they are in fact mistaken. Sometimes it takes a child to tell us what we are unwilling to admit to ourselves.

Protected Bike Lanes are a travesty in Chicago. They place the riders along the curbside where snow removal is next to impossible. And besides all of this they over complicate what should be a simple thing, staying in your land and being alert to the changing traffic conditions. Instead we are attempting by virtue of pretty green paint to relieve the burden of watching what you are doing from the shoulders of the cyclist. And it is the arrogance of cyclists to believe that this is even possible that makes them targets for the anti-cyclist bias they experience.

I sat and watched the removal of snow from the walkways of our commuter station last night. Our city (or the railway) has a miniature snow plow that is big enough for one man to ride in. The plow blade is about as wide as half the walkway leading to the automobiles in the parking lot. Here is a video of something similar but much more maneuverable than ours (which has wheels rather than cat tracks):

What is of the essence here is the limitation of plowing devices. Their only effective maneuver is to shove the snow into a pile. That is exactly what our guy was doing last night. In fact not more than 20 feet from where I was parked was a snow bank that was at least 20 feet in width and about 4 feet in height that had been created by the truck that plowed the parking lot itself.

Where cars had been parked during the day remained blocked with snow. In fact I pulled into a parking spot from which I was almost unable to depart because the snow was very deep. On city streets in the city trucks are pushing snow to either the left or right of the moving plow vehicle. For bike lanes against the curb that probably means that for them to be cleared the snow has to be pushed onto the sidewalk.

Now the tug-of-war begins. Because the guys who are tasked with keeping their plaza cleared of snow arrive early enough to notice that their walkway edge has been “plowed in”, they return the favor by pushing the snow back into the street. Now in my commuter parking lot that big snow pile was taking up a couple of parking spaces at the end of the lot. But on city streets these places do not exist. Especially in Chicago.

For instance to removal snow from Dearborn Street’s bike lane you would be forced to push it the length of the block with the blade at right angles to the vehicle. If you aimed to the left it would force snow onto the sidewalk. Aiming snow to the right would push it into the parking lane you just cleared. So you push it forward for a bit and then get a front end loader to pick up the pile you have created and carry it over to a dump truck for removal.

Then you repeat the process for another thirty or forty foot stretch. This is slow going and probably is too slow to use when time is of the essence. On a weekend you could take your time. But in the middle of the week when the snow fell just hours before the start of Rush Hour, niceties go out the window.

The way in which snow is handled in Copenhagen looks like this. Evidently they use brushes and plows over there. But in either situation you will not that they are “pushing the snow” to one side. In Chicago that would mean either onto the sidewalk or into the parking lane of cars where protected bike lanes exist. Either way it is a dumb idea.