More Barrier Protected Bike Lanes?

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Kinzie Protect Bike Lane -

Kinzie Protect Bike Lane –

Support protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Ave.!
Posted by Active Transportation Alliance on March 4, 2013 at 1:33pm

Chicago will soon decide whether to install protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue this spring between Elston and Kinzie, as the first stretch of safety improvements that will eventually extend all the way to Devon. By creating more order on an often chaotic and hazardous street, protected bike lanes would make Milwaukee Avenue safer for everyone, whether you are walking, biking or driving.

Consolidating some parking may be required to create a safer street, and that’s worth it. However, barrier protected bike lanes could be left out of improvement plans as the city assesses how to use limited street space. Please sign the petition telling Chicago city officials to install barrier protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue.

Sign the petition supporting protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Ave.

– Lee Crandell, Active Trans

Judging from the plans indicated the city has taken a step back from attempting to place a “barrier protected bike lane” beyond Elston (at least for the moment). This again smacks of a plan that is evolving rather than having been mapped out and all of the obstacles addressed in the planning stage. We are it is safe to say, “winging it“.

One respondent to this thread wrote:

Reply by 122782_ 6 hours ago
Last year Rahm said this was going to be 3 full miles of buffered bike lane. Now it’s 0.8 miles of protected lane?
What happened?
The narrow, shared lanes north of this stretch need addressed first (in my opinion).

The state DOT did Chicago a favor by telling them they needed to offer more proof (in the form of data) that such lanes are really safer. Now it would seem that once again the Active Transportation Alliance is playing the “lap dog” and dutifully having the cyclists of the northwest corridor indicate their support for yet another PBL.

It might not be so difficult for me to see the value of more of these lanes were it not for the shoddy way their “showcase” lane has been installed. Dearborn Street is not the kind of thing you want to use as an example of your best work, especially if you plan to give the “nickel tour” on snowy or rainy days. So why again would I want to support even more of the same sort of thing?

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 7 hours ago
What are the designs being considered for this stretch?
Given the number of intersections that already have poor sight lines due to extreme angles, I would not support a parking protected lane like Kinzie. I would much rather see a buffered bike lane that keeps cyclists safer from right hooks and left crosses by keeping them visible.

And unfortunately Cameron is correct. But the worst of the sight lines are further up towards Damen. My guess is that whether they are willing to admit it or not, the plan to try and put Milwaukee on a “road diet” is being shelved in favor of a less hectic street which may have better dimensions. If anything putting in bike lanes (especially PBLs) has made it quite evident that Chicago is riddled with non-uniform street designs. The width of the road surface along Milwaukee changes drastically in some areas.

Reply by Juan Primo 6 hours ago
I don’t support it. PBL’s hide bikes until we get to the intersections, and then pow. I like to ride with traffic and be seen by them.
Milwaukee is a very congested street with pedestrian traffic, car traffic and bike traffic. Since the city is not responding to cars parking or idling in a PBL on other streets, I don’t trust the concept at all.

By the time you reach Wicker Park it becomes painfully obvious that Milwaukee will not support on street car parking and PBLs. Not unless you are talking about shaving back the width of the bike lane to something less than ideal. It is difficult enough for urban motorists to park along Milwaukee having benefit of a curb to assist their aiming skills. PVC bollards makes this a comical nightmare! And I would guess that merchants would protest the loss of on-street parking as well.

Too often that same tired drivel that comes out of the mouths and pens of Active Transportation Alliance is presented as accomplished fact. For instance:

  • By creating more order on an often chaotic and hazardous street, protected bike lanes would make Milwaukee Avenue safer for everyone, whether you are walking, biking or driving.
  • Consolidating some parking may be required to create a safer street, and that’s worth it.

I applaud them having a set of talking points. But given the fiasco that Dearborn Street has turned out to be, none of this “happy talk” is impressing me or fooling very many people. Sure the Trained Seals will continue to blather about how great this sort of transformation will be and how it is better than nothing:

Reply by Daniel G 6 hours ago
You like to ride with traffic along Milwaukee in WP or LS? Anything is better than what it is now. At the moment, it’s the best way to lose your life short of merging onto the Kennedy.

Reply by Juan Primo 2 hours ago
Elston runs parallel to Milwaukee almost for it’s own stretch. It’s less congested and better suited to a PBL. Milwaukee has its own hazards. Personally, I don’t think the city can do a good job of it on this street.

The problem is not with the concept so much as it has been with execution. The stretch along 55th between Lake Park and Ellis is difficult to traverse and offers some challenges for folks attempting left turns at key streets like Ellis. I keep thinking that whoever planned out these stretches of PBL never actually tried to ride them either before or after installation. They seem to me to be “trickier” than one would expect for a lane designed for newbie riders.

This Is Too Important ‘To Settle’

Daniel G is to my mind offering a rather lame excuse for supporting a PBL along Milwaukee. This is a “world class” city. It deserves “world class” infrastructure in terms of both design and implementation. At present I would rate some of the work I have personally seen and ridden at perhaps a “C minus“. Some of it is in fact to be rated as an “F“. The number of fits and starts that have resulted from poorly informing the residents about the loss of parking due to the PBLs being installed in their communities is regrettable. Even more regrettable is the rather paternalistic attitude of people who do not live in the community and have however made up their minds that PBLs are the only way to go.

Reply by Anika 1 hour ago
Approximately 2% of my child’s school bikes. Most of us minimally cross or use Milwaukee for a stretch since the school lies right off of it in Logan Square. While I am not the biggest fan of the current protected bike lane setup, I would certainly like to see something to encourage more students and families bike to school. Right now, we are mostly relegated to using the sidewalk (which we know fully well is not allowed) in order to get our children safely to school. Protected bike lanes should be safe enough for everyone to use, not just the seasoned bikers.

This issue of safety on Milwaukee is important enough that even my child writes and draws about it in her school exercises.

Reply by Liz 1 hour ago
The protected lanes on elston make that stretch less bike friendly. It removes sight line and the changing lane pattern makes predicting traffic difficult. I think buffered lanes work really well here, but the seperated lanes just make it more dangerous.

Now these complaints should be taken seriously. The context in which PBLs should be understood is that their design should facilitate their use by school age kids. I have seen nary a PBL to date that I would trust my child to use unattended. This is a shame because these lane designs are the most expensive possible. But again their implementation is sometimes horrific.

Active Transportation Alliance needs to get off its over paid behinds and offer to “vet” some of these lanes. And if they are not in on the design and planning, why not? Are they only good for silly write-in campaigns? Heck we can get that sort of thing done without having an overly expensive Cycling Advocacy organization constantly pumping us up for the next write-in campaign while never “speaking truth to power” at least openly about the conditions of the existing lanes.

I for one do not wish to hear that tired drivel yet again about improved safety. If you can only offer me improved safety with the presence of a PBL then we are surely going to have vast stretches of the city where such lanes are impractical. And yet people living in those areas need a safe bike route. Why is not every single bike lane design safe for everyone? And if you can answer that with a reply that “they are“, then I have to ask about fatal and near fatal accidents along routes with bike lanes.

We should not be settling for “anything” because that is a defeatist attitude. Either these on-street bike lanes are the answer or they are not. If the only safe design in the bunch is the PBL then I have a real problem with what is going on right now.

Yet Another Thread On PBLs

Active Trans pushing Milwaukee PBL petition
Posted by Skip Montanaro 12mi on March 4, 2013 at 1:29pm

I got an email from the Active Transportation Alliance, which reads, in part:

Chicago will soon decide whether to install protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue this spring between Elston and Kinzie, as the first stretch of safety improvements that will eventually extend all the way to Devon. By creating more order on an often chaotic and hazardous street, protected bike lanes would make Milwaukee Avenue safer for everyone, whether you are walking, biking or driving.

Based on my limited experience with the Dearborn PBL and the Church St PBL in Evanston, I’m thinking the kinks should get worked out of the system before adding more such lanes. Am I the only person who thinks this way?


No. You are not the only one who feels this way:

Reply by Davo 16 hours ago
Elston to Kinzie seems like a good place for one. I find it hard to believe that it would extend through wicker park since the road is really narrow there.

Reply by Skip Montanaro 12mi 16 hours ago
It’s not so much whether the area could use a functioning PBL. For me it’s more that the ones that already exist have a set of problems which haven’t fully been resolved. I think, in particular, that the Dearborn PBL should be functioning smoothly before more such lanes are added.
As a bikie who occasionally drives a car, I caught myself, not once, but twice, over the weekend turning right off Church onto Maple in Evanston, only to realize after I completed the turn that I had failed to look for bikes (hiding) in the PBL. The protection in this case is a row of parked cars, which in my opinion largely obscure bikes, not just low bollards.

The PBL design is a bit of a kludge. It requires a good deal more real estate at the intersections to make it workable. Bike boxes are essentially a system which helps with the overall deficiencies of the PBL design. And yes, drivers get as confused as cyclists when they reach an intersection and find that they are not “seeing” bikes. The real problem here is that PBLs are the “lanes for dummies” who simply have no experience in traffic. They represent the ultimate in safety where bicycle infrastructure is concerned. But in my experience they are more “window dressing” than workable solution.

Reply by h’ 1.0 16 hours ago
Skip, point of clarification– the petition is in regard to protected bike lanes, but you seem to be citing examples specific to 2-way protected bike lanes. Is that what’s planned for Milwaukee?

Reply by Daniel G 15 hours ago
I don’t see this happening, really. How about up to Armitage or Fullerton first, as a more reasonable goal? Oh right, not happening either. How much harder did it become to get rid of parking now that the city no longer owns its own on-street parking spaces? Not to downplay the resistance from merchants. The stretch of Milwaukee around Wicker Park is not really usable in anything but the deadest hour or the most motionless traffic. Lots of cabs, tons of buses, parked cars coming and going constantly, no space at all, my best candidate for least favorite road in the city.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 15 hours ago
You’re not alone in thinking this way. I agree that before we install many more miles of protected lanes, we need to improve their design. As we’ve seen them so far in Chicago, protected lanes create dangerous blind intersections. As a diagonal street, Milwaukee already has many problem intersections. With what we’ve seen so far, I’m not convinced that installing a protected lane would make any of those intersections better, and may in fact make them worse.

Reply by Kevin C 4.1 mi 15 hours ago
With the exception of the Milwaukee, Chicago and Ogden intersection, which is in desperate need of a redesign/rebuild, a protected bike lane from Elston to Kinzie would be an absolute waste of resources. There are long stretches of that route (on Milwaukee) with no parking, very few conflict points between bikes and cars and very little risk of doorings. The existing painted bike lanes are more than adequate.

Honest opinions with which I happen to agree.

Reply by spencewine 15 hours ago
There is no such thing as a perfect bike lane, never was, probably never will be. So waiting until all kinks are worked out = no more PBLs. If that’s your stance, then fine, just don’t try to hide what you’re advocating.
Me, I can deal with the occasional annoyances that occur. Regarding the future and whether we should have more PBLs, All I have to do is answer these questions:

  • Do I use the PBLs? Yes, whenever they are avaible to use.
  • Are the PBLs better than regular bike lanes? IMO, yes, much better.

This is the call to “settle” argument. Spencewine is taking the Trained Seals position and “workin’ it“. The easy way out is to simply continue doing what we are doing. It is however a dangerous and cynical view that means safety is put into second place where political showcases come first.

If you consider for instance a situation in which you are attempting to curb gun violence. And after months of effort you find that you are having mixed results. The sensible thing to do is stop and reflect and reconsider what it is you are doing. The irrational thing to do is forge ahead on the hunch that if we stop we will lose momentum. That is the identical quandary of the Cycling Adovcate Community.

The politicians need to be seen to be moving forward. The Cycling Advocates need some sort of signs of progress around which write-in campaigns can be organized. If there are no new campaigns the Cycling Advocates lose their means of drawing in money for their use. What we need is some reasoned evaluations of what we already have in place. That will take time and may yield mixed results.

But if it saves even one life it will have been worth it.

Reply by h’ 1.0 14 hours ago
I still have not made peace with the use of “protected bike lane” to describe something that’s not truly protected in the least. Maybe we can at least settle on QPBL? (quasi-)

Skip replies to Spencewine:

Reply by Skip Montanaro 12mi 15 hours ago
I’m not hiding anything. I think there are significant issues with the Dearborn lane, important enough issues that I think the city ought to be careful before it spends a bunch of money installing such lanes elsewhere. I disagree with you about them being significantly better than regular bike lanes. In fact, the couple I’ve seen so far seem to be worse.

Reply by David Barish 15 hours ago
I understand Skip’s point. I do not like the Evanston lane. I like the idea of it. However, I don’t like right hand doors coming into play as passengers are even more likely to be clueless than drivers in terms of looking out for a bike. The only good thing is that if you get doored in that lane you are not going to veer into traffic as those parked cars are between you and the traffic. I give the Darborn lane a pass as it tries to accomplish a lot of things and does accomplish a good handful of them. I ride it on weekdays mainly to show support for the concept but never think of using it when traffic is light. I would much rather be on a regular street and will use Clark or LaSalle. I will get through the loop much quicker on those streets. All that aside, I will support a lane on Milwaukee. Something has to be done there. Whether it needs to be a fully “protected” lane is up for debate.

The Bar Is About To Close

Let me close by saying that cyclists will have to decide whether they want to be Trained Seals or “hold out for better“. This is the Friday Night Last Call Syndrome.

Imagine that you came to a bar to find that “one person“. You really do not wish to be lonely tonight. So you throw back a shot and a beer and make your move. But the question you have to ask yourself is whether you will miss the “love of your life” or just find some companionship for tonight.

The Trained Seals will always remind you that no one is perfect. So go ahead and make your choice and get on with life. But sometimes you have to admit that being rushed into a situation is hardly the right way to do things. Trained Seals and their handlers are going to tell you that money will be drying up soon and then there will be nothing to show for all our hard work.

But frankly “half baked” lane designs that are implemented and never truly tested might be more dangerous than nothing at all. We existed without pretty green lanes thus far we can wait to get this right. Or to look at it another way, if we find that these designs are improved in some meaningful way in the next few years it will be very hard to get the public behind tearing up recently installed lanes for what should have been there in the first instance.

The Drug Release Scenario

Right now we are being faced with the debate over the Keystone Pipeline. What is ironic is that the same folks who want to take a “wait and see” with that pipeline are hell bent on getting bike lanes put into place when there are questions about human error in their design and installation.

Another example is the release of new drugs. If we are trying to find a cure for cancer or HIV or whatever do we err on the side of being cautious and deliberate or do we release a drug which may do a great deal of good and at the same time kill thousands who cannot tolerate it? Better yet suppose this were a drug designed for children and yours was one of them. What would you do?

And before you say but bike lanes are different, ask yourself what is the “acid test” for bike lanes? For me that would be the fact that a grade school child could traverse Milwaukee Avenue at Rush Hour and do so safely on his way to and from school. If the lane cannot be made safe enough for that purpose then why are we spending the money at all?