Build The Lakefront Trail Flyover : It Should Be Safer Than A Protected Bike Lane

Background Reading


Some basic truths about the aims of the Urban Cycling Movement:

  • The primary reason for infrastructure additions to accommodate bicycles is to increase “safety” for drivers, bicyclist and pedestrians simultaneously.
  • The very best type of “cycle track” is one that does not interact with cars or pedestrians. These are probably best defined as segregated bike lanes. A good example of one would be the Chicago Lakefront Trail or the soon to be launched Bloomingdale Trail.
  • In the absence of either funds or available land to build segregated bike lanes the next best option (from the point of view of limiting cyclist interactions with the other two travel modes) would be the protected bike lane.
  • If you also consider the maintenance, initial costs and upkeep of a protected bike lane it represents a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) that is higher than a buffered bike lane. Evanston has such lanes running past the newly opened Wheel and Sprocket Store. Given the wider parking lane width “Door Zone” can be avoided with no additional effort on the part of the cyclist. Buffered bike lanes offer the possibility of lower upkeep costs (i.e. plowing for snow removal) since Streets and Sanitation can do the work without involving a woefully understaffed CDOT. This is largely due to that fact that plows of standard width can be used rather than the smaller, narrower less efficient plows designed for lighter duty.

About The Chicago Lakefront Trail Flyover

PBL Alternative to Flyover

PBL Alternative to Flyover

John, the proposal shown in your picture above (and suggested originally by Chuckchuck), despite it’s frugality, is still a dank, dark, cramped venue for bike/ped facilities; and users would still have to contend with the two busy intersections at Grand and Illinois, poor sight lines and pinch-points around Lake Point Towers, and a circuitous route through Jane Addams Park to get to and from the Lakefront Trail. We deserve better.

The Lakefront Trail, many would agree, is a jewel of Chicago, and it did not spring fully formed from the head of Richard J. Segments of the trail have been created and pieced together and re-envisioned over many decades, and the Flyover is just one more segment. If, years ago, Chicago had decided that pedestrians and (perhaps then, new-fangled) cyclists could just use the sidewalk along Lake Shore Drive, rather than spending the money for a dedicated trail, we’d be a lot poorer off.
This flyover is an obvious and sorely needed addition to this world-class facility, and I think $40 million for this bold expansion, one that will highlight Chicago for decades to come, is a deal indeed.

— BruceBikes

Navy Pier Flyover

Navy Pier Flyover

The Flyover represents a significant investment in the “safety” and convenience of both our citizens and visitors. It is designed to help alleviate the congestion caused by the throngs of visitors to the Navy Pier Attractions. What is even more interesting is that the money for the project has already been obtained. So while it is very expensive ($40 Million) it is already “paid for”.

One of the confusing aspects of the Urban Cycling Movement is its sudden concern about costs. Nearly $450K was spent on the Dearborn Street Protected Bike Lane. Its primary purpose was as a “showcase” for the city’s efforts in creating bicycle infrastructure. Because it is centrally located it would mean that dignitaries visiting City Hall could easily stroll over to see what a great job the city has been doing. Instead of members of the Urban Cycling Movement complaining about this expenditure, they crowed about its cost because it signaled a commitment to infrastructure development that is easily understood in dollar terms.

What this development did not provide however was a truly “finished” product. The lack of attention to detail in its construction resulted in an immediately obvious drainage problem that required city intervention to keep cyclists off of icy areas. Later because of the lack of planning for the maintenance of that “showcase” cyclists were disappointed at uncleared lanes and unprotected bridge ramps. As of today the CDOT is taking over the maintenance of protected bike lanes in the city using already purchased specialized snow removal equipment manned by a two-person team.

It remains to be seen whether the team will be involved in the upkeep of 57th Street’s protected bike lane in Hyde Park as well as the protected bike lane on Dearborn Street and the newly proposed extension of the Kinzie-Milwaukee-Elston. I doubt seriously that the geographic spread of these areas (and possibly others) will allow a two-person crew to do the job. All of this caused by the fact that the protected bike lanes are thought to be “safer” than their buffered bike lanes counterparts. At least by some cyclists. But another reason is that protected bike lanes are “visually more impressive“. Visitors to the city will find them exciting.

The Flyover is as good a choice for a high volume area like the Navy Pier as anything. It segregates bicyclists of all ages and abilities completely from the motorist traffic coming over from the central city area via the Lower Wacker Drive route or coming in from the immediate west via side streets to reach the pier. And it most certainly will dovetail nicely with the newly proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) designed to deliver passengers into this very area.

So why the hesitancy to spend money that we already have in hand?

Some Conjectures About The Flip-Flop On The Flyover

Money is indeed tight and getting tighter with the advent of Sequestration. The Urban Cycling Movement wants to reach a critical mass with respect to infrastructure before money gets even tighter. So they are looking for ways to “Rob Peter To Pay Paul“. Their reasoning is that few cyclists from the northwest areas along the Kinzie-Milwaukee-Elston corridor will ever use such a Flyover. However there will be folks coming from the SouthSide of Chicago who might. But to be perfectly honest that is the side of town where people of color predominate. The KME corridor is largely white. You do the math.

But the Flyover is really in aid of visitor and recreational use of the Chicago Lakefront Trail and thus has a much broader target audience that commuters. But the Urban Cycling Movement is largely about “commuting“. But even more to the point is the fact that lack of car ownership is a badge of honor amongst Urban Cyclists and therefore on-street infrastructure is about the only thing they truly understand.

Time will tell whether the Flyover gets to have its day in the sun. But if we are truly sincere in our primary aim to provide “safety” to cyclists, motorists and pedestrians simultaneously the Flyover is the only alternative with a proven track record. Because it removes the chance of car vs. bicycle interactions it greatly increases the “safety” factor lost when a protected bike lane enters and crosses a busy intersection. The Achilles Heel of the protected bike lane are its very high upkeep and maintenance costs and its no better than average control of cyclist vs. motorist interactions at intersections.