Chicago bike lanes will be plowed — by their own snow removal crews

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter fspielman@suntimes.com March 5, 2013 4:58PM
Updated: March 6, 2013 10:11AM

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein (left) and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez (right) riding bikes on Kinzie Street protected bike lane in May. File Photo. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein (left) and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez (right) riding bikes on Kinzie Street protected bike lane in May. File Photo. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to create a network of protected bike lanes in Chicago has given way to a divided system of snow removal.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation removes the snow from city streets. The Chicago Department of Transportation keeps the bike lanes clear.

“We’ve split up the responsibility. We’ve taken on the bike lane [snow removal] in the Department of Transportation. They get salted, just as a standard roadway would. And we plow them,” said Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein.

For those hearty souls willing to venture out on a bike after a major snowstorm, Klein predicted that the lanes would be clear in time for the Wednesday morning rush.

“We’ll typically wait until the snow stops to get out there and plow the bike lanes. We just use one vehicle. We have some great equipment that we use on it. It’s been working very well,” he said.

“There are actually very few protected, separated bike lanes. So, we’re taking those on, and we can do them in a matter of hours with just a couple people.”

Transportation Department spokesman Peter Scales noted that CDOT was already responsible for snow removal on the sidewalks of Chicago bridges.

“These barrier-protected lanes need smaller equipment to plow than Streets and San uses. This is just an extension of the equipment we have already to clean the sidewalks on bridges,” Scales said.

“We have a number of options. We have pick-up trucks with plows and salt spreaders, small tractors with the same plows and spreaders and snow blowers. None of this equipment is new. We’ve either had it in our inventory or we got a few pieces of equipment from other departments and re-purposed it.”

Like former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel is an avid cyclist who campaigned on a promise to make Chicago the nation’s most “bike-friendly” city.

Emanuel installed Chicago’s first, of what he promised would be 100 miles of protected bike lanes over four years less than a month after taking office. The city now has 10.5 miles of protected bike lanes — on Dearborn, Kinzie, 18th, 55th, Elston and Lake Streets.

On Kinzie Street between Milwaukee and Wells, the bike lane is located closest to the curb, flanked by a roughly four foot-wide “buffer lane” and a row of parking. That means there is literally 12 feet between bicyclists and the flow of vehicular traffic.

Motorists using Kinzie have complained about losing a lane of traffic through their popular route in River North. Motorists using Dearborn have made similar complaints.

The Dearborn protected lanes opened in December, giving Chicago, what Scales has called its “first two-way bike route” with dedicated bicycle traffic signals. Ten parking spaces were removed, but “relocated” nearby, officials said.