Some Interesting Insights…

Background Reading


One of the never-ending threads on the ChainLink Forum is about Dearborn Streets Protected Bike Lane (PBL). The usual complaints are being leveled about motorist behavior and the need to “teach” them how to behave:

Reply by Michelle Stenzel on Tuesday
I’m a little sick of stopping to advise drivers that they’re parked in the Dearborn bike lane but have continued to do so because I think it will take hundreds of us doing this a few thousand times before it sinks into the collective conscience of Chicago drivers. Plus, I’m hoping for (and will be following up on the DOT promise of) better markings added this spring/summer, because that will help. Right now, if a driver is unfamiliar with Dearborn and only sees half a block of it, it’s admittedly hard to tell that it’s a protected bike lane.

Now can anyone tell me why cyclists think that they need to “school” motorists, but give themselves a pass on their own scofflaw behavior? This is one of the more puzzling things about cyclists. They are either dismissing the impact of their actions or attempting to deflect criticism by informing others that “motorists do it too”. Does any of that really matter? Does anyone really believe that you can gain respect from others if you do not follow your own advice?

Reply by Kevin C on Tuesday
It’s another bad PBL design/implementation in Chicago. It not only fails to reduce bike/MV conflict at intersections, it actually makes the existing intersections worse AND creates new conflict points at alleys along its length. The lanes are too narrow, and their proximity to pedestrian traffic ensures that there will be increased bike/pedestrian conflict for as long as this PBL exists. Roadways are “crowned.” Debris from the road funnels to the curb. Putting bikes against the curb virtually guarantees that bikes will be relegated to riding through puddles, ice, snow, broken glass, beer bottles, cans, burrito wrappers, medical waste, etc.
Here’s an excerpt from a Copenhagenize blog entry from April 14th: (The emphasis was added by me).
Interestingly, in this article, you’ve basically seen three of the four types of bicycle infrastructure in Denmark that makes up the Best Practice. There are only four. That’s what makes good design.

  • Separated cycle tracks. The standard when speed limits for cars are above 30 km/h – unless car traffic volume is deemed low then above 40 km/h. Separated from the street with a curb.
  • Bi-directional cycle tracks. Not used in cities because of safety issues. We threw these out of the Best Practice for cities a couple of decades ago. They serve a great function on routes with few intersections, like along the motorways or bike paths that run through parks, etc.
  • Cycle tracks separated by a verge – completely away from the road, but running parallel. This is the standard when speed limits for cars are 60-70 km/h or higher.

The one you didn’t see is what you get on residential streets with a 20-30 km/h speed limit. Then there is no bicycle infrastructure. Bicycles share the street with other vehicles at that speed.

What we are experiencing here in the City of Chicago is a bit of fumbling. Right now we have all the finesse of two teenagers “getting acquainted” in the backseat of a Dodge. We end up with hurried projects that are more about “looking as if we are moving forward” than they are about getting the design right. I understand the pressures but come on folks. You knew something was afoot when CDOT decided to redefine the definition of a PBL to something much broader and thus cheaper and easier to build. And frankly I think that is a blessing in disguise. Otherwise we are going to end up with dozens more poorly designed fumbling examples of PBLs all over the city and the worst thing about them will be that they make a street less safe than before.

Reply by Mark on Tuesday
+1 to Kevin. I decided to give the Dearborn PBL another chance on Sunday and hit a light just turning red at every intersection all the way along.

Impatience is not a virtue in cyclists. It is in fact what ends up dictating that cyclists run red lights and blow stop signs. It is in essence the answer to the raw speed of automobiles. If you can keep moving despite the situation for the automobiles on your street you can actually beat them across town. So in essence all scofflaw behavior having to do with ignoring traffic controls is really a “speeding issue“. My guess is that were most of these impatient cyclists forced to drive across town in an automobile they would behave as anally as any impatient driver who cannot wait for a slower cyclist to clear the way forward.

Alex questions the assertion by Kevin that Dearborn’s PBL is no doing what was intended:

Reply by Alex Z on Tuesday
How does it not reduce bike/MV intersection conflicts? If everyone follows the traffic lights, there should be zero conflict. I realize that’s a big “if,” but do you just mean that we cannot reasonably expect people to follow the traffic signals?

And then Duppie responds to Mark’s comments on a lack of a “green wave“:

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km on Tuesday
How does your inability to time lights become the fault of the bike lane? 😉
Timing has to work not just for bikes, but for northbound cars and crossing traffic as well.
You can adjust your speed up or down to make more lights. It does require some getting used to, like looking ahead to the next block, judging your distance from the next intersection and guessing how long it will take for the light to turn green again. Based on that you speed up or slow down somewhat. But with a little effort it is possible.
That it is possible, and that is largely a matter of timing, is further evidenced by the fact that I can usually get near 30 green lights out of the 39 lights on my commute. Except when it is really windy, and I struggle to keep the “correct” speed. I promptly hit 5-10 more red lights.

The most important “take-away” from this comment is that central to the thinking about cycling in the city is the notion of “speed“. Urban Cyclists like to depict themselves in videos as being engaged in a kind of “smell the roses” approach to life aboard a bike. I am going to insist that this is only for public consumption.

Most Urban Cyclists are about to come face-to-face (if we are lucky) with the future of cycling as it exists in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. If Bike Share takes off the streets will be flooded with plodding tourists and frugal urban dwellers moving about on bikes in a rather ungainly fashion. They will be slow and disoriented for much of the time because they ride infrequently and the bike they will be astride a frankly “clunkers“. For the first time there may indeed be enough of a consistent population of cyclists on the roadways for the impatient more experienced Urban Cyclists to finally get a taste of their own medicine.

I expect to read in the not too distant future some scathing critiques of “tourist” riders who clog up the roadways and impede the speedier cyclists on their way to and from home and the office. This will be a test of just how cycling-oriented many of the current crop of cyclists will be when they are suddenly a minority in a sea of tooddlers.

Reply by Anne Alt on Tuesday
On most Loop streets, it’s difficult to go more than one or two blocks without hitting a red light. This isn’t unique to Dearborn.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi on Tuesday
The biggest problems come at uncontrolled intersections including alleys and driveways. I tried to like Dearborn, but after several close calls with MV entering the Westin, Daley Center parking garage, and the alley between Washington and Madison I never felt safe and have since moved over to Franklin or Wabash.

What will most severely test the resolve of cyclists is if they find themselves stuck in a “bicycle traffic jam“. Right now I have had cyclists decide to pass me by moving into the car lane and riding on streets like Milwaukee Avenue along the center lane line (sometimes actually riding on the opposite side) before darting back into the bike lane a few car lengths ahead. This scene gets repeated block after block as they dart ahead trying to make lights and when that fails they venture out into intersections in a frenetic manner as if driven by some unseen force.

Reply by Tricolor on Tuesday
I’ve seen a few people standing in the path at intersection waiting for a crossing sign, but I’ve also seen more bikes violating their red signal than cars violating the red arrow for left turns (one of them was a cop and they run reds everywhere so they don’t count).
Maybe bikes on Dearborn need a front mounted speaker playing a catchy music loop. The theme from Jaws, for example.

Reply by Michelle Stenzel on Tuesday
I disagree that it’s a bad design. The implementation was kind of hurried because they really wanted it in last year. It’s currently not perfect, with potholes and puddles, but they can be fixed. I don’t find that it’s too narrow, and I’ve seen no more debris than in a traditional bike lane (except for the snow willfully shoveled in by building workers). To me, besides the potholes and puddles, the most challenging aspect has been the vehicles parked in the lane, and the pedestrians standing in the lane, but that’s due to a combo of lack of familiarity as well as the presence of the lane not being visible enough, and again, that can/will be helped with better markings. The pedestrian issue will not go away any time soon and maybe never. I noticed last year in Amsterdam that bicyclists constantly had to ring their bells to warn pedestrians (tourists, mainly) not to step into their path.

The discussions in this thread alone indicate that the lane has problems. By admitting that it was “kind of hurried” to meet an artificial deadline you gain an understanding of what went wrong. Everything from creating a PBL in which the orientation and placement of the bike lane does NOT preclude placing riders in the “Door Zone” to making it impossible for motorists to get to their cars without walking in the bike lane is really unforgivable, but Michelle and everybody else knows this. It is simply the case that some folks have a more difficult time admitting the obvious than others.

Reply by spencewine on Wednesday
When the PBL went in, the bi-directional path was my biggest concern, but I have found it a non-issue. I have ridden it almost daily since it went in and the bike traffic tends to follow a general pattern, at least to/from Madison. Bikes head South in the morning, and head North in the evening with a couple exceptions. It is still early in Spring, so that may change, but I’m not counting on it.

The bi-directional nature of the PBL shows its weakness when the lanes are full of snow, water, ice or debris. Or more importantly when passengers are returning to their vehicles by having to walk in the northbound side of the lane.

Reply by Kevin C on Wednesday
From GridChicago 12/14/12, “[t]he bike lanes, four-foot-wide northbound and five-foot southbound, look narrow, but actually they’re surprisingly comfortable.”

From NACTO Design Guidelines (Two way cycle tracks):

The desirable two-way cycle track width is 12 feet. Minimum width in constrained locations is 8 feet.
Cycle Track Width Guidelines in the Netherlands

CROW. (2006). Record 25: Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic. CROW, The Netherlands.

Transport for London. (2005). London Cycling Design Standards.

Each lane is 1-2 feet narrower than the NACTO “desirable” width; or 0-1 foot wider than the “minimum width in constrained locations.” Each lane is 1.5-2.5 feet narrower than the Netherlands’ Cycle Track Width Guidelines. Each lane is 1.5-2.5 feet narrower than the Transport of London “absolute minimum width” for two way bike lanes. If you factor in the curbside storm drains every 50-60 feet, the effective width of the southbound lane is further narrowed. I call that too narrow.

And while I’m at it, here’s a list of the NACTO requirements for two-way cycle tracks:

Required Features
Bicycle lane word, symbol, and/or arrow markings (MUTCD Figure 9C-3) shall be placed at the beginning of a cycle track and at periodic intervals along the facility to define the bike lane direction and designate that portion of the street for preferential use by bicyclists.
If configured on a one-way street, a “ONE WAY”  sign (MUTCD R6-1, R6-2) with “EXCEPT BIKES” plaque shall be posted along the facility and at intersecting streets, alleys, and driveways informing motorists to expect two-way traffic.
A “DO NOT ENTER” sign (MUTCD R5-1) with “EXCEPT BIKES” plaque shall be posted along the facility to only permit use by bicycles.
Intersection traffic controls along the street (e.g., stop signs and traffic signals) shall also be installed and oriented toward bicyclists traveling in the contra-flow direction.

CDOT included 1 out of 4?

Kevin is “spot on” here. We Yanks are going to need to vet our designs (especially those which are long since determined by our European counterparts as not being as useful as hoped).

Michelle makes a counterpoint:

Reply by Michelle Stenzel on Wednesday
Yes, it’s less than the most desirable width, but more than the minimum width required. Maybe in a few years we’ll have a matching southbound PBL on Clark, and then the Dearborn PBL can be converted to a one-way northbound track.

And I can think of 3 of those 4 required features already being present. Maybe there are One Way Except Bikes signs, but I haven’t looked for them.

But everyone should understand that talking about future edits to the structure of the bi-directional lane is an admission that the current design is lacking. But far more important is the fact that Dearborn Street PBL is our “showcase“. When you build a lane this is supposed to demonstrate the best you have to offer it should be far better in its design that what was hastily cobbled together.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi on Wednesday
I ride a part of it every day. It does not seem too narrow. Yes, alleys and driveways can be a problem, but they are a problem for cars and pedestrians, too. Common sense dictates that one slow down and watch for cars turning into or out of uncontrolled alleys and driveways. As time passes, I very seldom see a car turn against the red left turn signal. I do think there could be better signs for the cars with the red turn signals, but the drivers are figuring it out. Just today, however, I saw three cyclists ignore the red signal for the bike lanes. There are drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who are all very special and do not need to obey the signals. We just don’t know who they are until they show themselves.

Again, it is when you have to “leave your lane” to ride around ice, water or snow that the width of the lane is clearly a problem. In fact in winter the southbound lane is simply impassable at points without riding in the northbound lane. This is a clear deficiency. You would never want a street to be designed such that the southbound lane when flooded meant that cars had to cross the center line to continue forward, would you? Why then is it seemingly acceptable to have bicycles do it?

Reply by Alex Z 13 hours ago
I always obey the traffic signals on Dearborn.

Reply by Tony Adams 6.6 mi 13 hours ago
I make an effort to do so also. But in one case (that I know of) the Walk signal lights up several seconds before the bike green does – northbound at Harrison (I think). I totally get why peds should get a head start vs cars, but vs bikes?

Reply by Ben Raines 13 hours ago
I would too if I rode dearborn.
The last time I posted on this forum that I obeyed all my traffic signals everywhere I was told to ‘get off my high horse‘ (perhaps for other errors in tone in my post, but also partly for that) so I would expect that there are many cyclists who do not obey their signals.

Reply by NYC (7.0 mi) 12 hours ago
I’m with you. This is the one road that I wish we would all be willing to obey the signals. It is the prime example that most non-cyclists have of bike infrastructure in Chicago. We lose the ability to call others out for stepping into the lane, turning against the red arrow, standing obliviously in the lane, etc. if we are jumping lights, waiting in the crosswalk, etc. Why would anyone have to respect the lane if the cyclists don’t?

I roll nearly all reds EXCEPT in the DBL.

I have friends who heartily insist that cyclists are not routinely scofflaws. I would have to strongly disagree with this. My observations attest to the fact that when riders DO obey traffic signals it is cause for reflection. I am not certain why cyclists have to fight the urge to not do on Dearborn Street what they do everywhere else. The simple fact is that obeying the law should be “the path of least resistance“. It should take less “effort” to behave correctly than to be a scofflaw. People having as much personal inertia as they do you wonder why legal behavior is not more the norm. But the sad fact is that it is not. And as the number of cyclists increases this dilemma is going to increase. Cyclists will be tempted more than ever to rid themselves of the slower riders all around them and sprint ahead through busy intersections on red lights just to maintain the kind of pace they got before the surge in ridership.

Reply by Anne Alt 12 hours ago
Exactly. Bike traffic in the Dearborn lane is SO visible to thousands of people every day. If some cyclists blow red lights there, they are BEGGING for the disrespect of other road users. Is disrespect what we really want?

Look folks the bottom line on everything we do is according to Ron Burke, “safety“. If something is not safe then it should be eschewed. This is not about behaving well “while company is visiting our house“. We are riding bikes and encouraging others to do so because we claim that a less automobile-centric world is both more sustainable and safer. When we do anything that is unpredictable on a bike (and certainly riding against the light counts as one) then we are not as “safe” as we should be.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 12 hours ago
While I agree with you, opponents of bike infrastructure will always come up with some BS excuse why they hate cyclists, whether it’s true or not.

People have only two criteria for dismissing you as worthy of respect. You are either different enough in appearance that you standout as “the other” or you disregard social norms. My guess is that unless you are riding naked down Milwaukee Avenue the only way to engender hatred is to behave badly. And that is the source of most of the disrespect we have earned as a social class.

Reply by Tony Adams 6.6 mi 12 hours ago
Those people may be a lost cause, but I’d reckon that your average driver or pedestrian on Dearborn is not (yet) an opponent or a proponent of bike infrastructure. We’ll never know what it could take to could push them in either direction.

Reply by NYC (7.0 mi) 12 hours ago
The least we could do for ourselves is not give them that true reason. If you want to crush lights in the loop – hit up Clark. It’s what I do when feeling aggressive. The DBL has to be mellow. Something is gonna happen on it this Spring. I just hope a cyclist isn’t at fault.

Cyclists are quite wrong (in my judgment) about the supposed linkage between increasing infrastructure and cyclist hatred. Most folks are problem as Tony indicates neutral on the issue of infrastructure. What does however grab their attention is when a cyclist behaves badly. You would seldom if ever see a motorist venture into an intersection on a red light (especially having paused a moment before doing so). That is simply not something a motorist would do because it would be suicidal. Seeing a cyclist do it is jaw dropping.

Sooner or later though we will have a pedestrian-vs-cyclist collision in the Dearborn PBL and that will color the thinking of lots of people who have until that moment been frankly unconcerned about bicyclists. Now they will have something to focus on as they (pedestrians) deal with the fear engendered by the collision with one of their own.

Reply by Ben Raines 11 hours ago
I agree that I think that Dearborn is a special case and will warrant some truely mellow riding. (and I’ve been making an effort to mellow my own riding out in general) I also agree that the bike haters will always find a reason to hate even if they have to make it up.
But I also think that its fair that if we are expecting drivers and pedestrians to respect the rules of the road that protect cyclists’ rights of way (the bike lane, using their signals etc) that we should be prepared to expect cyclists to respect the rules of the road that protect pedestrian and cage drivers’ rights of way too.
I don’t think that logic is unique to the DBL.

Actually each and every street warrants some truely mellow riding.

Reply by Melissa 11 hours ago
Earlier this week, in the DBL…
Me: Are you drafting?
Bike Cop riding behind us: Of course.
Me: What do we do about all of the pedestrians in this lane?
Bike Cop: Run ’em over.
I think I’ll just stick to giving them a shout. It’s not intentional. The lane needs better paint and some time to get used to.

A bit of gallows humor? Unfortunately the real issue here is the fact that pedestrians whether crossing on a red light or stuck out in the Zebra Crosswalk always have the right-of-way. Check out the article by Jonathan Maus on his Bike Portland Blog. Being impatient with pedestrians in those circumstance is pointless.