This week, the protected bike lane on Milwaukee Ave in Chicago made a debut, now one of a few truly protected bike facilities in Chicago. Milwaukee Ave sees as many as 4,800 riders* daily. We can’t stop now, we’ve got to keep building more!
Everyone certainly has their own opinion on where the next lanes should go, and I have my own suggestion based on my normal commute home, and based on what I feel is a missing connection between two existing lanes.
Going north from downtown, the Dearborn protected lane stops at Kinzie, where it turns into a mess of taxis parked in the left-side bike lane, cars turning left (and almost always nearly hooking those on bikes), and lights that seemed synchronized to promote fast driving. At Chicago Ave, the lane used to abruptly end; as of this week, a bike lane has been striped 3 blocks north to Walton. Dearborn continues as a two-way street all the way to North Ave, with no bike lane.
Clark St, one block west, is striped with a bike lane, but there is no indication that Clark is a good northbound route from Dearborn at Walton. The lane is on the left side of Dearborn, meaning that it is a slightly complex maneuver to turn left with all the cars also confused on how to proceed. Unfortunately both streets are too narrow for a protected bike lane.
The Dearborn protected bike lane should be extended from Kinzie, where it currently ends, all the way north to North Ave. Unfortunately for all Chicagoans, this is infeasible due to the infamous parking meter “deal.”
You could make the case that a protected bike lane on Dearborn after Chicago Ave isn’t necessary, since the street is relatively calm as it is, but that ignores the fact that the majority of people who want to ride a bike, but don’t currently, probably aren’t riding because they don’t feel safe doing so. Protected bike lanes are a great way to get these people out on their bikes.
In addition, extending the lane all the way to North provides a good connection to the Lakefront Trail and Clark St or Lincoln Ave. Which brings me to my next point…
Clark St between North Ave and Armitage needs to be narrowed, with a protected bike lane installed:
Right now, this half-mile stretch is about 62′ wide: that’s wide enough for (at least) one 11′ travel lane in each direction, two 7′ parking lanes, a 7′ bike lane in each direction, and 3′ of protection between the bike lane and parked cars. That’s also plenty of room to allow a bus island so that the buses don’t have to cross in front of the bike lane.
There are currently two travel lanes in each direction on this stretch of Clark, but I’d argue it’s more of a 1.5-lane arrangement; there are quite a few other people riding bikes along it that occupy enough of the pothole-ridden right lane that most drivers switch to the left lane, and many drivers anticipate continuing north on Clark instead of turning right onto Lincoln Park West, also forcing them into the leftmost lane.
Finally, the 4-lane layout of the street just doesn’t make sense. For just a half mile, drivers get two lanes: going north on Clark until North, there is only one lane in each direction; starting at Armitage, the street goes back to one lane. There’s no reason for there to be an extra lane in each direction for just a half mile.
The protected lane would end at Armitage, where Clark veers to the left and Lincoln Park West (arguably a pointless street that ends 3.5 blocks further north) continues to the right. Those on bikes could also get a head start on traffic, ensuring they can safely get on Clark ahead, which only has sharrows.
0.5 miles isn’t a lot of new space for people on bikes, but the city and several bike advocates are cheering over a 0.8 mile protected lane on Milwaukee Ave. Providing this is a good link into Lincoln Park from River North and downtown. With the limitations on what planners can do with parking, we have to take what we can get for now, and try hard to make Chicagoans feel safe while riding a bike so that more can do it!
* This page states there are 12,000 cars daily on Milwaukee and estimates 40% of the traffic is bikes. That is 4,800 bikes. Correct me if I am wrong.
Addition (6/17/2013): It was brought to my attention that Bike Walk Lincoln Park covered this stretch of Clark two years ago. Clearly it is still in need of a road diet. With the city building more protected bike lanes perhaps we will see this soon.