More bicycle lanes coming to community
June 4, 2017

More bicycle lanes on the Near West Side and in the South Loop will make the area more bicycle friendly.

Bicycle commuting through the South Loop and Near West Side will be much faster, while cycling accidents and pedestrian mishaps should go down when a joint Federal, State, and City project wraps up, probably in 2018. According to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson Mike Claffey, the project includes new “buffered” bike lanes similar to regular bike lanes, but with extra space to help cyclists keep their distance from moving cars and opening doors.

Workers are installing the buffered lanes on Harrison Street between Loomis and Halsted Streets “in conjunction with the ongoing Harrison resurfacing project,” Claffey said. The Harrison lanes eventually will connect to the Polk and Loomis bikeways, to be installed with Federal funding later this year and “creating a continuous route between the Illinois Medical District, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the South Loop,” Claffey added.

Officials also are planning improved parking lanes and more pedestrian refuges, when possible, for later this year. Project leaders unveiled their plans to about 50 residents at an Aug. 23 South Loop Neighbors meeting at Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn St. City officials said workers will extend the Polk/Plymouth Neighborhood Greenway’s Dearborn Street bike lanes and upgrade a section of barriers, including protective posts and concrete, along Dearborn. That route also will get new lane markings and signage, City planners said. Workers will install pedestrian bump-outs at the intersection of Polk Street and Plymouth Court and add bicycle traffic signals to deal with the problem of bicyclists who routinely ignore traffic lights, thereby endangering pedestrians, noted assistant Chicago Department of Transportation director Mike Amsden.

Not everyone seems sold on the CDOT plan, however. South Loop Neighbors president Susan Ohde said her group did not think “the project would be a big change from the current situation.” Ohde said that, while the City’s efforts on behalf of bicycling are “commendable, not all the area’s residents ride bikes,” and the City should consider pedestrians and motorists as well. Amsden attributed skeptics’ concerns to a possible lack of understanding of the project’s full scope. Most of the concern, however, seemed to arise over congestion and access to parking lots.

“We’ll propose pedestrian safety measures and make sure there is access to driveways,” Amsden said. Alderman Sophia King (4th Ward) believes the project has won widespread support. The neighborhood has many cyclists, with nine Divvy bikesharing stations. According to CDOT, protected bike lanes on Dearborn Street already have decreased bike crashes by 30%, while bicycle ridership shot up 170%. CDOT also estimates bicyclist compliance with the new traffic signals at more than 90%. Much of the money for this project will come from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds, City officials said. Claffey said the CDOT does not have a final figure on the cost of the bike lanes as some contracts have yet to be awarded.

— Patrick Butler