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The protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue, where cars park between traffic lanes and bike lanes, will be adjusted somewhat by adding additional bus stop buffers. But the overall narrowing of traffic lanes and trouble accessing buses, among other issues concerning motorist and pedestrian safety, continued to result in dueling petitions and extensive resident protest.
At the Oct. 24 City Council meeting, the bike lanes were back on the agenda as a “Dodge Bike Lane Update.” City Clerk Rodney Greene reported that his office received two petitions – one in favor of the bike lane configuration and another opposed.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, a defender of the bike lanes who some on Council label “an avid biker,” admitted there was a problem with sight lines for vehicles turning onto Dodge, but said he had heard “strong feedback” from bikers indicating “people using it for [biking to and from school or work] feel safer.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, summed up the dichotomy, saying, “It’s just absolutely a terrible situation. … Fire trucks can’t get through. … The street is just too narrow. … I believe the bike lanes are safer [for bikers]. I don’t believe the motorists are safer…”
The City is “trying to balance it all for the people that use [Dodge Avenue],” said Ald. Wilson. Residents need to “be thoughtful about how everyone is using the roads. The roads are there for everybody.”
Some residents praised the bike lines, telling Council how much safer they felt in the protected bike lanes. Other spoke about child safety in the lanes.
Other residents, however, continued to point out the same concerns they have raised ever since the reconfigured bike lanes were installed, some of which could only be addressed by the complete removal of the protected bike lanes and restoration of the previous configuration. The concerns fell into several categories.
One concern was danger to pedestrians. Parking away from the curb creates difficulty in exiting a vehicle safely and getting to the curb both on the driver’s side, where moving traffic is much closer to the door of a parked car, and on the passenger side, where residents may step directly into oncoming bike riders. Further, the distance between the curb and a CTA bus door is much greater, creating difficulty for disabled or elderly bus passengers.
Another concern was sightlines when turning onto Dodge Avenue from side streets. Parked cars relocated father out into Dodge make it much more difficult to see oncoming traffic, whether a driver is turning left or right. Drivers have to inch forward, into the bike lanes, in an effort to see what is coming.
Other residents expressed alarm about the difficulty emergency vehicles have, now that the traffic lanes have narrowed. Police Chief Richard Eddington, who also temporarily supervises the Fire Department, reiterated residents’ comments. “The continuation of the parking lanes being moved out from the curb creates a situation where it makes is difficult, especially when the parking spaces are full, for drivers to yield to emergency vehicles,” he said. “That’s the crux of the issue from your public safety departments.” He said the removal of some of the bollards, the white plastic posts between the parking spaces and bike lanes, “improved somewhat” the situation, but the problem remains because drivers simply have no place to go.
Lara Biggs, the City’s Engineering and Capital Planning Bureau Chief, presented an update and some proposed changes. First, the City suggested removing some additional parking spaces to create larger bus pull-off lanes, a move that would also increase sight lines and assist turning vehicles. The City conducted a parking study, she said, and could afford to lose 11 to 13 parking spaces.
National standards require at least 30 feet of sight lines, she said. Most intersections already have 40 feet in sight lines, but a proposal to create bus pull-offs and added sight lines sought to create sight lines of at least 60 feet in each direction. Sight line standards were not set with a protected bike lane, and the additional travel distance such lanes add to a turn, in mind.
The parking study revealed several blocks in which parking is too tight to remove spaces, said Ms. Biggs, including the blocks between Seward and Monroe streets, the block between Lee and Greenleaf streets, and the area just north of Howard Street.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, asked if any computer modeling had been done on traffic flow. Ms. Biggs said the City did not have the software to generate such modeling. Ald. Wynne proposed approaching Northwestern University and asking if they would generate computer models so the City would “not be operating on anecdote any longer.”
A motion to take the immediate steps needed to increase sightlines and bus pull-off lanes passed easily. A motion to pursue computer modeling passed by 7-2 vote. Relief will be coming to some areas soon, but those trying to turn onto Dodge Avenue from Greenleaf, Cleveland, Lee, Seward, or Monroe streets will not see any changes. Bus pull-out lanes will increase as well, meaning bus riders may have to cross only the bike lane and not the bike lane plus the parking lane to board, at least in some places.
The matter will likely continue to appear before Council in the coming months, if not years, until a comprehensive solution can be found.