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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Clark Street’s Bike Lane Made Riding Feel Even More Dangerous, Showing Flaws In Chicago’s Infrastructure, Bicyclists Say

Bicyclists said infrastructure changes are needed immediately to protect bicyclists, as plastic posts and paint aren't enough.

A bike lane at Dearborn and Wacker in Downtown, on Aug. 9, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

EDGEWATER — Clark Street got a bike lane in Edgewater this summer — but it’s made riding feel even less safe, with bicyclists having to dodge plastic posts on top of cars, some said.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) announced this week more safety features will be added to the bike lane to address concerns for bicycling advocates. But bicyclists said they’re concerned it could be months before those changes are made.

The lane, on Clark Street between Hollywood Avenue and Devon Street, was created over the summer as a “paint-and-post installation” that uses plastic dividers or parked cars to separate bicyclists from drivers.

But the lane’s protective infrastructure was largely superficial, with riders still facing constant obstructions — like drivers parking in the lane — that force them out of the safe lane and into traffic, some bicyclists said.

“If anything, it seems less safe now,” said Clark Street frequenter Dana Smith, of Andersonville. “You’re dodging all these posts in addition to the cars that were there before, anyway.”

Mike Claffey, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said advocates had called for the bike lane for years, and the department was “glad we could get started on implementation” this summer.

But bicyclists and advocacy groups like Better Streets Chicago and the Active Transportation Alliance called for upgrades, with Better Streets organizing a campaign to send more than 200 emails to aldermen. In response, Vasquez announced Wednesday the lane will get safety-focused enhancements.

By the end of December, more posts will be added, cutting a 40-foot gap between posts in half, Vasquez said. The intent is to make it harder for drivers to enter the bike lane. 

Concrete curbs that separate bicyclists from drivers will also get installed in 2022, and “there is also talk of installing Bus Stop Bulbs at some intersections,” Vasquez said in a statement. 

The announcement addressed many of the issues safety advocates had — but some said they are disappointed the concrete curb installation is dependent on weather, and the Clark Street bike lane issues point to a larger problem.

‘It’s Not Being Taken Very Seriously At All’

The Clark Street bike lane was part of a massive expansion of protected bike lanes in Chicago.

When the bike lane was created, informational flyers were posted and warning tickets were given to help neighbors adjust to the change, Vasquez said.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), whose wards includes part of the Clark Street bike lane, said the situation is “not [atypical] for the rollout of a bike lane,” as “any installation takes time for the community to embrace.”

But Chicago bicyclists said this phased approach — where more safety features are slowly added over time to bike lanes — is part of a citywide issue.

“It seems to have just been installed without really any thought about the bigger picture, which honestly reflects how bike lanes have been handled as a whole in Chicago,” Smith said. “There’s no thought to how they connect to anything else. They may terminate by just dumping you onto the street with no accommodations at all.

“The random, piecemeal approaches really just tells me that it’s not being taken very seriously at all.”

One person created a Twitter account, Clark Street Bike Lane, in November to highlight all the obstructions he faces when trying to ride in the lane.

“All of this time and investment went into getting it how it is — and it’s not anything close to perfect,” said the creator, who asked to only use his first name, Kevin. “There’s real consequences to the phased approach of putting up these lanes, to just dip our toes in the water. [It] leaves a lot of vulnerable road users at risk because there’s no real protection.

“It’s like they’re piloting the lanes to see what works and doesn’t work and in that time, they’re exposing people who rely on the lanes to dangerous situations.”

Kevin said he started the account following the death of cyclist Ade Hogue in late October. At least 10 bicyclists have been killed this year on Chicago streets, according to Streetsblog.

“You put your life on the line every time [you bike] because there are no protected bike lanes,” Kevin said.

In the first two weeks of running the account, Kevin was forced to exit the bike lane 200 times to get around obstructions. As of Wednesday, he’s faced 577 obstructions in the bike lane in 47 days.

“They call it protected, but you tell me what’s protected because I see cars in it every single day,” Kevin said. “I see trucks unloading. I see porta-potties. I see construction. It’s not protected from anything.”

Another bicyclist, Alex Koppel, said in a tweet to Vasquez he saw a bicyclist get doored in the lane in late November. The collision “really drives home that these painted bike lanes give no protection,” Koppel wrote.

Just one trip “could be the difference between being a ghost bike, being sent to the hospital and having thousands in medical bills,” Kevin said. “Or, it was just a close call — nobody cares. Life goes on and the city doesn’t do anything about it to prevent accidents in the future.”

An increased enforcement effort has led to more than 150 tickets being issued to cars illegally parked in the bike lane in recent weeks, Osterman said.

But bicycling advocates said ticketing doesn’t always help, as offenses are widespread — and some repeat offenders simply ignore the rules.

Clark Street bicycling advocates have tired to highlight businesses whose employees or patrons repeatedly break the rules and park in the bike lane, but that’s led to a few confrontations, some said.

Vasquez said he’s stopped by a few of those businesses to “figure out different ways to address this,” and he plans on contacting the owners to find nearby parking for employees and patrons outside of the bike lane.

“Incidents like this are why infrastructure changes are needed, not necessarily more enforcement …,” said Courtney Cobbs, co-founder of Better Streets Chicago. “I want fewer people to tell me …, ‘Wow, I wish I was brave enough to ride a bike in the city.’ I don’t think anyone needs to have bravery just to simply get around on a bike.”  

Ticket enforcement also does nothing to address driver aggression toward bicyclists, something Smith said he thinks has gotten worse since the protected lane installation. 

“There’s now this expectation that you’re supposed to use the bike lane, so I feel like drivers get more upset than before when you’re forced out of the bike lane and into traffic,” Smith said.

At the end of the day, whether on a bike or in a car, “everyone just wants to get home safely,” Kevin said.

Kevin plans to keep documenting the dangers of Clark Street’s bike lane until a plan that takes parking, safety and enforcement into account is successfully implemented, he siad.

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