Protesters calling for better winter bike lane maintenance gathered in Edgewater Thursday. Credit: Izzy Stroobandt/Block Club Chicago

EDGEWATER — Local bicyclists rallied in Edgewater Thursday demanding better bike lane management from the city, saying sludgy snow should be cleared from bike lanes.

Amid the heavy snowfall of the past two weeks, bicyclists took to Twitter to highlight the slushy conditions. One of them was the creator of an account dedicated to the Clark Street bike lane — who asked to only use his first name, Kevin — who co-organized the rally with Courtney Cobbs, one of the founders of Better Streets Chicago.

“Bike lanes throughout the city need to be cleared with as much urgency as the streets that drivers use because people still get out and bike in this weather,” Cobbs said.

There were around 103,000 Divvy bike rides citywide in January, Chicago Department Of Transportation officials told StreetsBlog Chicago.  

Mel Leverich, who often bikes Clark Street to and from Rogers Park, said they came out to the rally because the bike lane obstructions are “pretty constant.” 

“I honestly try to avoid this street when I’m biking in this weather because when the bike lanes are blocked up, there’s even less space,” Leverich said. “Now I’m just in the vehicle lane because there’s not even a shoulder anymore.”  

Cobbs tweeted the was lane entirely snow-covered and unusable Jan. 28 and 29, and city data shows 311 reports for snow removal from the lane filed as early as Jan 24. 

“If someone wants to bike as an alternative to waiting 30 minutes or an hour for a bus, they should have that option,” Cobbs said. “We need to make sure that no matter how you’re getting around, you can safely do so.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said on Twitter the Department of Transportation would be coming on the on Jan. 31 to clear the lane. After the heavy snowfall earlier this week, the lane again was left uncleared until Vasquez intervened. 

Whether a bike lane is protected or not determines how it’s cleared, Vasquez said. If the lane is protected with flex posts, like the Clark Street lane, the CDOT uses smaller plows to clear it. The bike lanes marked solely by white paint, that pose no obstacles for the large street sweepers, are the responsibility of Streets and Sanitation. 

Vasquez said city officials were given “the heads up” they’re in charge of clearing the Clark Street bike lane now that it’s protected, but “it must’ve slipped through the radar.” He’s since double-checked the city will include Clark Street in their bike lane plowing schedule, he said. 

“It’s only the first or second snow since it became a protected bike lane,” Vasquez said.

But sometimes even the cleared bike lanes are “really patchy,” Cobbs said, forcing them to slow down or at times entirely get off their bike “to safely navigate the lane.”

Since its installation last summer, the Clark Street bike lane has developed a contentious reputation in Edgewater as businesses and residents continue to use the lane for free parking despite its protective upgrades. 

Cyclists who often ride the Clark Street route said frequent obstacles make the bike lane semi-functional at best and often made the stretch of traffic feel even more dangerous — an experience compounded by the risk of wiping out or getting stuck in snow. 

The lane, which spans from Hollywood Avenue to Devon Street, is in the process of receiving a second set of upgrades to curb illegal parking. 

Additional flex posts were put up at the end of last year to cut the 40-foot gaps cars used to enter the lane in half, and a concrete barrier separating the bike lane from the rest of traffic is planned to be installed in the spring, Vasquez said. 

The other side of the bike lane battle was also represented on Thursday. Not long after the rally started, three Dominoes delivery cars parked in the bike lane on the same block where protesters stood with signs. 

Vasquez stopped by the rally just in time to talk to the Dominoes drivers about other parking options he’s working on for them, like potentially installing a loading zone nearby and talking with other businesses about dedicating a few spots in an adjacent corner lot to delivery cars. 

An angry resident called protesting cyclists “selfish” and yelled “thanks for taking our parking away from us,” before heading into their complex on Clark Street. 

Though the rally took place at the intersection of Clark and Ridge, the activists’ call for better maintenance applies to bike lanes citywide. 

“We know that this isn’t the only bike lane being impacted,” Cobbs said. 

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