Kinzie Street Chicago – Poof! It’s a Protected Bike Lane!

If you’ve been following the bike news in Chicago over the last two weeks, you’ll know that we’re all abuzz because we’re getting our first truly protected bike lane, also know as a  cycle track, on Kinzie street.  It runs from Wells Street on the east, all the way over the bridge to the Des Plaines/Milwaukee Avenue intersection.  Steve Vance has been posting almost daily updates on his blog and the Tribune and others have reported on it, and there has been an interesting discussion going on the Chainlink about the lanes, the bollards, the traffic, etc.    I ride this stretch of Kinzie every morning as part of my daily commute so I’ve been especially keen to see how they were going to implement it.

Two weeks ago, as they started the pavement striping,  and kicked off the event with a little traffic safety. The folks from CDOT as well as a handful of Chicago Police both on bike and in squad cars camped out on what would eventually become the western end (or entrance) of the new bike lane – the Des Plaines/Milwaukee/Kinzie intersection. They were there to warn or ticket cyclists who blew through the red lights.  I pulled over to the side of the road because I wanted to get some pictures of the lane striping that was just starting, and then I realized what was going on.

Stopping cyclists on Kinzie Street

While it’s fine to stop cyclists or motorists and advise them not to blow lights,  I would say that this is not the intersection to do it at.  They yelled out to cyclists – some of whom stopped right in the street, right in front of on-coming trucks! ( I did not get  a picture of that).

stopping cyclists on Milwaukee Avenue

stopping cyclists at Des Plaines & Kinzie

One of the cops standing on the sidewalk next to me commented that the lights at the intersection were too short for the cyclists to get through. Which of course begs the question as to why they chose this intersection for their cyclist-ticketing event, but I’m  guessing it just might have had something to do with the new bike lane.  Anyway, he also said they were going to change the timing – let’s hope.   In the meantime, as motorists drove through the intersection and down Kinzie street with the new stripes (but no bike icons or green boxes or bollards or anything yet)  they seemed confused and  I wondered how it was going to all work out.


Truck trying to make the turn onto Kinzie

A truck trying to make the turn onto Kinzie and turning into what would be the 'buffer' zone


Traffic moving by the semis parked to unload at the chocolate factory

Traffic moving by the semi-truck parked to unload at the chocolate factory on Kinzie


Kinzie is an interesting street. On the north side of the street there are always giant semi-trucks parked against the curb to unload chocolate or chocolate-making supplies via giant green hoses into the Blommer Chocolate Factory.  This effectively removes one lane of traffic or parked cars from that side of the street.  The bike lanes will force Kinzie to truly be a one-lane-in-each-direction sort of street.  Generally it operates like that, but during the morning rush hour, cars, cabs, and trucks squeeze wherever they can. As a cyclist I generally stay over to the side and out of the way of the stray cars that think they can somehow squeeze by, speed up, and get to work oh-so-much faster.     As the lanes were being striped though, and cars continued to park in the bike lane, and other motorists drove wherever they could, the cyclists did the same thing and took whatever space they could find – even if it was the lane that was going to eventually be for parked cars.


Cyclists ride down Kinzie Street

Cyclists ride down Kinzie Street

As another day went by, they added more striping,  green bike boxes, and then bollards!!

Bollards in the Kinzie Street Protected bike lane chicago


And it seemed as motorists stared to drive over and down the hill, they were figuring it out.

Bollards in the Kinzie Street Protected bike lane chicago

Me and my fellow cyclists only got more excited though, as we realized that overnight they had extended the bollards down the hill and across the bridge that spans the north branch of the Chicago river!!


Bollards on the Kinzie Street Bridge

Bollards on the Kinzie Street Bridge

There was now no doubt as to who got to drive on which side of the bridge!

Truck crossing the Kinzie Street Bridge with bollards


All in all, Oma was pretty happy about the whole scenario.


Oma checking out the bollards on the Kinzie Street Bridge
Oma checking out the bollards on the Kinzie Street Bridge

As the crews moved down the street, they added more stripes, more green bike boxes, and more icons that clearly indicated that this was a bike lane not a parking lane. Unfortunately the driver of this car didn’t seem to get the message.

new bike lanes on Kinzie Street Chicago


Near the end of last week, the crews set up to stripe the eastern end of the Kinzie Street cycle track, from Wells east back towards the bridge. Imagine crews starting at end  each end of the track and working inwards to the middle.  The middle being this section of road past the bridge that still had no striping.


The eastern side of the Kinzie Street Cycle Track -still waiting to be striped

The eastern side of the Kinzie Street Cycle Track -still waiting to be striped

Unfortunately,  many motorists hadn’t caught on to the entire concept yet. As soon as they crossed the bridge -now a bridge with bollards and clearly a 1-lane street in each direction – some motorists tried  to break back out into two lanes.

Cars start to bottleneck on Kinzie Street

This only created a bottleneck for themselves because as I stood in this same spot, turned around and took the next picture looking in the direction all these cars were headed,  you can see that the street was ‘officially’  a 1-lane street as CDOT had already put out the orange cones to mark where the new bike lane was going to finish up.


Kinzie Street awaiting it's last bit of bike lane striping
Kinzie Street awaiting it’s last bit of bike lane striping

I saw a lot of cars try to maneuver around this spot during the 5 or so minutes I stood here watching and taking pictures. I was actually off to the side on a loading dock by the way.   (And.. while I was standing here taking pictures, I saw the following cyclist ride by.   I didn’t notice that he had a broken arm at the time – realized it when I looked at my pictures at home. If you know this guy,  give him kudos for either being brave or crazy.)

This week should see the final finishing touches on the Kinzie Street cycle track – a few more bollards perhaps, and more stripes. I took Andrew through part of the route on our way to the Bike to Work Rally last Friday – the orange cones had been replaced with lane striping.  Everyone’s been wondering if they’re going to do something about the bike lane on the bridge to make it a little more bike-friendly, besides the bollards as this bridge is one of the slipperiest grated bridges in the city (I think).  According to a post on the Active Transportation Alliance’s blog last week, they’re going to put in plated bike lanes similar to the ones on the Cortland and Wells street bridges. I’d prefer concrete lanes like on the Randolph Street bridge myself, but I’ll take plated bike lanes over nothing any day.    Enjoy the new bike lane Chicago, and tell me what you think!

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