Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bike boxes, curb bump outs and more planned for Lincoln and Halsted near Children's Memorial site

by Michelle Stenzel

The final plans for the Children's Memorial site have been released and approved by the city's Chicago Plan Commission. All documents are available for viewing via links provided on Alderman Michele Smith's website. I've reviewed them and will highlight some of the positive changes that are planned for biking and walking.


The documents include plans for continuous bike lanes on Halsted and Lincoln along the project site. Below is a document included in the plans, over which I've added green highlighting to make the lanes more visible. 
McCaffrey Interests' Planned Development exhibit, with my green highlighting added.
A few things to note: 

We can't tell if these will be buffered lanes, but we expect they will be.

There are four bike boxes included in the plans! Bike boxes are waiting areas in front of a lane, on which bicyclists stay during a red light. 
A large bike box on Kinzie Street at the intersection with Milwaukee Avenue. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Bike boxes are created by pulling the stop bar back for motor vehicles in their right turn lane. Bicyclists can wait there, and on the green light, can turn right (soft or hard turn) or continue straight. It may take some time for drivers to understand that they are to stop behind the white stop bar, and not on top of the bike box. 

The bike boxes almost certainly will be green in color, per NACTO design standards. We hope that additional green thermoplastic paint will be used copiously, if not all along the length of the lane, at least for a portion of them leading up to the enormous six-way intersection, similar to what is shown in the photo on Kinzie.

In addition, the plans reflect that there will be intermittent striping through the intersection on Lincoln and Halsted to continue the presence of the bike lane.

I did a very rough sketch of what the combination of these improvements might look like. 

Here's the current view on Halsted, looking south into the six-way intersection:

And here's my rough "after" view:

Good thing I'm not a bikeway designer, and just a community advocate! Heh, heh. 

I also note that the final plan documents say that the continuous bike lanes on Lincoln north of Fullerton are contingent on the acquisition of right-of-way or land north of Fullerton, and doing that is not an obligation of McCaffrey Interests, so that portion is "subject to re-design". So, nothing's guaranteed there. 

Unfortunately, there are no plans to help people who want to ride on Fullerton, east of Halsted, where there are no bikeways of any type all the way to the lake. 

Also, what about left turns? Personally, I avoid making left turns on my bike at this intersection by turning instead at other streets before or after, like Wrightwood or Belden. This new design doesn't assist cautious bicyclists like me who don't like acting like drivers and turning left with the car traffic. 

Nevertheless, we look forward to seeing these plans implemented, as they will bring a number of real improvements for bicycling in the area. 


Steve Vance of Streetsblog Chicago did a nice overview of all the other improvements for biking and walking in this post, so I won't repeat them all here, but just highlight some others that I noticed:

The cars turning left off of Halsted will get their green arrow at the end of the green light phase, instead of the beginning. This is favorable for people walking because it reduces their wait time.

There are a number of curb bumpouts included in the plan, and these are very helpful in 1/ reducing the time and distance that pedestrians are sharing space with motor vehicles and 2/ slowing down drivers when making turns.

The fact that trucks will no longer be loading at street level on Lincoln Avenue, but instead be entirely underground is really great. In case anyone has forgotten what it used to be like, behold:

Lincoln Avenue's sidewalk and bike lane was obliterated each time a long truck unloaded at Children's Memorial Hospital. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
You may now remember that the former design of the truck unloading area forced people on the sidewalk to walk in the street whenever a long truck was parked in the bay. The nearly non-existent bike lane on Lincoln was blocked as well, of course. The elimination of this curb cut and numerous others along Lincoln under the new plan will make bicycling and walking much more pleasant.

Finally, the plan says that the developer (or purchaser of the final property) must promote the use of public transit to all residents and businesses, including giving information about locations and schedules. Alderman Smith reported in her newsletter that "For two years, the developer will give Ventra cards to new residents." If that just means handing over a new $5 plastic card, then meh. But if it's at least pre-loaded with $50 value or something, then that's a nice way to encourage active transportation.


Finally, we expressed previously that the central plaza would be much better as a car-free space, and the CEO of the Chicago Park District voiced the same opinion during the Chicago Plan Commission hearing (as reported in Streetsblog Chicago); but alas, the final plans still have the big circular driveway taking up much of the space.

Here's the architect Antunovich and Associates' rendering of what they believe the plaza might look like in winter:
Rendering of the Central Plaza of the Children's Memorial site, by Antunovich and Associates.

We hope that the central plaza does in fact turn out to be a great neighborhood crossroads! Maybe the presence of cars and SUVs won't in fact impinge very much. One of the city's most lively public spaces is the "Viagara Triangle" (Mariano Park) in the Gold Coast. That park is relatively small, and surrounded by the busy streets of Rush, State and Bellevue, and yet it's still a fun gathering place. Not that we should be looking at "B-" designs and emulating those, but at least it means that spaces can succeed in spite of less-than-optimal elements.
Mariano Park at Rush and Bellevue in the Gold Coast is a very popular neighborhood gathering spot.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
What do you think about the final plans? 

Follow us on Twitter @BikeWalkLP


  1. Adding extra paint on the ground IMO does not constitute bike improvements. Drivers will continue to ignore the bike boxes as they do in the rest of the city, and people riding bikes will still be exposed in the intersection. The bike lanes leading up to the crossing are still door-zone/double-parking lanes. Not to be overly cynical, but all these "improvements" do is give drivers more paint to ignore without requiring any change in their behavior.

    When making bike improvements, the minimum for a busy intersection like this one should be to install protected cycle tracks. Even if it's just for a block leading up to the crossing, it's still better than "upgrading" to buffered lanes.

    1. I think if they were going to be buffered bike lanes they would appear as such in the blueprint above. The blueprint, in my review, doesn't show buffered bike lanes. Buffered bike lanes, as CDOT has been installing them, aren't buffered up to the intersection.

      You'll see in the blueprint that the NB Halsted bike lane narrows from 5 feet in the door zone area south of Fullerton to 4 feet between the through-travel lane and the right-turn lane.

    2. So if the bike lanes are not going to be buffered, then the only upgrades to the intersection will be the bike boxes and dashed lines through the intersection? This is basically the bare minimum to constitute a "bike upgrade" without requiring anyone driving to change their behavior or be even the slightest bit inconvenienced. After all, the "upgrades" are just paint, and drivers can ignore them if they want.

    3. Adam, I agree it's not the best design ever, but it is an improvement over what's there currently, which is faded sharrows for the most part: virtually nothing. Yes, drivers can continue to ignore the markings, but they'll learn. The good thing is that any improvements means more bicyclists, which means more visibility and presence, which means the drivers learn more quickly (that they need to stop before the green bike box, and not on top of it).

      As for protected lanes leading up to the intersection, yeah, that would be nice. But for good or bad, the very high NACTO standards require a lot of street width to put them in, which would mean removing a lot of metered parking along the length (we all know the problems there) and then prohibiting right/left turns by motor vehicles and removal of turn lanes. I'd personally love that, of course, but we're not there yet in Chicago. The nice thing about just putting down some paint is that it can be redesigned down the line.

      Steven, I still think they'll be buffered lanes. The Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 says that a minimum of 48' is needed for buffered lanes, and Lincoln here seems to have at least 48'6", sometimes 51'2". But anyway, we'll probably have to wait about 3 years to see who's right on that. -- MS

    4. Fair enough, but I don't really buy the "let's put down paint because we can always redesign the intersection later" argument. This is the time to redesign. There is already a project to improve the intersection, so why not go all the way here? Sure, the upgrades are better than nothing, but do we really want to strive for a "better than nothing" bike network? That's not going to attract the "interested but concerned" demographic that American cities so desperately want.

      If the city really wants to improve biking, then they wouldn't use designs like this, which only serve as a cosmetic change without actually improving safety enough to attract more riders. The city can say "look, we're improving biking!" without asking for any sacrifices from drivers.

      On a side note, I'd love to gather some data on the compliance of the bike boxes by drivers.

  2. "The cars turning left off of Halsted will get their green arrow at the end of the green light phase, instead of the beginning. This is favorable for people walking because it reduces their wait time." Good point! I missed this.