Every protected bike lane will get concrete curbs by next year, city says

A timeline to convert existing bike lanes this year was announced Wednesday by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who also promised that by the end of 2023, concrete curbs will be in place at all existing lanes now protected by plastic bollards.

SHARE Every protected bike lane will get concrete curbs by next year, city says
A protected bike lane along West 119th Street and South Halsted Street in the West Pullman neighborhood.

Plastic bollards like these that protect dozens miles of Chicago bike lanes will be replaced with concrete curbs under an accelerated timeline announced by the city on Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago will add 25 miles of concrete-protected bike lanes by Dec. 31 — and convert all bike lanes protected by plastic posts to concrete separation by the end of 2023 — to protect cyclists shaken by the tragic accident that killed 3-year-old Lily Grace.

The project that Mayor Lori Lightfoot calls the “biggest expansion and upgrade of low-stress bike routes” in Chicago history will be bankrolled by her five-year, $3.7 billion capital plan. 

It starts this week with installing concrete barriers on Chicago’s first protected bike lane: on Kinzie Street, between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street.

A mix of traditional poured concrete and pre-cast curbs will be used to upgrade 15 miles of existing bike lanes and add 10 miles of new protected lanes.

If Lightfoot wins her uphill battle for re-election, she’s promising to upgrade “all existing delineator-protected lanes” separated by plastic posts by the end of 2023.

The total cost of adding the concrete curbs is about $7 million, according to a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation.

By year’s end, Chicago will have about 45 miles of protected bike lanes, and 70% of those will have concrete curb barriers. The remaining 13 miles of city streets will be upgraded.

Six streets with existing bike lanes protected by plastic bollards are set to be upgraded to concrete barrier curbs this year:

• Lake Street, from Pulaski to Damen.

• Logan Boulevard, from Rockwell to Diversey.

• Milwaukee Avenue, Addison Street to Irving Park Road, Chicago Avenue to Division Street and Kinzie Street to Ohio Street.

• Independence Boulevard, from Douglas Boulevard to Harrison Street.

• Douglas Boulevard, from Independence Boulevard to Sacramento Drive.

• 119th Street, from Ashland Avenue to Halsted Street and Major Taylor Trail.

On June 9, Lily Grace was riding in a carrier attached to her mother’s bike when she was struck and killed by a semi-truck driver. Her mother was maneuvering around a ComEd truck blocking the bike lane.

A memorial at North Winthrop and West Leland avenues, where 3-year-old Lily Grace was killed in early June.

A memorial at North Winthrop and West Leland avenues, where 3-year-old Lily Grace was killed in early June.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It was one of four fatal incidents in recent weeks involving children struck and killed on Chicago streets. 

And while Lily’s death may have called attention to the need for protected bike lanes, the site of that accident — the 1100 block of West Leland Avenue — has an unprotected bike lane, marked only by paint on the pavement. That lane and similar lanes in the city are not changing under the plans announced Wednesday.

Kyle Whitehead, a spokesperson for the Active Transportation Alliance, said the ultimate answer to stopping bike lane blockages and the accidents they trigger is to create “protected bike lanes” with concrete barriers that make it “not physically possible for cars and trucks to block the lanes.”

“In the past, it was a goal — a long-term goal with no certain timeline. And now, they have committed to completing the construction within a set period of time. It’s a big deal,” Whitehead said Wednesday.

“We are really excited, really encouraged, really grateful for the city taking this step. … Concrete will now be the standard for protected bike lanes in neighborhoods across Chicago moving forward. That has long been a goal of ours and a goal of many advocates because we know that concrete protection will prevent crashes and save lives.”

Concrete separation will also “get more people riding bikes,” Whitehead said. He noted that a “line of plastic posts,” the city’s “current standard,” is not enough to make cyclists feel safe. 

“We see these posts getting removed or destroyed, run over by a plow or a truck and not replaced. Or even when they are in place, there’s some space between the plastic that people can pull into the lane, block the lane and force the cyclist to exit the bike lane and have to be mixed with car and truck traffic,” he said.

A “Copenhagen style” bike lane in Melbourne, Australia.

A bike lane protected by a hard concrete curb — also known as a “Copenhagen style” bike lane — in Melbourne, Australia. Concrete curbs protecting bike lanes will be Chicago’s new standard going forward, the city announced Wednedsay.

Wikimedia Commons

Audrey Wennink, director of transportation for the Metropolitan Planning Council, called Wednesday’s announcement a “good start.” But she needs to know the city’s plan for protected bike lanes “from a comprehensive network level.”

“We hope it’s the beginning of increased investment. But it’s not a commitment to do the whole system yet. And that’s what we would want. We need to know, what is the long-term plan for the whole network?” she said.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, said he has no doubt the decision to speed up installation of concrete-protected bike lanes was driven, in part, by recent fatalities on Chicago streets.

“When a tragedy happens, it always focuses a politician’s resolve on getting something done sooner rather than later because nobody should have to die because they are trying to be environmentally friendly or trying to get some exercise,” he said.

Brookins predicted at least some backlash against the expansion of concrete-separated bike lanes from motorists who have been “driving ridiculous on major thoroughfares” since streets were empty during the pandemic.

“Once you put those down, it’s gonna somewhat slow traffic,” he said. “But I think we oughta err on the side of protecting lives.”

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