The Chainlink

Months After Cyclist Killed In Irving Park, Bike Lane Remains Faded

Ald. Jim Gardiner said he's trying to get the lanes repainted, but the Department of Transportation was unresponsive.

IRVING PARK — Two months after a woman was killed while riding her bicycle along Milwaukee Avenue and pledges were made to improve the safety of a bike lane, nothing has been done. And bike safety activists are upset.

On Nov. 6, 37-year-old Carla Aiello of Norwood Park died after being hit by a dump truck in the 3800 block of North Milwaukee Avenue in Irving Park. Aiello, on her bike, and a truck driven by a 41-year-old man had both been traveling south on Milwaukee, with the bicyclist to the right of the dump truck, according to police.

Carla Aiello

When the truck driver turned right onto Kilbourn Avenue, it crashed into the Aiello, who rolled underneath the truck and was killed, police said.

Following the tragedy, 200 cyclists returned to the scene to draw attention to the sorry state of the bike lane in the area.

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Well, that's an interesting insight. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but is your thesis that: Some people are afraid to cycle because it's dangerous, so someone puts in a bike lane, so they feel safe, then they ride there, which inevitably takes them to an unprotected intersection, and then tragedy.  That ends up all over the papers.  As a result, some people are afraid to cycle.  Repeat?

That's kind of the way I see it. Protecting bike riders with cars (increasingly large trucks and SUVs) seems to be the first choice in most locales, especially if there is existing on-street parking.

Here in Evanston, the city went on a little binge of bike lanes the past five years or so. First, they put in protected bike lanes on Church (eastbound) and Davis (westbound). The protection was cars. Then they put in protected bike lanes on Dodge (California to you Chicagoans) from Howard to Church (one way on each side of Dodge). These were, again, protected by cars. Interestingly, they moved the bike lanes out into the usual configuration in front of Dawes Elementary School (cars parallel parked at the curb) so the kids being dropped off didn't have to exit cars into the bike lane. I still haven't entirely figured out the logic in that move. If it was important to protect bike riders (potentially many of whom are students at ETHS), what makes them less important than smaller versions of the same?

A couple years ago a student at Northwestern was killed as she exited campus on Sheridan Road and was hit by a cement truck. As part of an overall redo of that stretch of Sheridan they put in a protected two-way bike lane from Isabella to Davis on the east side of Sheridan. This one was done correctly, with a concrete curb separating bike riders from auto traffic. The start and end of that bike lane are a bit weird, but that's not really germane to this discussion I don't think. They are just compromises necessary to stitch the lane into other road infrastructure.

It seems to me that Evanston was unwilling to undergo the extra expense of concrete protection on Church, Davis and Dodge, in large part because they were unwilling to give up any on-street parking. Sheridan Road had none, and a major redo was planned anyway, so the decision to do things right with the concrete curb was easier to make. All-in-all, protecting bike riders with cars seems like a reasonable compromise to people who don't ride bikes, but to someone who rides a bike, the flaws are quickly apparent.

A friend of mine commutes in a stretch between Chicago and Evanston.  She likes the separation from cars north of Church Street but not the partial Dutch intersection at Church and Chicago Ave. Other riders cut the curves to cut down on the zig-zag and it is an unfamiliar configuration for the pedestrians where it may take a while for drivers and pedestrians to retrain themselves.  

Instead of just crossing the cross road, the west bound pedestrians have to cross a cycle track then a road. The cycle track in that configuration crosses the road to the east a bit away from the intersection at a right angle, and that creates a new intersection all its own for cars and bikes.  Some people believe this solves the problem Clip is talking about but it causes its own confusion.  Later the data may tell us if it is safer but it might be too small of a sample to be conclusive for that location.

The Davis and Chicago intersection has a cross over right through the intersection to end the two way cycle track and get the south-bound riders back on to the right side of the road. 

North of all of that on Chicago, there's a small concrete courtesy barrier separating the two way cycle track and the road.  It is more of a raised concrete line in that it would not stop a car from crossing it 

I wasn't suggesting that the bike lane along Sheridan and Chicago is perfect, only that it's better than the others in Evanston. I did mention that there are "weird" bits to it where it interacts with other street infrastructure. Considering the constraints dictated by existing infrastructure, I think it's pretty good. As a comparison, I recall all the complaints about terrible pedestrians dealt with the then new two-way bike lane on Dearborn when it was first installed. It took awhile, but they figured it out.

I'm not concerned about the height of the concrete curb separating bikes and auto traffic on Sheridan. It's certainly better than having cars park in the bike lane. And, as a bike rider, you're visible to boot. In fact, it's the same height as the curb edge of the sidewalk.

In short, there is never going to be perfect infrastructure. Even the recently redone Lakefront Trail in Chicago still has weird bits. Everything is going to have compromises.

No worries Skip, I though your summary was pretty concise especially how the initial conditions left them stitching things together.  Probably because of that it still feels like a bit of a kludge, in part because it is, but the needs for compromise as you pointed out gave rise to that.  

CLP -- You are quick to post "NO MORE BIKE LANES", which I think most of us here don't really agree with.  So what do you recommend?  Here are some questions.

1) Did you think it was better to bike on my city streets before they added bike lanes?  

2) What is your recommended alternative to "No More Bike Lanes"?

3) What should municipalities be doing to help promote cycling?

Well, it's not controversial to point out that the Milwaukee bike lane configuration and selection of that street is indeed dangerous - tragically, we have the results.  Why it's dangerous is probably in debate in this space and elsewhere, but that we're even talking about it speaks for itself. 

No disagreement about enforcement, that's right on. 

I do worry about about people blithely taking the lane.  One person's "lane taking" is another pulling right in front of a car where that wouldn't go so well either. 

Brian, CLP is a John Forrester "vehicular cycling" devotee who thinks bikes should act like and be treated like cars. It's basically the one thing he has to say on this forum and he says it everywhere.

If there was no bike lane paint then cars would treat it as a 2 lane street from Irving to Addison, like they did before there was paint.  If you look at the satellite view there is parking on the other side of the street (the 8 years I have been commuting I have never seen a car parked there).  The paint stops way before the turn because that is an unmarked turning lane for the trucks.   

"... that is an unmarked turning lane for the trucks."

Again, highlighting the need for infrastructure maintenance. I think we naturally tend to think of repainting bike Lanes, but it's also important to keep up with motor vehicle-focused maintenance. Potholes get a lot of ink in the Trib and Sun Times, but the other stuff needs doing as well.

I think that's right Skip.  If the roadways and their features are not maintained, we get two (at a minimum) results:  One is that the intended functionally such as it is isn't adhered to.  Sure, there's always some deviation, e.g. speeding, illegal lane use, running stop lights or signs, one way violations, parking in the wrong places, dooring and so forth, but if people can't even figure out what's supposed to happen because signs or markings are missing or the roads are in bad shape, it becomes all the more difficult for all participants to use the road and figure out the right things to do. 

The second undesirable result is that if the roadways and their attributes aren't maintained, it conveys to everybody that nobody cares.  "There USED to be a bike lane here, but that didn't work out, so it looks like we're moving away from that, or whatever.  Doesn't matter." and other variants of that sentiment.

Both of these results are undesirable for everyone involved. 


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