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New Wells Street Bike Lanes Will Prevent 'Doorings,' Cyclists Hope

By Paul Biasco | July 17, 2013 7:40am
 The Chicago Department of Transportation recently completed a one-mile stretch of protected bike lanes along a busy stretch of Wells Street in Old Town.
Wells Street Bike Lanes
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OLD TOWN — Bicyclists hope recently completed bike lanes along Wells Street will prevent future "doorings" such as the incident that killed Neill Townsend on that same stretch in the fall.

The new lines along the freshly paved one-mile portion of Wells include a buffer between the bike lanes and the parked vehicles along the curb.

"The city is finally acknowledging bicyclists and giving them credit," said Victor Montoya, a Chicago Police officer who rode down the new lanes Tuesday afternoon.

The lanes start at North Avenue and connect with existing buffered lanes at Chicago Avenue.

Montoya, who is an officer in the city's Near North police district, bought a new Trek road bike Tuesday and said the city's recent push to make the streets bike-friendly factored into his decision to buy it.

 A bicyclist rides past a Ghost Bike memorializing Neill Townsend, who was struck and killed by a truck on Wells Street just south of Oak Street in October.
A bicyclist rides past a Ghost Bike memorializing Neill Townsend, who was struck and killed by a truck on Wells Street just south of Oak Street in October.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

"I can't imagine having a road bike like this in 1980s' jacked-up Chicago streets," he said.

The fresh bike lanes also connect a Divvy bike share station at Wells at Walton Street with the Loop.

The Active Transportation Alliance had been pushing the Chicago Department of Transportation to put in the buffered lanes on Wells ever since Townsend was killed on Oct. 5.

"Some good was able to come from it," said Ethan Spotts, director of marketing and communications for the alliance.

Spotts said plans for the buffered lanes were in place before Townsend was killed.

"Some of these changes ... were design changes scheduled for that street that may or may not have made a difference for Neil and for Bobby [Cann] on Clybourn and on Wells," he said.

Townsend, a 32-year-old attorney, was riding down Wells and swerved out of the way of a door that opened into the bike lane. He was struck by a semi truck in front of Walter Payton College Prep. Cann, 26, was struck and killed as he rode his bike on Clybourn Avenue in Old Town in May.

Cyclists, while happy with the buffered lanes, said there is still a risk of dooring without protected lanes with a physical barrier between cars and bikers.

A protected lane would have required a few more feet on each side of the road and would have likely taken out parking on one side of the road, according to Lee Crandell, the Active Transportation Alliance's director of campaigns.

"When a street is narrow it forces the city, community and alderman to decide what the priorities are for the street," he said. "Buffered bike lanes are definitely a big improvement."

Larry Smith, a 40-year-old Andersonville resident, said he regularly rides into Old Town to visit his favorite dive bar and isn't about to let his guard down.

"I'm constantly watching mirrors when I'm going down [Wells]. It's survival," he said.

Smith said he's been riding "hard core" for about nine years and has been hit 10 times, but nothing too bad.

"I do like the lanes, but to a certain extent the city can only do a certain amount," he said. "it's literally the drivers."

The new bike lane is not the only initiative that sprung from the tragic death of Townsend last fall, according to Active Transportation Alliance.

The 2013 Bicycle Safety Ordinance adopted in June doubled the fines for people who cause dooring accidents to $1,000. The crash also led to the city's implementation of anti-dooring stickers in taxis.