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City Considering Curb Barriers to Protect Cyclists on Clybourn, State

By Paul Biasco | December 20, 2013 6:31am
 An example of a curb-protected bike lane in Montreal.
An example of a curb-protected bike lane in Montreal.
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Flickr/Matthew Burpee

OLD TOWN — In what would be a first for Chicago, protected bike lanes using a concrete curb to separate cyclists from cars could be installed along a portion of Clybourn Avenue and a 3½-mile stretch of State Street.

The area on Clybourn Avenue where bicyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by a car in the spring — near Larrabee Street — would be part of the new protected lane, which would run between Division Street and North Avenue. The curb-separated bike lane on State Street would run between 26th Street and Garfield Boulevard/55th Street.

The design changes recently were included in a city Transportation Department recap of 2013 bike projects, listed as 2014 "Projects in Design." It lists the Clybourn project as "considering curb separation" while the State Street project is described as "curb separation."

The city is working with the state's Transportaion Department on a pilot program for the targeted stretch on Clybourn Avenue. Officials from the state and city transportation departments declined to discuss details of the Clybourn project.

Such concrete curbs have been used in other U.S. cities, including Seattle and Los Angeles, and in Vancouver, Montreal and Copenhagen.

Concrete curb barriers, sometimes called cycle tracks, are considered the safest configuration for cyclists, though installing them is more expensive than using the plastic posts common in Chicago. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the risk of injury for cyclists drops by 90 percent when riding in a protected lane with a barrier such as a curb versus riding on an unmarked roadway.

Mike Amsden, project manager for the city's Chicago Bicycle Program, mentioned the city and state's transportation department were considering the curb option during a recent meeting of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council, according to those in attendance.

The possibility of concrete curbs would be a major step in creating permanent bike-friendly roads in the city, according to Jim Merrell, a campaign manager with the Active Transportation Alliance.

"We are excited that IDOT is working with CDOT to really look at installing the protected bike lane, but also going one step further, having this really advanced infrastructure," Merrell said.

Cycling safety advocates have been pushing lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn to lift a ban on installing protected bike lanes on state-controlled roads, Clybourn Avenue in particular.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) announced in October that a protected bike lane would be added along Clybourn Avenue between North Avenue and Division Street. Jae Miller, an IDOT spokeswoman, confirmed the state is working with the city on Clybourn Avenue "as a pilot location."

IDOT has been under pressure to lift the ban on protected lanes, which was put in place while the department collects three years of safety data, especially in the wake of the death of Cann, who was killed in May. The three-year study is scheduled to end at the earliest in July 2014.

The Active Transportation Alliance worked with its members back in February and sent more than 2,500 messages to Quinn, asking him to lift the ban on protected lanes. The agency cited cities, including Chicago, which have had successful protected lanes and "decades of data" showing the lanes increase safety, according to Merrell.

Burnett, who is the chairman of the City Council's Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, said he hopes the lane on Clybourn Avenue will be a good test subject for the state.

Bikers "use Clybourn anyway," Burnett said. "I think it will not only be good for the bikers, but will be good for the cars, too."

Public meetings on the State Street and the Clybourn Avenue projects will be in January, according to the city recap report.