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Cyclists Battle Snow, Say City Plowing Efforts Need Improvement

By Quinn Ford | January 2, 2014 4:21pm
 A cyclist makes his way into the city along Milwaukee Avenue's bike lane Thursday morning.
A cyclist makes his way into the city along Milwaukee Avenue's bike lane Thursday morning.
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DNAinfo/Quinn Ford

CHICAGO — Drivers were not the only commuters who had to battle the elements to get to work in Thursday's storm.

Cyclists fought the snowy conditions as well.

Winter storms have dumped up to foot of snow in some areas of the city since Tuesday, and the snowfall is expected to continue into Thursday evening.

The job of clearing more than 200 miles of the city's bike lanes is split between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Streets and Sanitation.

CDOT is responsible for plowing the 17 miles of protected bike lanes, said Peter Scales, a department spokesman.

Three crews of CDOT workers have been clearing the protected bike lanes since 3 a.m. Thursday using about a dozen pieces of equipment which include small pick-up trucks, tractors and snowblowers, Scales said.

This is the third winter CDOT has been charged with clearing protected lanes in addition to its job of plowing sidewalks along the city's bridges, and Scales said the department has not had any major problems during this week's snowstorms.

"It's been pretty good except for the drifting snow," he said. "We've got our methods down and our system down."

The Department of Streets and Sanitation is charged with clearing the city's unprotected bike lanes along with its streets. The department deployed a fleet of 373 vehicles Thursday morning, according to Plow Tracker.

But some riders say the city could do a better job clearing paths for cyclists, especially when it comes to unprotected bike lanes.

Steven Vance, a cyclist and local sustainable transportation advocate, said plows simply cannot clear the bike lanes well.

"The plows cannot get too close to the parked cars, and it's that gap between the plow and the parked car where the bike lane is," Vance said. "This year hasn't been any better than the past few years."

David Pulsipher, who works for CDOT and commutes via bicycle, said he understands what bikers like Vance go through.

"It's kind of like a Catch 22," he said. "Do people ride in the lane and be with traffic or do they try and brave the snow?"

But Pulsipher said he thinks the city overall does a good job to keep roads clear for bikers. He also said using winter gear like studded tires make braving the roads much more doable.

And as for why anyone would want to ride through snowy conditions like Chicago has seen this week, Pulsipher simply said "it's a lot of fun."

"It's the fun factor," he said. "I commuted in LA for four years, and it was so boring because nothing would ever happen."

But those hoping to use the city's bike-share program are out of luck for the time being. Divvy closed its bike rental stations at noon Thursday, citing the heavy snowfall.