An interesting example of state DOT interference in local street safety policy, from our team in Chicago…
Last month we noted that the Illinois Department of Transportation prevented the installation of a protected bike lane planned for Jackson Boulevard, allowing only a buffered bike lane on the segment of the street it controls. Now we know why: IDOT will not allow protected bike lanes to be installed on Chicago streets under its jurisdiction until mid-2014, at the earliest, because the agency wants to see three years of data (presumably crash data) before signing off on this type of street redesign.
Since several Chicago streets are under IDOT jurisdiction, this policy could affect implementation of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and impede the installation of protected bike lanes. Street redesigns that have proven safety benefits may be delayed or downgraded to less effective buffered lanes.
One street that could be affected, for example, is Clybourn Avenue, which is marked as a “crosstown bike route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. Though the plan doesn’t specify which routes should be protected lanes, in a brainstorming session hosted by Active Transportation Alliance in April, 2011, attendees agreed that the entirety of Clybourn Avenue should be one of the city’s first protected bike lanes. For most of its length, Clybourn is 52 feet wide, which meets the minimum width standard for protected bike lanes.
However, implementation is scheduled for May 2013 at the latest, which would make an on-time protected lane project incompatible with IDOT’s moratorium. (Clybourn Avenue has an additional issue: Much of the street has rush hour parking bans, which would complicate the implementation of any type of bike lane. If CDOT can tackle this conflict, perhaps by eliminating the rush hour parking controls, it would bode well for streets around the city with similar parking regulations, where bike lanes currently can’t be added.)
So why is IDOT delaying designs that several American cities have already been implementing for years? The agency says it wants to measure safety impacts based on robust statistical evidence, and that three years provides a representative sample.
The rationale for requiring this information would be reasonable if Chicago was the first city to ever implement protected bike lanes, but it doesn’t hold up because the results have been the same wherever protected bike lanes have been installed: The injury rate of all street users is reduced, be they walking, biking, or driving.