Construction Update
Dearborn Street Bike Lanes

Dearborn Street

Last week, bicycle lanes came to The Loop in the form of a protected path running north and south along Dearborn Street.

Officially, it’s called a “barrier-protected bike lane” because a barrier separates the cycling lanes from the lanes of moving traffic.  In many cities, that barrier is a small grassy or tree-lined median. In Chicago, it’s a line of parked cars.

In the photo above, you can see the line of cars on the left.  It looks like they’re stuck in traffic, but in reality they’re parked.  Only the two center lanes are moving traffic.

The idea is to make cyclists feel safer, encouraging more people to ride their bikes in The Loop.

So far, the striping is done. What remains is to install all of the little reflective poles that remind drivers not to park in the cycling lanes, even for a minute.

The bike lane has two unusual properties — First, it is two-way, with both north- and southbound bicycles on a street where cars are only traveling northbound.

Second — It has bicycle traffic lights.  I’ve seen this in Berlin, and read that the only other city in America with such traffic lights is Portland.  But I read that on the internet, so it may or may not be true.

Hopefully the bicycle traffic lights will help tame a certain type of  aggressive cyclist is making the whole community look bad and fueling a backlash against cyclists.

Just last week I saw a cyclist speed through the red light at North and Milwaukee.  He tried to plow through a crowd of people crossing the street.  Apparently he thought they’d part like the Red Sea for him (an ego boost to go with the red-light-running rush).  One person didn’t.  A fat guy.  The cyclist learned a painful lesson that day, and the fat man just walked away, seemingly unharmed.

Below is the CDOT press release about the Dearborn bike lane project:

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will take advantage of favorable weather this weekend to begin the installation of the Dearborn Street two-way barrier-protected bike lanes, beginning late Friday night, November 30th. It will be the first two-way bike route with dedicated bicycle traffic signals in Chicago.

“We are committed to improving the safety for all roadway users throughout Chicago,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. “The Dearborn Street barrier-protected bike lanes will provide bicyclists with a safe and comfortable route, making a key connection for people who commute via bicycle through the heart of the Loop.”

CDOT will begin work at Polk Street and continue north with the goal of completing the roadway striping this weekend and officially opening the new bike lanes by mid-December, weather permitting. The estimated construction schedule is as follows:

  • Friday night (11/30) into Saturday (12/1): the west curb lane and the western-most travel lane on Dearborn Street between Polk Street and Madison Street will be closed. Motorists will be able to pull to the curb for delivery or loading operations, but parking will be prohibited on the west side of the street.
  • Saturday night (12/1) into Sunday (12/2): the west curb lane and the western-most travel lane on Dearborn Street between Madison Street and Kinzie Street will be closed. Motorists will be able to pull to the curb for delivery or loading operations, but parking will be prohibited on the west side of the street.
  • Parking will generally be prohibited on the west side of Dearborn throughout the weekend, as striping work is performed from Friday at 9p.m. to Monday at 5 a.m. As construction crews move north after finishing each block, the new parking lane will be reopened, which will be situated between the two-way protected bike lane and the motor vehicle travel lane.
  • CDOT will open the two-way protected bike lane for bicycle traffic only after all striping, signage, bollards installation and traffic signal timing are complete by mid-December, weather permitting.

This stretch of Dearborn Street will continue to be one-way northbound for vehicle traffic. With this project, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced this summer, Dearborn will function as a two-way street for bicyclists, with southbound bicyclists located adjacent to the west curb and northbound bicyclists located between southbound bicyclists and parked cars. To install the protected bike lanes, one motor vehicle travel lane will be removed between Polk Street and Wacker Drive.

Every intersection will have bicycle traffic signals to provide guidance for southbound bicyclists, and to separate northbound bicyclists from motorists turning left off Dearborn Street onto westbound cross streets. The bike traffic signals were installed in mid-November, and will be activated when the bike lanes are complete.

“The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane project will balance roadway space to ensure pedestrians, transit users, bicyclists and motorists can travel along and across the street safely,” Klein said.

For motorists, new left turn lanes and dedicated left turn arrows at westbound cross streets will allow for more efficient turns off Dearborn. Loading zones will also be clearly marked to ensure their proper use.

CDOT has been working to notify the neighborhood about the Dearborn project through meetings with the surrounding businesses, neighborhood organizations and local elected officials.


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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  1. I wonder how cyclists and CTA buses will affect each other under this scheme. There’s quite a lot of northbound bus service on Dearborn, especially in rush hours: the 22, 36, and 62, at least. Presumably these will now operate in the easternmost auto lane, but will still have to pull to the curb for loading, where they will be a constant source of obstruction for cyclists.

    The first rush hour after the bike lanes open may be…memorable.

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    • Editor

      No problem at all. Buses operate in lane 5, the bus lane, as they always have, and will continue to because that’s where the doors are. The cyclists are in lane 1, all the way on the other side of the street.

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  2. Whoops, my mistake; I misread the post as placing northbound cyclists along the east curb. Got to change my glasses, or perhaps my brain.

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  3. I saw yesterday and again today that the bike lights are not just uncovered, but functioning. There was a CDOT vehicle working on the lights this morning at Congress, so it can’t be much longer now before they get officially opened up. If my bike wasn’t all the way in Lakeview, I would be very tempted to ride to work one day.

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