The city of Chicago has gone to great efforts to ensure that bicyclists remain safeby constructing new bike paths and lanes all throughout the metropolitan area. However, during the winter months, many residents and business owners shovelsnow from sidewalks and driveways into bike paths, making it extremely difficult and unsafe for the cycling public.
Many Chicagoans are unaware that bike lanes are protected by city ordinance that makes it illegal to dump or shovel snow onto the pathway. However, according to the CDOT (Chicago Department of Transportation) there are no plans in place to enforcethe ordinance to any effective degree. As a result, many cyclists are forced to share the narrow, wet or icy travel lanes with passenger cars, commercial vehicles and semi-trucks, which decreases everyone’s safety.
By law, the city of Chicago is responsible for maintaining its streets to ensure they are safe and clean for all types of traffic. This includes clearing away all accumulated snow when practical. However, bicycle lanes are typically a portion of the roadway that becomes covered with plowed snow. This road maintenance action can make it extremely challenging for the cycling commuter who must move around the city during the winter months.
Buffered Bicycle Lanes
The Chicago Department of Transportation recognizes that buffered bicycle lanes are an effective and increasingly popular way to cycle safely even under hazardous, dangerous and crowded conditions. The buffered bicycle path is typically protectedfrom mechanized vehicles by a physical separation. However, the physical separation between the vehicle lane in the bicycle path can become an issue during the winter months where snow and debris accumulates under various conditions including snowfall, plowing and blizzards.
The unique issues with maintaining the roadway provides distinct challenges for both road maintenance crews and cycling commuters. Many times, the bicycle path becomes extremely narrow when specialized equipment clears away snowfall.
Serious injuries often occur in Chicago’s bicycle buffered lanes and on private property. This makes legal remedies more challenging when determining which parties are responsible for road maintenance. It might be determined by various jurisdictions charged with maintaining the bike lane, or abutting land ownership or right-of-way ownership.
Best Practices for Removing Snow
Chicago’s heavy blizzards usually require an initial snow removal from bike paths and lanes as a way to restore the area to complete and safe functionality. The best practices for snow removal often require proactive measures such as salting or sanding bike paths and traveling lanes used by drivers.
Other measures require reactive de-icing of the area to ensure good bike riding conditions are maintained after a snowfall and during the melting process. In some incidences, road maintenance crews must remove the snow from the roadway and relocate it to storage sites. Plowing accumulated snow as close as possible along existing sidewalk buffers can help pedestrians and cyclists using the buffer area to reach their destination during snowfalls and blizzards.
Many of the city’s bike lanes that have an exceptionally wide buffer provide the best protection for cycling and walking commuters. These areas are built to accommodate ample storage space for plowed snow. Many traffic experts believe that restricting on-street parking during and immediately after a snow event provides better solutions for restoring roadways and bike paths to a functional condition as quickly as possible.
Melting Snow Problems
Even though most winter days in Chicago are extremely cold, slightly warmer weather produces icy and slushy conditions as snow begins to melt. These conditions often make riding extremely dangerous when bicyclists are traveling among cars. As the snow melts, icy conditions can develop hazardous areas, including on bridge surfaces,and create a dangerous and often unsuspecting situation to bicyclists.
The vast majority of the cycling public involves local residents traveling to and from work. So piling huge mounds of accumulated snow along city streets and on sidewalks typically presents unique problems during the melting process. Unfortunately, like many communities, Chicago must maintain their snow-filled streets with a limited budget and minimal manpower.
The city typically cleans the main thoroughfares and secondary roadways, leaving the removal of snow on residential streets until days after the snow event. This often poses a significant danger to Chicago bikers who must trek their way to a cleared road that could be many miles from their home.