I've been extremely grateful for the warm receptions I've received at all the cities I've visited so far, but the folk at Chicago have taken that beyond the next level. One of my main reasons for wanting to come here was to talk with Nate Roseberry, who I saw present on an APBP webinar from a few years back. Nate and his team at Chicago DoT kept me busy for the better part of three days, by showing me presentations and training course material, talking about their current projects, taking me to a college evening class on bicycle planning, suggesting useful biking routes for me to take and answering my many questions. They also asked me to give a lunchtime presentation on what's going on for cycling in New Zealand, which was an opportunity for me to reciprocate the knowledge sharing, as well as take revenge for all the mental gymnastics Americans have been subjecting me to by driving on the other side of the road and using nutty measurement systems.
In Chicago, I found a different take on the question of allowing filter turning of motor vehicles through cycle movements. While it was pretty common in the previous cities I've visited, Chicago avoids it as much as possible. Generally they provide fully-protected signalised movements and have had great results with this - at sites where bike signals were installed, the compliance rate for cyclists went up to 90%, compared with 31% before bike signals were installed. They also use a few mixing zones, although I didn't see many in the central city, and some staff told me they're hesitant about using them. Nate said filter turns could be acceptable, as long as vehicle speeds are kept low, by using treatments such as tight radii and vertical deflections. To that note, there are a few protected intersections popping up around the city.
At the Franklin Street / Washington Street protected intersection is the first to be installed in Chicago. It involves one-way cycleways on one-way streets, which makes the operation less complicated and means the actual protected parts are not on all corners of the intersection. One of the key elements of a protected intersection is the corner island, which ensures vehicles turn the corner before encountering crossing cyclists. (If you've been living under a rock these past few years, and haven't already seen it, you might want to check out Nick Falbo's clip on protected intersections). What they found in Chicago was that it wasn't necessary to make the corner island as long as a car (about 20 feet, or 6 m) which is what Falbo recommends and Nate initially thought was the most important design criterion. They only managed to achieve an island 8.5 feet (2.6 m) long, but found that it does work well. They think that's because the island has a small radius (even though vehicles turn into the second lane, as the first lane adjacent to the island is a bus lane) and traffic speeds are generally low in the area. Furthermore, while the turn is made from a shared through and right turn lane, there are multiple through lanes on the approach, so turning drivers don't feel too pressured by following drivers.
Something else of interest is they initially used the "turn give way to cycle" signs that I've seen in the other cities I've visited - the ones with fluro yellow and graphics. However, some drivers who were accustomed to the previous layout, were still driving down the cycleway, enjoying a nice little protected lane all to themselves. They changed the signage approach; instead of telling drivers what to do, they now show them what's there, with a simpler lane configuration sign. They've also added a central plastic bollard on the cycleway approach to emphasise this. Reminds me of a story I heard at the NACTO conference, where a city (I forget which) had installed a nice new protected intersection with green cycleways and added their standard directional sign, which uses green arrows for driving movements... Some drivers obediently followed the green path!
The good news is Chicago is hosting the 2017 NACTO conference - a great excuse for anyone who wants to see the city for themselves! My next stop is Toronto...