Bike Lane Clearance and Snow Removal—Is the City Prepared for Winter?

With the fall season upon us, and winter just around the corner, concern is growing over the City’s ability to adequately address snow removal and bike lane clearance issues, given the increase in bikeways, and past-year failures. Although improvements have been made since Chicago’s first winter with protected bike lanes in 2012, many have serious doubts as to whether the city is truly prepared to handle its growing network of bike lanes. Moreover, imagine the problems that could occur if, against early predictions, we experience a particularly inclement season this year. As injury lawyers, that represent Chicago accident victims, we share the same trepidations.

Winter Bicyclists

For Chicagoans that don’t regularly commute by bike, you may find it hard to believe just how many cyclists actually choose to continue bicycling throughout the winter season. For others, this mode of transportation is not as much a choice, as it is a sole means of getting around the city, regardless of current weather conditions. Consequently, in keeping with Chicago’s goal to become the most ‘bike-friendly’ city in the nation, it would seem necessary for the City to ensure that safety efforts are carried out equally year-round.

Winter Snow-Removal

As prior year experiences have demonstrated, there are several issues with clearing snow in bike lanes. First, the procedure for clearing bikeways, which are narrower than roadways requires one of two methods—either the use of slimmer ‘bombardier-type plows’ or the use of pickup trucks which are slender enough to maneuver these small spaces. These resources, though, whether specially equipped plows or pick-up trucks, are limited, and as the number of bikeways increase, so will the issues of clearing them.

Another problem, is the ongoing battle between the CDOT, Department of Streets and Sanitation, and Private services to remove snow from the areas of which they are assigned. Often time, a bike lane is cleared, only to subsequently have the snow pushed back into the bikeway. Added to this are business owners clearing sidewalks and motorist digging cars out that shovel the snow into bike lanes, when they are not supposed to.

Then, we also have the issues associated with snow clearance priority during periods of high accumulation. In these conditions, focus is typically placed on the continued clearance of roadways, while bikeways are often left neglected. This leaves bicyclists with three options—(1) use the sidewalk, which is prohibited in most areas; (2) share the roadway with motorists; or (3) attempt to maneuver in an un-cleared bike lane—each of which come along with their own incumbent risks, not only for cyclists but for other road users as well. In example, a bicyclist might collide with a pedestrian, fall and be struck by a car, or cause a motorist to swerve and subsequently crash.

Looking ahead to the 2015-2016 Winter Season

Even without inclement winter weather, Chicago’s bicyclist already deal with infrastructure gaps, such as incomplete routes that come to an abrupt end. Add snow into the mix, and the issue is only intensified. As we have continuously noted, Chicago’s complete streets plan, is a work in progress. Certainly we can expect that, regardless of season, issues will continue to arise, and improvements will need to be made. At the same time, though, clearing and/or removing snow from bike lanes has been an issue that the city has recognized for several years. Yet the City failed cyclists last year, and now we have even more bikeways, giving cause for concern over how this winter will be different than last. Perhaps it may be more practical to rely on early winter-outlook predictions that suggest a milder season for Chicagoans this year, than it would to rely on the City to ensure that bike lanes are adequately cleared throughout the winter.

Involved in an accident? Contact the Chicago Bicycle Injury Lawyers of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. at 773-516-4100, or send us a message online, to discuss your rights and options to seeking compensation.