The Loop’s First Bike Lane

The Loop is the very center of downtown Chicago, filled with courthouses, office buildings, theaters and shopping. Unfortunately, biking in the Loop anytime between 7:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. is very stressful. Bicyclists have to take the lane and haul ass. The wide, one-way streets are a free-for-all of buses, speeding cabs, personal vehicles of those with enough money to pay for parking, police SUVs, and pedestrians. I dislike biking in the Loop so much, When I have to go to court, I park my bike at my office and then walk the last mile into the Loop.

The complete lack of safe infrastructure is the reason biking in the Loop is so awful. No bike lanes at all, let alone protected bike lanes.

That is, until this month, when the city finally installed the first bike lane in the Loop on Madison.

I biked the lane on my way to an evening meeting and it’s a big improvement, in my opinion. Although cars passed closely, they did not drive in the bike lane, unless crossing over into the right turn lane, and they seemed more aware of the possible presence of bikes. The bike lane is to the left of the turning lane, which I liked, because the turning lane is usually jammed with waiting cabs and buses – I would not want to ride to the right of that mess.

Another improvement is that this lane extends into the intersection with dotted lines, which was never done in the past. Since the beginning of the summer, I have noticed several more areas where existing bike lanes have been extended into intersections like this whenever a street is repaved.

Overall, I am happy about this lane as a very small but hopeful start. But this really could have been a fully protected bike lane, if installed on the other side of the street. I want the city to install some of those protected lanes on at least four Loop streets: north, south, east, and west. I hope that this is part of their long-term plan.

Check out The Grid Chicago for a detailed analysis of the lane and a great conversation in the comments section.

Do any Chicago readers out there bike in the Loop? What do you think about this lane and what do you want to see next?

  • John Wirtz

    I like this lane.

    Regarding the “this really could have been a fully protected bike lane, if installed on the other side of the street,” I don’t think that’s true, at least not without removing something else. Since protected lanes take up more width (for the protection) than regular lanes, and the existing lanes are all the minimum width, you would have to remove something else to make space for the buffer between bikes and car. This could be parking and loading zones on the south side of the street and left turn lanes at intersections. Or it could be a through lane on Madison Street, which would make it just one through lane for cars. Either seems infeasible at the moment due to parking leases and traffic volumes.

  • Courtney Kazmierczak

    I think this is a good start. I bike a lot to the Loop for my classes at Columbia, and one street I would love to see with bike lanes is State street. There are lots of pot holes on State street nearing Roosevelt and around Harold Washington Library. It’s also an incredibly busy street that I try to avoid at all costs, but sometimes there are just places I need to go on State.

    • LGRAB

      That’s interesting, because State Street is my preferred street to bike in the Loop. Not that it’s good, but the lesser of evils. I absolutely despise Dearborn and Clark. But I agree that protected lanes on State would be the bees knees.

  • Scott

    Awesome! Hopefully more to come.

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