Yesterday afternoon I had a meeting across town, which led me to a different route for the commute home. I was able to take advantage of the newish separated bike lane on Elston Avenue. I first wrote about this lane in the fall, but have not had occasion to bike it since.
Riding in this lane is like butter. The separation from cars makes all the difference, of course. Other benefits are not being placed in the door zone and the relatively small number of cross streets, alleys and parking lot exits. I would love a set-up like this on the busy streets that connect my neighborhood to downtown, where I often feel like a hunted animal during open season.
You can see previous videos of me biking along Chicago’s protected bike lanes here:
Chicago now has a protected bike lane going through one of the busiest areas of downtown, the first of its kind in the central Loop district. The lane is on Dearborn, a one-way street that formerly had three travel lanes and two parking lanes. My experience bicycling on this street was always pretty scary: drivers exceeded the speed limit and constantly changed lanes with no warning and there were often conflicts with turning vehicles.
With the new protected bike lane, everything is different. Dearborn feels miraculously safe.
Dearborn now has two main travel lanes, two parking lanes, and a two-way protected bike lane. The protected bike lane is directly next to the curb, separated from car traffic by the parking lane and bollards. The two-way bike lane allows bicyclists to use Dearborn to go both north and south, while cars can go only north. Bicycle-specific stoplights are included at every intersection, next to the regular stop lights. Conflict with turning cars is now eliminated, as cars may turn left only on a green arrow. When the bicycle light is green, the car turning arrow is red and vise versa. The turning arrow is activated only when a sensor picks up the presence of a waiting car. Brilliant!
Two-way protected bike lane on Dearborn
Stop light for bicyclists and dedicated left turn arrows for drivers
The Dearborn protected bike lane opened for use on Friday. Here is a video I made of the inaugural ride. I cut out the time waiting for stop lights and increased the speed twofold. If you pay attention, you’ll see a clueless SUV driver ride in the lane for a block. The final part of the video shows the crappy bike lane after the protected bike lane ends. I hope the city extends the protected lane further in the spring.
Prior to the inaugural ride, there was a press conference. The speakers included our kick ass CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and Mayor Emanuel. For those really interested in the wonky side, here is a video of their speeches (and you can sometimes see me in the background looking very serious).
Here is an illuminating video that Active Trans put together, showing the before and after conditions.
Hat tip to the always-excellent Grid Chicago for making me aware of these videos and for their top-notch reporting on the Dearborn lane and other Chicago developments.
I am so, so, so hopeful about all of this! All I want to do is get to work and back safely, efficiently and happily on my bicycle – finally, those in power are investing in this as a worthy goal. I look forward to more serious improvements in the spring when construction season restarts in Chicago.
PLEASE say thank you to the politicians for the Dearborn protected bike lane.
Big bicycling improvements are happening in Chicago! I heard that the city recently installed a separated bike lane on Elston Avenue, so I went a little out of my way yesterday morning to check it out.
The city calls the Elston bike lane “protected,” but as you can see below, plastic bollards do not provide any real protection from dump trucks.
But I am not knocking the lane at all. I love it! Biking down this wide industrial road with fast traffic is now easy as pie. Bikes have their own area and cars seem to respect it.
Intersections and parking lot entrances are marked with green paint to remind drivers to watch for bicyclists. Some stretches of the lane have car parking to the left, providing real protection from moving traffic.
Look at that wide open lane with the Sears Tower beckoning – beautiful!
After a while, the separated lane ends and turns into a buffered lane, which is also new. Although this design forces bicyclists to watch out for opening car doors and cars pulling out of parking spaces, there is a lot of breathing room that helps bicyclists feel more comfortable.
Finally, I turned on a side street for the last few blocks to my office. This is the only street on the route that does not have a bike lane, but it does boast the beauty that is the underside of the L train tracks.
Biking my entire commute on mostly separated bike lanes was awesome. I’m excited for the city to create more of these safer lanes. Mayor Emanuel recently said, “By next year I believe the city of Chicago will lead the country in protected bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes and it will be the bike friendliest city in the country.” Sounds good to me! (That is how a big city mayor should talk, in contrast to Toronto’s horrible mayor.)
I think an abundance of separated lanes in a city would result in a massive increase of everyday cycling – don’t you?
On my way to work yesterday morning, I spotted a road crew laying down paint to buffer the existing Wells Street bike lane. In the photo below, parked cars are usually next to the curb, the bike lane was already to the left of the parked car area, and the addition is the striped area to the left of the bike lane.
This new “buffer” is nice to see, but not so much when considered as part of Chicago’s overall bike plan. I first heard that Wells would be getting a buffered bike lane one year ago and I expected something more – something that would actually protect cyclists from moving traffic and from opening car doors. This new painted buffer is better than nothing, but not a big step forward. More painted lines are not going to get new people on their bikes. Considering Wells is a hugely popular route for bikes (seems to me there are more bicyclists than cars during rush hour), I would like more to be done to ensure bicyclist safety.
I feel like I should not complain, because the new mayor is taking bicycling seriously and accomplishing a lot and seeing progress is exciting. But if he is serious about making Chicago a first-class bicycling city, safe for citizens aged 8 to 80, painted stripes are not going to cut it. If actual protection is not feasible with the space and budget, at least fill in the lane with green paint, put up more signage, and ticket drivers who park in the bike lane.
Yesterday I was in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s southside for the Women-Who-Bike brunch. I decided to take the Lakefront Path for the 10 mile ride home, which I could reach by taking the new protected bike lane on S. 18th Street from Canal to Clark Streets, connecting the Pilsen and Chinatown areas. This protected bike lane is one of three in Chicago and exists in part thanks to Alderman Solis (read more about his Ward’s projects and his recent trip to the Netherlands here).
Here is a quick video I made of the entire half mile long lane, sped 250%.
Grid Chicago reported on the construction of this bike lane in November. Progress has been made since then, but I assume (hope) that the lane is not finished because there is no protection on the grated bridge and not much treatment for the intersections. The riding experience for new bicyclists could be stressful at those points. Overall, the protected bike lane was a pleasure to ride and certainly an improvement, although not as thoroughly executed as the Kinzie protected bike lane.
It’s too bad that so many New Yorkers still complain about the bike lanes’ contribution to the inconvenience of urban driving instead of promoting them for their obvious role in helping solve the city’s transportation miseries, and for their aesthetic possibilities. I don’t mean they’re great to look at. I mean that for users they offer a different way of taking in the city, its streets and architecture, the fine-grained fabric of its neighborhoods…On a bike time bends. Space expands and contracts.
Reading a glowingly positive article about bike infrastructure in the mainstream media was refreshing and a lot of the author’s optimism can be applied to Chicago or any other city that’s beginning to take bikes seriously. I was especially interested to read that “London has lately turned into a bike capital too.” I’d love to hear what any Londoners out there think about that statement.
Speaking of New York, I found a little bit of NYC in downtown Chicago yesterday. There is a new Magnolia Bakery on State Street.
I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, Chicago already has lots of delicious cupcake bakeries and doesn’t need New York’s second-hand ideas. On the other hand, CUPCAKES! :)
A couple of weeks ago, I shared photos of my bike ride through Chicago’s first protected lane on Kinzie Avenue. I love this lane, so now I’m sharing the experience with all of you. Sorry for the jumpy video – the ride is more peaceful than it looks, but Chicago’s streets are bumpy and I was holding the camera in my hand.
I recently biked along the city’s first protected bike lane. It happened to be the most direct route to get from work to the bar where I was meeting Ash for drinks. And it was amazing – all I hoped for and more.
These pictures really don’t do the lane justice. Most of the lane is next to the curb and separated from moving car traffic by flexible bollards and parked cars. It is wide and comfortable and felt totally safe. Not having to worry about how close drivers were passing on my left or watch out for opening car doors on my right was… I’m at a loss for words, I don’t know, it was pretty much the best thing ever. I biked this street a couple of times before the lane and the experience was extremely stressful and unpleasant. The difference the protected lane made is like night and day.
Here are two ladies who want more protected bike lanes:
Ash and Me
This particular stretch is only .5 miles, but the city plans to install 25 miles of protected bike lanes by May 2012 and 100 miles by the end of the mayor’s first term. Cheers to Chicago’s new and growing bike infrastructure!
I plan to record a video next time I ride the lane, if I can tape my little digicam to my basket. You all gotta see this awesomeness in action.
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?