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:
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?
Yesterday, while waiting at a red light on my bike, a woman with a baby on the back of her bike rolled up and stopped next to me. I waved and cooed to the baby until he smiled. Then his mother said, “Say hi,” and he did, flapping his chubby little hand, eyes shining under his helmet. The light turned green, she told me to go ahead and I told her to have a good day.
My friend Ash's daughter, whom I photographed last week. Not the baby I saw yesterday, but equally adorable.
In an ideal world, sweet meetings like that would happen all the time. In reality, I very rarely see anyone bicycling on Chicago streets with a child. Even as more and more people, men and women, start bicycling for transportation, the venture still seems risky to most. The only way to get a substantial amount of people to bicycle in the city, especially parents with children, is to provide safe, separated infrastructure. Chicago needs protected bike lanes.
For 3 years I have been bicycling in Chicago on a daily basis. During this time, I have seen how easily and cheaply the city’s streets could be adjusted to accommodate protected bike lanes. (Easy and cheap relative to all the other construction projects going on. I know all of Portland’s bike infrastructure was created for the same cost as one highway interchange). This knowledge left me perpetually frustrated, because no one with power in Chicago seemed to care, despite the fact that bicyclists make up ~1/4 of the traffic along my commute route.
This week, Chicago’s disgraceful apathy has ended. All in the past 3 days, new Mayor Emanuel announced the first protected bike lane, CDOT started construction, and the scheduled complete date is next week. The city’s first protected bike lane will be on Kinzie Avenue where it crosses Milwaukee Avenue, leading into downtown. Currently, bicyclists make up 22% of the traffic along this stretch.
There are a few different ways bike lanes can be “protected.” For this project, the street pattern will follow this order: sidewalk, curb, bike lane, painted buffer zone, parallel car parking, motor vehicle travel lane. While visiting the construction site, Steven Can Plan noticed that they are also building a bike box (where bicyclists can wait in front of motor vehicles at red lights) and a bike-only left turning lane at a big intersection. Those are also firsts for Chicago.
[You have to sit through a car commercial before watching the press conference.]
Some choice quotes from Mayor Emanuel:
I want Chicago to be the bike friendliest city in the nation.
Speaking of the role bicycling plays in the city, he pointed out three factors for the future:
1) another means of transportation
2) people can do it with safety
3) as we attract businesses to Chicago, an integrated biking system to and from work is essential to the type of workers I want to see in the city of Chicago.
He noted that bicycling is:
Both an economic development essential tool and it adds to a quality of life that is essential to the city.
This particular project is only 1/2 a mile. But the Mayor announced that Chicago will build 100 MILES OF PROTECTED BIKE LANES OVER THE NEXT 4 YEARS!
Yes, you read that right: 100 miles of protected bike lanes.
Obviously, I am excited about these developments. My approval is conditioned on the city following through with its promises here, but for the first time since I started bicycling in Chicago 3 years ago, I’m seeing real and positive change.
Rahm Emanuel has been elected the next mayor of Chicago!
Here is a bit of what our new mayor has to say about bicycling in Chicago:
Rahm supports full implementation of Chicago’s Bike Plan and will initiate a review of its goals and timelines to identify opportunities to expand the plan and accelerate the pace of implementation.
Chicago’s 125 miles of bike lanes cover a small portion of the city’s 5000 miles of roads. Rahm wants to dramatically increase the number of miles added each year – from 8 to 25 – and prioritize the creation of protected bike lanes. His plan is based on a simple premise: create a bike lane network that allows every Chicagoan – from kids on their first ride to senior citizens on their way to the grocery store – to feel safe on our streets.
Under the plan, Chicago would be a pioneer in the creation and expansion of protected bike lanes, which are separated from traveling cars and sit between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic. He will prioritize the lanes on major thoroughfares that link communities to downtown and each other.
I was surprised and impressed by the specificity of these campaign promises, especially the emphasis on protected bike lanes, which the city so desperately needs to encourage more people to ride a bike.
Mayor Daley has done a lot for bicycling in Chicago, but I’ve seen very little progress in the last couple of years. I’m excited for a fresh start!
You can read more about Emanuel’s transportation plans here, with sections on public transportation, bicycling and high speed rail.