Chicago sees the light, and it shining all the way from NYC

There is a new boss in the Windy City, and he intends to make Chicago the best big city for cycling in the US.  These days, that means taking a bike or two out of the Big Apple.  Rahm’s primary strategy in the battle of the bicycling big cities is to install 25 miles of protected bike lanes in his first year and 100 miles by the end of his term.  Wasting no time, CDOT already has just such a protected bike lane nearly done on heavily pedaled Kinzie Street from Milwaukee to Desplaines and Wells, about half a mile.

I have written on OTB about the protected bike lanes in NYC and Washington, D.C.  They typically have a buffer zone with flexible bollards between the bike lane and the motor vehicle travel lane.  Often parked cars are between the motor vehicle travel lane and bike lane. You can read more details about the Kinzie St. project in Chicago on Steven Vance’s great blog, Steven Can Plan.

Similar protected bike lanes are recommended in Milwaukee’s new bike plan.  The image to the left is from our plan. Not that Milwaukee is without our own firsts, we had had a bike corral before Chicago and Milwaukee DPW will be building the Midwest’s first raised bike lane on S Bay Street at the end of June (I’ll write about that soon). If you remember, when Andreas Røhl, the Bicycle Program Manager from Copenhagen, DK visited Milwaukee, his major piece of advice was that in order to get more people riding bikes, Milwaukee needs to try moving our bike lanes between the parked cars and the curb.  Andreas urged that we take advantage of our recent increases in people riding bicycles and implement at least one protected bike lane pilot project this year.

If it was up to me, I would try that on S 2nd Street between Greenfield Avenue and Maple Street and between Scott Street and National Avenue where we have yet to stripe the bike lanes.  This would fill in the last bicycle unfriendly gaps in s 2nd Street, which has attracted more cyclists since Milwaukee DPW did the road diet and added bike lanes there.

The protected bike lanes in New York City have transformed the traffic mix there and humanized travel in Gotham in a way not seen since before the rise of the automobile. While I hate to get beat by the flat-landers to our south at anything , if Rahm Emmanuel and CDOT are able to transform Chicago using protected bike lanes and bicycle boulevards, it might make it easier to do similar projects in Milwaukee. Emmanuel versus Bloomberg could be the Godzilla v. Mothra of the bicycle world, but the fallout might just help cities like Milwaukee build the next generation of bicycle facilities in our own communities.

Barbara Brotman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, was recently in New York and by the headline of here column, she came back a believer.  I have pasted her story below or you can read it in the Trib online here.

In New York, protected bike lanes jaw-dropping

They could portend things to come for Chicago

Barbara Brotman

June 13, 2011

I have seen the potential future of biking in Chicago.

And friends, our heart-pounding, car door-fearing, bus-dodging urban rides may never be the same.

You can get a glimpse of it yourself on Kinzie Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street. It is a protected bike lane, the first of its kind in Chicago, under construction as part of a federally funded test.

But I recently saw and rode a fully operational version in New York, where 4.9 miles of protected bike lanes have been built over the last few years.

I was ambling through the Village when I came upon a stretch of protected lane. I stepped off a curb on a major avenue and stopped, dumbstruck.

I was standing in the parking lane, only it wasn’t a parking lane. It was painted green and it looked to be a two-wheeled version of a pedestrian mall.

People were riding bikes and they were in a city. But they were not riding in any way I have seen in this city.

They were strolling, in a cycling sort of way. They were riding unhurriedly and sociably, some of them chatting with friends riding next to them.

But wasn’t this the parking lane? Where were all the parked cars?

My jaw dropped a little lower.

They were in the next lane over, forming a protective barricade between the bike lane and moving traffic.

But what happened when the drivers parked and then opened their doors onto the bike lane?

They would be opening them onto the white-striped, no-go lane, twice the width of a car door, painted clearly on the road to the left of the parked cars.

My New York friend smiled indulgently as I gaped. It was just a bike lane. Didn’t Chicago have bike lanes?

Gamely, I defended our honor.

Certainly, we have bike lanes. They are narrow strips painted onto busy streets and marked with signs reading, “Good Luck, Pal.”

What fun it is to ride on them! The excitement of edging into traffic to keep out of parked car door range, the amazing sight of bikes pouring around both sides of stopped traffic like lava, the thrill of the bike messenger chase.

Dangerous? So what? It isn’t urban biking unless you need an advance directive.

So I tried to defend Chicago’s bike lanes, but my heart wasn’t in it. There was only lust for those protected bike lanes in New York.

And it only got worse the next day. After a spin through Central Park during vehicle-free hours, and then up the Hudson River along the bike path that circles almost the entire island of Manhattan — I hate to stoke Second City syndrome, but frankly, New York is eating our biking lunch — I found myself riding a protected lane down the West Side.

How to describe the bizarre feeling of riding through a city safely? Even as I did it, I couldn’t believe it. The only way I could have collided with a car would be if I had exited the bike lane and deliberately steered into traffic.

I tried to think of disadvantages. How do these people keep their heart rate up without fear to make their chest muscle pound? What will become of urban biking swagger if cyclists no longer regularly defy death?

Then I came to the light. The dedicated bike lane light, with its own signal — a little bike icon that blinks red or green. I hung my helmeted head.

But now, Chicago is getting a protected bike lane of our own. Just one, and just a half-mile long — but look what the future portends.

“Under the mayor’s transportation plan, the city would build 100 miles of protected bike lanes over his four-year term,” said Adolfo Hernandez, director of advocacy for the Active Transportation Alliance.

The lanes would transform urban biking.

“You see kids riding their bikes, senior citizens,” said Hernandez, who has ridden protected lanes in New York, Washington, D.C., and Seville, Spain.

“Anyone can just go out and ride, on any bike they have, in whatever they want to wear.”

People bike more slowly and with more sociability, he said. And New York’s bike lanes have not only reduced bike crashes, but also crashes involving pedestrians and vehicles.

“It serves as traffic-calming,” he said.

“You guys are going to love it,” predicted Michael Murphy, communications director for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group in New York.

Only a minority of New Yorkers has complained over loss of parking spaces, space for driving and the lack of sidewalk access to shops, he said. The majority support bike-friendly street improvements, as shown by two polls and annual double-digit growth in bike ridership.

“There are around 200,000 people riding our streets on any given day,” he said.

The protected bike lane on Kinzie is expected to be completed Friday, Bike to Work Day.

Much as I have enjoyed my time racing in the peloton in the Tour de Milwaukee Avenue, I’m ready.

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune

About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Bike facilities and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Chicago sees the light, and it shining all the way from NYC

  1. Bruce Thompson says:

    I spent last week (Bike to Work Week) in Montreal, which has an extensive network of cycle tracks. Thanks to a 72 hour membership in Bixi bikes, I was able to use them for the commute between my hotel and the workshop.
    Both the Bixi bikes and the cycle tracks are heavily used.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I love Montreal. Bruce, you should come to Discovery World June 23rd between 11 and 2pm to try the B-cycle bikes. B-cycle is bringing their demo station to Milwaukee. I will post about that more tomorrow.

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