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Chicago’s first protected bike lane on Kinzie St. increased ridership by 55 percent without increasing traffic congestion for cars.

Chicago boasts biggest gain in Bike Score, but is it enough?

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In recognition of National Bike to Work Week, Walk Score has released an updated list of its Bike Score rankings for U.S. cities, with good news for Chicago’s bike boosters.

Since 2013, Chicago’s Bike Score has jumped more than any other big city, surging from 61.5 to 70.2, placing us at number six on Walk Score’s national list of bike-friendly cities.

The 100 point Bike Score scale seeks to quantify the bike-friendliness of cities and neighborhoods by looking at a combination of four factors: existing bike infrastructure, rates of bike commuting, connectivity to destinations, and, of course, hills.

Tools like Bike Score are great because they take the best available information and package it in a way that’s useful for just about anybody. 

But this week’s announcement also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how we measure and evaluate the success of efforts to encourage more biking as transportation.

In addition to the four factors evaluated by the Bike Score, here are some other key elements to keep in mind:

We need to measure level of stress, not just miles of infrastructure

Have you ever heard someone say something along the lines of, “I have to ride my bike through that crazy intersection or under that nasty viaduct?  Forget about it, I’m taking the bus.”

Whether or not a person can tolerate the most stressful segment of any bike route is one of the biggest factors influencing their decision to use a bike for a given trip.

Importantly, measuring level of stress is about more than just what kind of infrastructure has been installed. There are a number of factors that shape level of stress, such as speed of nearby traffic, presence of parked vehicles blocking lanes, intersection crossings, and pavement conditions. These subtle factors are why riding a bike on a calm side street with no infrastructure can be much less stressful than riding on a busy street with a bike lane.

Collecting these data is a tricky task, but will be essential for providing the type of evaluation that will get us a bike network that works for everyone.  Luckily, this is a growing area of focus among bike planners and engineers, and good models already exist for measuring level of stress. 

The challenge for all of us is to figure out how best to collect these data in big cities like Chicago.

Crashes matter

Bike crashes resulting in injuries or fatalities are the most visible symptoms of the underlying disease of unsafe streets and incomplete networks. Ultimately, every crash is preventable and no fatality is acceptable.  Integrating measures of safety into our evaluation of biking in Chicago and other cities is a key piece of the puzzle.

Bike commuter data paints an incomplete picture

In 2014, Active Trans released a report showing that almost 80% of bike trips in Chicago are non-work related.  That means most folks are using bikes to run errands in their neighborhood or to visit friends or family. However, the only consistently reported data available on the level of biking happening comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, which asks households how they get to work.

In order to get a better picture of who is biking and where, we need to find ways to capture more of the everyday bike trips happening in neighborhoods. That’s why efforts like the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Bike Count program are so important.

Wind can suck as much as hills

This one’s self-explanatory for any Chicagoan who gets around on two wheels.

Join the movement to make Chicago the best city for biking in the U.S.  Become an Active Trans member today!