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Chicago’s low-stress bike network begins to takes shape

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On a recent warm July evening, I rode my bike down to Douglas Park with a few other Active Trans staff members to participate in one of Slow Roll Chicago’s weekly Wednesday night rides.

As we approached our destination, overcoming some stressful stretches of roadway on our way there from River North, we suddenly found ourselves pedaling along Chicago’s first ever curb-separated bike lane. It was as if we were magically transported to one of those European bike meccas people talk about, but most of us never get to visit.

While this pilot project covers just a short segment of Sacramento Avenue in Douglas Park, the comfortable and low-stress experience it provided was immediately apparent to all of us. We spontaneously gave out a collective cheer, “WOOO!”

In many ways, this brief episode reflects the bigger transition happening on Chicago’s streets. Certain routes provide an excellent biking experience, suitable for just about anyone.

The trouble starts when you suddenly find yourself on a street with no bike accommodations or clear indication of where to go next.

Currently, our low stress network is sort of like an adolescent going through a rapid series of growth spurts: things may get a little awkward for a while, but we are on our way to a much more graceful adulthood. That is, as long as we avoid any setbacks and pitfalls.

Over the last four years, the city has been working faster than any other municipality to connect individual game changing projects like Douglas Park into a seamless network of low-stress bike routes, as envisioned in the Chicago Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan.

According to the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), the city installed or re-striped more than 50 miles of bike routes in 2014, more than in any previous year.

That includes new protected bike lanes on Broadway, Harrison, and Lake as well as more than 30 miles of buffered bike lanes, which provide extra space between people riding bikes, parked cars, and moving traffic. 

Last year also saw CDOT install the city’s second Neighborhood Greenway project, which are quiet side streets optimized for bikes, on Wood St. in Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village.

Projects like this help meet the needs of people riding to destinations in their own neighborhood, which account for 80 percent of bike trips in Chicago.

In 2015, Chicago is on track to meet Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of building 100 miles of new bike lanes in four short years. All told, about 25 miles of new projects have been publicly announced for this year, some of which are already in the ground.

Here are some upcoming projects that should set the tone for future bike network improvements:


Clybourn Protected Bike Lane

Where: Near North Side — Clybourn between North and Division

Scheduled completion: August, 2015

Why this is important: First protected bike lane on state road, second concrete-curb protected bike lane in Chicago

As a key link in Chicago’s bike network, Clybourn Ave. between North and Division has long been considered a prime candidate for protected bike lanes and other improvements for people walking and biking. This stretch of roadway is also where Bobby Cann, a well-known member of Chicago’s biking community, was struck and killed by a drunk driver in 2013.

Until recently, Clybourn was subject to a ban on the construction of protected bike lanes on streets under Illinois Department of Transportation jurisdiction.

Thanks to the efforts of Active Trans members and supporters, as well as other community members, IDOT reversed its ban and will pilot concrete-curb separated bike lanes on Clybourn. We hope this project can become a model for other busy streets like Clybourn.

 

Loop Link Protected Bike Lanes

Where: Loop — Washington, Randolph, Clinton

Scheduled completion: Late 2015

Why this is important: New east/west protected bike lanes and second north/south protected bike lane will create connected network downtown

In addition to bringing the advantages of dedicated lanes and smart technology to bus riders in the loop, the Loop Link project will also create new protected bike lanes on three streets downtown.

When these new routes connect to existing protected bike lanes downtown on Dearborn, Kinzie and Harrison, Chicago’s Loop will have one of the most advanced bike networks of any big city in North America.

 

Vincennes Ave. Spoke Route

Where: Chatham/Greater Grand Crossing — Vincennes between 84th and 76th 

Scheduled completion: 2015

Why this is important: Progress on spoke routes is essential to building a complete network

The city’s current bike network plan, Chicago Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan, includes several “Spoke Routes” that provide the backbone for our bike network by connecting outlying neighborhoods with the city center.

Construction began on the Vincennes Ave. Spoke Route several years ago, including a barrier-protected segment between 84th and 103rd that was recently extended to 105th and the Major Taylor Trail.

This year CDOT plans to extend the spoke route from 84th all the way to 76th, laying the groundwork to eventually create a seamless bike route from Blue Island to the Loop.

 

Glenwood Neighborhood Route

Where: Edgewater — Glenwood between Ridge and Broadway

Schedule completion: 2015

Why this is important: Small changes can have a big impact on neighborhood biking

Currently, people riding bikes must use stressful high-traffic streets to reach many destinations in this neighborhood.

To overcome this obstacle, this project will feature a “contra-flow” bike lane, which allows bicycles to travel two-ways on a street where motorists only travel one way. 

 

The rapid growth of Chicago’s bike network is a remarkable achievement, but as advocates, we cannot take this progress for granted. In order to realize the dream of a truly seamless low-stress bike network, we must to push our elected officials to deliver more robust infrastructure like concrete-curb protected bike lanes, and advocate for projects that fill in gaps within and between Chicago’s many diverse neighborhoods. Now more than ever, our voices are needed.