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The Chicago region’s current hub-and-spoke transit system leaves nearly half a million Cook County residents stranded in transit deserts.

Time for next-generation protected bike lanes

Protected bike lanes are one of the best tools we have to encourage more people to use bicycles as transportation. But to fully reap cycling’s many benefits, we need to close gaps in the growing bike network and go beyond plastic posts to build the next-generation of protected bike lanes.

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A two-way curb-separated bike lane in Montréal, Québec. Photo: Adriana McMullen. Source: Streetsblog Chicago 
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A curb-separated bike lane with sloping curb in Portland, OR. Source: People for Bikes
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Landscaped buffer in Coronado, CA. Source: People for Bikes

Back in 2010-11 when Active Trans asked Chicago mayoral candidates to support a 100-mile network of protected bike lanes by 2015, many scoffed. That may fly in Europe, we were told, but this is Chicago. Cars are king and cyclists are lucky to get a white stripe between themselves and cars.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel loved the idea and so did his Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner, Gabe Klein. Within 30 days of Emanuel’s inauguration, the city’s first protected bike lane was installed on Kinzie.

Many more projects have followed, and Chicago is leading the nation on advanced bike infrastructure:

  • Kinzie St. and the southern section of Milwaukee Ave. are among the busiest bike routes in the nation
  • The Dearborn St. two-way protected bike lane in the Loop was recently named the nation’s best
  • The state of Illinois recently agreed to allow protected lanes on some state-owned routes in Chicago
  • Chicago should have roughly 70 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes by spring and another 20 to 25 miles by the fall.
  • Evanston is one of only a few suburbs in the nation with protected lanes.

In order to make rapid progress and demonstrate “proof of concept,” all on a shoestring budget, Chicago has used basic plastic bollards, paint and parked cars for its protected bike lanes.

It’s now time for the next generation of protected lanes, and the city has a new infusion of federal transportation grant dollars to do it.

CDOT can now emphasize closing gaps to create a connected network of low-stress routes, combining neighborhood streets (with “Neighborhood Greenways” upgrades), protected bike lanes and trails where everyone, including beginners and less-confident cyclists, can feel comfortable and get places.

CDOT should also include “hardscaping” with current and future protected bike lanes with permanent, attractive and safer ways to separate traffic, like curbs, landscaped medians or raised bike lanes.

People for Bikes recently wrote about 19 different ways to separate traffic! (Here are a few examples at right.) It’s also important for the city to fix pavement and drainage problems and plow the lanes.

CDOT recently announced that it may build the city’s first curb-separated bike lanes on parts of Clybourn and State Streets.

We say do it, and don’t stop there!