Our Chicago: Bicycling In Chicago

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, May 5, 2024
Our Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The weather's warming up. May is National Bike Month, so it might be a good time to get out and go for a ride.

The city has more than 420 miles of protected bike lanes, other on-street bikeways, off street trails and neighborhood greenways, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Cyclists and advocacy groups have called for more to be done to protect cyclists and make getting around on two wheels easier.

Last year, a cycling advocacy group "People For Bikes" ranked Chicago 161st out of 163 big cities for "bikeability." This was based on things like speed limits, miles of protected bike lanes, the safety of intersections and grid connections.

Our Chicago is recognizing May as National Bike Month by highlighting bicycling in Chicago.

"So that speed limit which is really what we got dinged on by People For Bikes, having a 30 mph speed limit means that our streets are kind of inherently unsafe for people walking and biking," Managing Director of Advocacy for the Active Transportation Alliance Jim Merrell said. "So actually, if we lowered our default speed limit from 30 to 25, we would shoot up in those rankings to be in the top 20. And so that's actually a big think we're working on right now, is pushing to lower Chicago's default speed limit."

There was a hearing in the Chicago City Council last week. Merrell said other big cities have done it. "But what's important about the speed limit isn't just asking people to behave more safely in their cars. But it also unlocks a bunch of design opportunities on our roadways. When we slow cars down it enables us to make more space for people walking and biking. And for adding things like protected bike lanes which we know are the safe and comfortable bikeway that people need in order to feel comfortable using bikes for everyday transportation."

Merrell said that 5 mile per hour difference makes a crash a lot more survivable particularly for people outside of cars.

"Historically, we have seen kind of a disparate development of bikeways. Our aldermen have a lot of control over street development projects and historically we've seen more bikeways on the north side versus the south and west side," Merrell said, "But our friends at the Department of Transportation have been really intentional over the last 5 or 10 years on making sure that they are building out a citywide network recognizing that biking is happening all over the city. We've seen biking more than double since 2019. That increase is actually happening on the south and west side more quickly than it is in other parts of the city. "

Last year, the city installed more than 50 miles of bike friendly routes. So what's in the works for 2024?

"It's been an incredible time for cycling and transportation in general, within the city of Chicago," Complete Streets Director for the Chicago Department of Transportation Dave Smith said.

Our Chicago is recognizing May as National Bike Month by highlighting bicycling in Chicago.

He explains the different types of cycling infrastructure found around the city.

"We use a whole host of infrastructure types to make cycling a safe and great option for everybody, regardless of your age or your experience level. And so protected bike lanes, we install those on largely commercial streets or busier streets where we have a concrete curb that physically separates people biking from people driving. And really makes the experience very comfortable for everybody. Neighborhood bike routes or neighborhood greenways are residential streets."

The development of bicycle infrastructure hasn't always been equitable across the city. But Smith said that's changing.

"We have really great and exciting efforts going on throughout the city's west side and the city's far south side. In 2023, about a year ago, we released the Chicago Cycling Strategy which outlines our approach for building a bicycle network that connects all Chicagoans to the places that are most meaningful to them. Within that strategy and that plan we've developed a program called Neighborhood Bike Networks. So we're working all along the west side, southwest side right now with community organizations, community stakeholders to plan and to build a cycling network together hand-in-hand with the community. Just in the last three years or so, we've built more than sixty miles of bicycle infrastructure on the city's west side. "

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