After zero public input on protected lanes so far, community meetings are on the horizon


Photo by Joshua Koonce. 

I was recently quoted in the Chicago News Cooperative and The New York Times about protected bike lanes. I said, “There’s been zero public outreach on where the bike lanes should go“. I think it’s a powerful statement.

I will describe how that’s true now and how that’s expected to change in the near future.

As we’ve written before, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is moving ahead on installation 25 miles of protected bike lanes without public outreach. This was explained at two separate Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC) meetings. Read the recaps for the June 2011 meeting (seventh paragraph) and September 2011 meeting (seventh paragraph).

Skip to “Tasks” if you want to reach how this will change.

But there’s a nearly-concrete strategy in place describing a new process for determining where future bikeways will go, and where the remaining 75 miles* of protected bike lanes will be constructed. It involves creating a Streets for Cycling Plan that identifies 150-250 miles of new street segments to add to the bikeway network.

I attended “Bikeways 201” this past Saturday at Jak’s Tap by UIC (901 W Jackson Blvd), a presentation for “bike community leaders” to learn about the different bikeways used in cities around North America, and also to understand why some are more appropriate than others on a certain street. Speakers came from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) organization, Active Transportation Alliance, and the City of Chicago’s Bicycle Program.

Bicycle Program coordinator Ben Gomberg described what he sees as the two ways to get public input:

  1. Invite people to meetings and share plans and ideas with them; use websites and media to present information. This is where people would submit their ideas, “This is the best place!” only to find out that a bikeway won’t fit. Or,
  2. Educate certain people on the designs, requirements, and facility plans so they know better. These people would be expected to inform their friends, peers, and neighbors. The purpose of this education is so citizen cyclists will provide higher quality feedback – ideas for certain bikeways on certain streets where they’re most likely to properly integrate.

He clearly supported the second method.


Portland traffic engineer Rob Burchfield answers a question about how Portland created its neighborhood greenways (bike boulevards) system.

So here we were, bike community leaders, those “certain people”, to become educated in the variety of bikeways and street treatments used in North America and how they can be applied. Rob Burchfield, a traffic engineer at the City of Portland, and Mike Sallaberry at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (a kind of CDOT-CTA hybrid), described these. The best way to know what they are is to explore the Urban Bikeway Design Guide, produced by NACTO. The guide is heavily influenced by facilities and practices found in Europe.

After the presentation, CDOT bikeways planner Mike Amsden led us through a charrette, an interactive and hands-on planning activity and dialogue. Two groups worked on a potential bike boulevard on Wood Street between Augusta Boulevard and Cortland Street, while two other groups worked on extending the Jackson Boulevard protected bike lane east of its current limit at Halsted Street. I believe the purpose of this exercise was to introduce us to the unique challenges of each bikeway project. While my group shared concerns with the other group discussing Wood Street, we also had different ideas and questions.


One outcome of my group’s plan to deal with Milwaukee Avenue cutting off the potential Wood Street bike boulevard. We proposed crossing onto Wolcott Avenue and then jogging back to Wood via Wicker Park Avenue. Or making Wolcott a bike boulevard as well. 

Streets for cycling plan

CDOT has hired Sam Schwartz Engineering to create the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. They spoke at Bikeways 101, immediately prior to Bikeways 201. In their presentation, they outlined their goals and tasks to develop this plan (the below statements are taken from handout).


  • Identify 150-250 miles of streets to add to the bikeway network
  • “Establish Chicago as a place that is bicycle-friendly for all users”
  • Review existing conditions: identify gaps, opportunities, and challenges; take a comprehensive, citywide approach.
  • Create Chicago’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide: adapt the NACTO guide to Chicago; develop additional treatments for bike boulevards and bicycle-preferred streets/residential greenways; develop implementation criteria; produce document that is accessible to public.
  • Develop bike network: identify destinations and roadway characteristics; develop low-stress bikeways (bicycle preferred streets, bike boulevards, protected and buffered bike lanes); close gaps in bike network; develop conceptual corridor and intersection drawings.
  • Develop implementation strategy: create list of projects; develop prioritization system; develop maintenance strategy.
  • Public outreach: conduct six public meetings to obtain feedback; engage MBAC; use social media networks and provide updates via CDOT website.

Who is NACTO

I had never heard of NACTO until I worked at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) in 2007-2010, but it was formed in 1996. Their publications came through the office and I even contributed a photograph or two to some of these publications. NACTO is like a city version of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). But while AASHTO is heavily focused on promoting roads (their transportation awards competition has only road projects as finalists), NACTO concentrates on boosting all modes of transportation.

*Mayor Emanuel has said that his administration will construct 100 miles of protected bike lanes, 25 miles each year (the year starts in May), in his first term. As of this writing, there is 0.5 miles completed (Kinzie Street), 2 miles under construction (Jackson Boulevard) and 1 mile that will be completed by the end of 2011 (18th Street and Elston Avenue).

For more information on this topic, read articles tagged with Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and Sam Schwartz Engineering.

Updated October 22, 2011, to add text telling readers where in the MBAC recap articles the lack of public outreach in the first 25 miles of protected bike lanes is explained (it’s in the seventh paragraph of both the June 2011 and September 2011 recap articles). 

12 thoughts on “After zero public input on protected lanes so far, community meetings are on the horizon”

    1. No, I’m not aware of any. 

      I have heard from citizen cyclists their ideas that boulevard service drives should receive “bike boulevard” or “bicycle preferred” street treatments. 

      The service drives have their own complications, though, including “missed connections” at certain intersections (like Sacramento and North Avenue, and Sacramento and Palmer). 

      I prefer to ride in the main drive because I can make fewer stops. Crossing intersections on the service drives is harrowing because visibility is low and cross street drivers don’t have to stop. 

      1. I agree with you on this.  Service drives are the local delivery and school bus routes.  They also provide neighborhood parking in places where there is little off-street parking.  There are many intersections with major streets where service drives lack stoplights, have minimal green light time in the cycle, or are “missed connections,” as you mention. 

        I would like to see  “bicycle preferred” street treatments on the main drives, where visibility at intersections is the best.

      2. I was referring to the main drives.  Most of these multi-lane sections have overcapacity with speeding cars.  Converting one of these lanes to a protected bike lane would calm the traffic and would create a great circuit for cyclists.  It would be like a cross-town route connecting with parks and other trails.  (Imagine the intersection of Humboldt and Bloomingdale).  The boulevards were Chicago’s original bike routes.  Let’s bring that back!

  1. I’ve noticed tons of room on all of State St. that seems like it could accommodate a two-way, fully separated bike lane. 

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