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Silversmith and fur trader John Kinzie was one of Chicago’s first settlers, so it’s appropriate that a pioneering bicycle facility was built on his namesake street. Yesterday was the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, the city’s first, which runs a half mile between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street.

Staffers from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), downtown alderman Brendan Reilly’s office, the Active Transportation Alliance and SRAM, a local bike parts company, were there to celebrate. There were only a handful of civilian cyclists present, partly due to the 11 am start time. The city’s Bicycling Ambassadors and Junior Ambassadors were out in force and the freaky marching band Environmental Encroachment provided a spirited soundtrack.

With the fragrant Blommer Chocolate factory as a backdrop, CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, nattily dressed in a white suit, gave opening remarks. He stressed the importance of the new bike lane, which protects cyclists from moving traffic via flexible bollards and a line of parked cars, in encouraging more people to try urban cycling. “If you want to change people’s behavior and make if feel like it’s safe to walk and bike, you’ve got to make it safer,” he said.

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Gabe Klein with Active Trans’ Executive Director Ron Burke – photo by Steven Vance

The protected bike lane was built only a few weeks after Klein and Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office. “One of the points of this project was to show how quickly we could do this and how cost effectively,” Klein said. The lane cost about $140,000, not including labor, mostly paid for with city money plus a $10,000 grant from SRAM. Since no federal money was used, the funding process was much quicker than the normal timeline for Chicago bike lanes, usually bankrolled by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grants.

Klein announced some impressive new stats. Recent morning rush hour traffic counts show a 58 percent increase in bike traffic at Kinzie and Clinton since the cycle track was built, up from 413 bicyclists from this time last year to 656 cyclists. And traffic counts taken last Wednesday morning showed that 48 percent of the southbound rush hour vehicles on Milwaukee at Kinzie were bikes – 819 cycles compared to 892 motor vehicles. “This shows that if you build it, they will come,” said Klein.

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Photo by Serge Lubomudrov

He stressed that the changes to Kinzie, which included removing travel lanes, have made the street safer and more efficient for all users, including pedestrians and motorists, by discouraging speeding. “[Motorized] traffic is flowing very well but it’s going the speed limit,” he said. “Projects like this can be a win-win-win.”

Alderman Reilly, whose support was key for getting the lanes built, spoke next. “This is an excellent investment in the future,” he said, noting that he recently visited Berlin where more than a third of the workforce bikes to work. He acknowledged that there would be some “growing pains” as road users get used to the lanes. One example of this, as Steven Vance wrote here last week, is that U.S. Postal Service workers are regularly driving and parking in the Kinzie lane. “We’ll rely on educating walkers, bicyclists and drivers [to speed the learning curve],” said Reilly.

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Alderman Reilly, Ron Burke, SRAM CEO Stan Day by Serge Lubomudrov

Next SRAM CEO Stan Day addressed the news cameras. “I was really surprised how safe and relieved I felt riding on this protected bike lane,” he said. He thinks lanes like this would make his wife comfortable with bicycling in the city. “That would be one less car on the street.”

At the end of the ceremony Klein announced the location of the next protected bike lane, on Jackson Boulevard from Damen Avenue to Halsted Street. Since Jackson was already slated to be resurfaced, this facilitates the funding and installation of the lane on this eastbound street, which could make it easier for students from Malcolm X College and Young High School to ride downtown. The project will be complicated by the presence of the #126 Jackson bus route – this may require that the bike lane be located on the left side of the street.

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Jackson at Halsted – photo by Steven Vance

After the remarks the cyclists present took a celebratory spin downhill from Milwaukee in the protected bike lane. The band serenaded them with a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Come Biking in.”

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_USNW6LGA6VHGJATS6PE7FYSMYE Sweet Old Bob

    I dunno – I didn’t see any announcement about this ribbon-cutting. Maybe I missed something. I might have ridden my bike down for this, I was available at the 11:00 AM time.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      The announcement was on the Active Transportation Alliance’s blog, and CDOT sent a message to its Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council mailing list.

    • Lou

      There really wasn’t much of an announcement. The Alderman’s Office or City did not inform any of the area Condo Associations, Businesses or Neighborhood Association. Of course non of these groups were consulted prior to putting in the bike lane either so why should they be made aware of the ribbon-cutting.

  • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

    I guess it was sort of a semi-public event. Citizen cyclists were welcome, but I don’t remember seeing any public announcements.

  • Roy Greenfield

    Grid Chicago should post upcoming event notices.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Good suggestion, Dad. Might be worth doing.
      On the other hand, the Chainlink has this pretty well covered.

  • http://thislittlebikeofmine.tumblr.com/ Sara

    I received an email from ATA a few days before the event. It just so happens my office is at Clinton/Lake so myself and a few co-workers were able to walk over. Glad I did – we had a good time.

  • Oakparkliving

    This is the twisted reporting I’ve seen in a while. The car count has dropped because the bike lane and outer parking has caused grid lock during rush hour going both ways. It takes 5x as long to get from canal to Franklin on Kinzie, now. Not everyone can ride their bike to work and almost all thoroughfares coming from the west to river north are congested, this was the only decent way in and now it’s ruined. Thumbs down on this 140k spent for some white paint on the street and pylons that’ll be crushed come winter snow.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Oakparkliving (if that is in fact your name),

      Don’t shoot the (former) messenger. I was simply reporting the commissioner’s comments about traffic flow on Kinzie.

      On the other hand, there is the notion of “traffic evaporation.” According to this theory, when you take away car lanes you make it less attractive to drive, so less people choose to drive if they don’t have to, and congestion improves.

      The converse is pretty well accepted by planners at this point: adding more traffic lanes encourages more people to drive and actually makes congestion worse:
      http://www.infrastructurist.com/2011/06/06/why-building-roads-creates-traffic/

      So, according to the “traffic evaporation” theory, if you truly need to drive for your commute (Oak Park is well-served by the CTA after all), removing lanes on Kinzie may have improved your situation by discouraging unnecessary car trips by others. I’ll have to drop by at rush hour and watch the traffic flow on Kinzie some time. However, I find it hard to believe that traffic flowed smoothly on Kinzie at rush hour before CDOT installed the protected lane.

      Best,

      John Greenfield

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      The Commissioner, and Grid Chicago, is interested in tipping the scales away from facilitating car travel and balancing it with transit, walking, and biking. This is just one of several initiatives he and Rahm Emanuel will be executing in the mayor’s first term.
      When more people bike, there are fewer people driving, thus less traffic congestion.

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