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.
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.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.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.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.”
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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