Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) director Victor Mendez speaks to the audience with Bikes Belong president Tim Blumenthal. Photo by David Schalliol.
A soirée and a press conference in Chicago two weeks ago (May 30-31), bookended the launch of the Green Line Project, an initiative of the Bikes Belong Foundation and its six grant cities. The Green Lane Project is a sharing and technical assistance effort to build “better” bike lanes, to “propagate them faster across the country”, as Martha Roskowski, project manager, put it.
What is a Green Lane? From the project website, “A Green Lane is a statement about how we experience our communities,” but from an infrastructure sense, a green lane is a European-style bike lane “adapted to meet the unique needs of American streets”.
CDOT introduced the Green Lane Project at June’s MBAC meeting.
The soirée was held at the offices of Gensler Architects, 11 E Madison. Bikes Belong Foundation president Tim Blumenthal spoke and introduced the evening’s guests: Victor Mendez, head of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the majority funder of Chicago’s bikeway infrastructure; Roskowski; Gabe Klein, Chicago’s transportation department commissioner; Stan Day, CEO of the SRAM bike parts manufacturer.
Mendez from FHWA was an unexpected surprise. While most of the money the agency doles out goes to building roads and transit facilities, their mission has been transformed since President Obama’s hiring of transportation secretary Ray LaHood. “LaHood stood up for bikes and got hammered for doing so”, Mendez said, adding that the department wants to move transportation forward, give options, as “it’s not always about commuting”. Mendez also described that they’ve adopted the “issue of urgency”, to “deliver infrastructure in a faster, smarter approach, with better and innovative options”.
He brought up the agency’s non-motorized transportation pilot project in four cities that recently ended. One of the goals was to document the impact of using non-car modes. “By using bicycles, we avoided 60 million miles traveled, making for less congestion and less pollution”, Mendez exclaimed.
In her speech, Roskowksi added a new definition to “green lane”:
“It’s called the ‘ahh factor’. You’re riding your bike through downtown Chicago, and you’re like, ‘Gotta be on it, gotta be an A-cyclist, gotta go fast’. You’re a little bit nervous, ‘the light’s gonna turn, I gotta go, I’m gonna get run over, okay I made it’. And then you get over to the Kinzie Street protected bike lane…’Ahhh, I made it'”. Streets like those get people out on bikes, she declared.
Green Lane cities, in addition to Chicago, are the following: Austin; Memphis; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C. They were selected from a pool of 42 applicant cities.
It’s well known that Chicago, Portland, and San Francisco, are building better bike lanes left and right. In Chicago, Mayor Emanuel has promised 25 miles of protected bike lanes per year, with additional buffered bike lanes in the pipeline. In 13 months since his election and appointment of Gabe Klein as the transportation commissioner, about 6 miles has been built with several more actively being constructed.
Portland has built several cycle tracks of varying designs and built its first buffered bike lane in 2010.
A group of people cycle towards the financial district in downtown San Francisco along Market Street. Drivers must turn right, off Market Street, at this intersection. A restored streetcar from Milan, Italy, rides alongside the cyclists.
San Francisco got straight to work after defeating a lawsuit that held up its bicycle plan. In a great example of implementing a project to coincide its decades-old Transit First policy, the city built a cycle track (painted green for enhanced visibility) on Market Street and even closed a couple blocks there to private automobile traffic, leaving it open to taxis, buses, streetcars, and of course, bicycles.
So how would they benefit from being a member city?
These cities also have staff who’ve already traveled to Europe to see the best designs in action, some through study trips provided by Bikes Belong. A Chicago alderman, Danny Solis, traveled with consultants of the Chicago Department of Transportation.
25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis expresses his support for the Green Lane Project.
Roskowski, responding to the question about why three cities making good progress towards their own ambitious goals for bike facilities are part of the Green Lane Project, said that their core mission is not to share what they’ve learned. “There are a lot of demands to get their story, and this project can help get that out. Tax dollars [paying for bikeways] are for workers to work here.” Additionally, the Green Lane Project recognizes that even the advanced cities still need help figuring out these new (to them) bikeway designs and this project will bring them together.
The next morning, staff from the member cities, and other national visitors, went on a bike ride in the rain to meet under the Metra commuter rail viaduct at Clinton and Kinzie Streets, next to Chicago’s first protected bike lane. Solis expressed his support for the Green Lane Project, interjecting that “proper attire and riding in the rain in the Netherlands aren’t atypical”.
Austin’s director of public works, Howard Lazarus, spoke up to say that the project, in addition to sharing techniques like Roskowski described, was also about “sharing condolences sometimes”. Austin, unlike the other cities is experience rapid population growth, at 4%, he said.
Ironically, people were parking cars and hailing taxis in the Kinzie Street bike lane consistently throughout the hour-long event.