The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane looks to be the biggest deal, nationally, in bicycle infrastructure since the City of Chicago built the Kinzie Street cycle track three weeks after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office. If it had an account on Twitter, it’d be competing with Justin Bieber.
Here’s a collection of “chatter” about the project from within the short 90 hours it’s been open.
On Friday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein dedicated the city’s most ambitious commitment yet to the ideal of taking biking beyond the recreational to make it an integral part of Chicago’s transportation system.
It was a Back to the Future moment, as Chicago rose the crest of the first major bike boom back in the 1890’s, when the introduction of the affordable safety bicycle set sales soaring. It also created a new industry, with Chicago at its center.
The Trib’s John Kass, as part of his ongoing battle against the 21st Century, rails against “elitist politically coddled bicyclists” by indulging his usual habit of seeing everything in Chicago he doesn’t like as a Rahm Emanuel plot, raising spectres of traffic tickets and tolls for bikers.
It’s like having to learn a new language, relearning how we “read” the city as we move through it. No doubt about it, it’s a bold initiative, and a real gamble. It not only serves a constituency, but aims to shape behaviour.
In case you haven’t been able to bike in the Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane in the 48 hours it’s been open, here’s a 5 minute ride-through video, in the northbound lane from Madison Street to Kinzie Street. View on Vimeo. The song is “Tokyo Street” by airtone.
In this video you’ll get a feel for how the new intersection signals work, see the turn boxes at some intersections, and notice a lot of pedestrians! The video has been sped up by 40%.
These are definitely exciting times for Chicago cyclists. I pedaled downtown this afternoon to see how the “game-changing” Dearborn two-way protected bike lane is progressing. I was expecting to see a few blocks of striping work completed. I’m pleased to report that by 4 pm this afternoon striping work seemed to be largely complete on almost the entire corridor from Polk Street to the Chicago River, less than 24 hours after work started.
One reason the work is going so fast is that it’s being done by Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) crews using paint, rather than contractors using molten thermoplastic, which might be worth considering for all bike lanes. Thermoplastic lasts much longer, but paint is a whole lot cheaper. My friend Dave Schlabowske, former Milwaukee bike coordinator, tells me that city crunched the numbers and found that it was cheaper to repaint their bike lanes every year than to stripe them with thermoplastic once every few years. This also might help with the “disappearing bike lane” problem.
But that’s a debate for another day. For now, let’s celebrate the lightning-fast progress of this pioneering facility, which CDOT says will be completed, including striping, signage, bollards and traffic signal timing, by mid-December, if the warm weather holds up. The bike-specific traffic signals will be crucial for guiding southbound bike traffic and preventing conflicts between northbound bike traffic and left-turning cars.
Since there are no bollards or signs up yet, many drivers were, understandably, parking in the bike lane, but the lane really won’t be completely safe to ride until the signals are activated anyway. One benefit that has already resulted is that, with the removal of one of the three travel lanes, Dearborn already feels calmer and more civilized, like a bustling neighborhood retail street rather than a typical downtown speedway. The following images provide a virtual tour of the new lanes heading northbound; more photos can be viewed here.
Things changed, as photo contributor Adam Herstein noticed this morning. He says this sign is posted at each intersection (from Wacker Drive to Van Buren Street, we presume, which is the length of the “enhanced” marked shared lane).
A larger version of this sign exists, but the unique situation of the ‘L’ track colums might prevent objects from exceeding the column width, unless they were higher up to avoid being smashed by trucks.
Open Streets director Julia Kim at last year’s Open Streets on State Street. Photo courtesy of Active Trans.
[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Thursdays.]
Note: I wrote this piece early last week, a few days before Open Streets in the Loop took place on Saturday. As predicted, it was a wonderful event, with even more fun stuff going on than last year. As always, it was thrilling to see a street that’s normally clogged with motor vehicles turned over to positive human interaction. Next Sunday’s Open Streets Wicker Park/Bucktown, on bustling Milwaukee Avenue through bike-crazy neighborhoods, should be even better. It takes place on Milwaukee from Ashland to Western Avenues from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. See Steven’s thoughts on the downtown event below my article.
Last year I wrote a Newcity cover story with the subtitle, “Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?” For this year at least, the answer was no.
Since 2005 I’ve been chronicling the Active Transportation Alliance’s valiant efforts to stage ciclovías, Latin-American-style events that shut down streets to cars traffic, encouraging healthy recreation, community and commerce. It’s hard to believe I still have to report on the relative lack of support from the city, especially since Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) commissioner Gabe Klein have generally been terrific on sustainable transportation issues.