Highlights from MBAC, and room for improvement


Alderman Laurino, 39th Ward, talks about her proposed ordinance that would ban texting and other tasks while bicycling. See “More topics” below. 

These are the highlights from the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC) meeting last Wednesday, September 13, 2011. The next meeting is Wednesday, December 14, 2011, at City Hall, 121 N LaSalle Street.

New protected bike lanes

These two protected bike lanes (PBL) will be installed in 2011. These were announced by Chicago Bicycle Program Bikeways Engineer David Gleason and Bikeways Planner Mike Amsden.

But first they gave confirmation that the Jackson Boulevard PBL between Damen Avenue and Halsted Street would be on the left (north) side of the one-way street, to accommodate for Chicago Transit Authority 126/Jackson buses. Mike mentioned that the left side crosses fewer alleys and driveways. This protected bike lane passes Malcolm X College and Whitney Young Magnet High School, hopefully making it easier for students and staff to bike to school. I’m concerned, though, that CDOT has not announced plans for a reverse direction bike lane. Jackson has eastbound traffic; how will westbound (return) traffic be protected?

18th Street, from Canal Street to Clark Street for 0.45 miles

New: Read CDOT’s 18th Street project information page

The entire segment is in Ward 25, Alderman Danny Solis. A bridge treatment will not be added to this segment until 2012. Until the open metal grate bridge has a new deck, I recommend that people bicycling use the sidewalk to cross the bridge.

Elston Avenue, from North Avenue to Division Street for 0.55 miles

New: Read CDOT’s Elston Avenue project information page

The entire segment is in Ward 32, Alderman Scott Waguespack. Like the 18th Street PBL, the Elston Avenue PBL piggybacks onto a street resurfacing project (like the Jackson Boulevard PBL). While the resurfacing project on Elston Avenue extends to Milwaukee Avenue, it was not explained why the segment between Division Street and Milwaukee Avenue, in Alderman Burnett’s 27th Ward, will not be included in the PBL.

Like Kathy Schubert, I was concerned about the open metal grate bridge on Jackson Boulevard between Canal Street and Wacker Drive. I asked Mike, “What about extending the PBL east of Halsted Street?” He replied that there were complex engineering issues, and “we couldn’t move as quickly. We ensured that the way it is designed now in the resurfacing is compatible with a future PBL.”

7. Mike said there would be 25 miles by May 2012, which would be one year into Rahm Emanuel’s mayorship. As I mentioned on Steven Can Plan, and the Chicago Bicycle Program acknowledged Wednesday, the first 25 miles will have no public outreach. David explained, “Part of the caveat of moving this fast is that public outreach is still trying to catch up to bikeway development.”

Of all the PBLs in Chicago, present or planned, I most appreciate the one for Elston Avenue. It should prevent automobile encroachment around the wide-radius curves near the Morton Salt factory; I hope it reduces the occurrence of high-speed, right turns that drivers make across the bike lane in front of bicyclists when they maneuver onto Magnolia Avenue (see red dot on map).

View Chicago protected bike lanes, in 2011 in a larger map

Bike sharing

Gabe Klein, transportation commissioner, hired Scott Kubly to move to Chicago from Washington, D.C., where Gabe and Scott previously worked together. Scott was head of that city’s Progressive Transportation Services Administration; in Chicago he’s the Managing Deputy Commissioner and will be leading the bike sharing program’s development and launch.

Gabe, who wants 5,000 bikes and 500 docking stations by year 3, said, “I think we can make one of the largest bike shares in the country, and even have it be cost-neutral. Maybe even make money.” This is in line with what he said at the Wicker Park bike parking corral ribbon cutting: He may be a social liberal, but he’s also fiscally conservative and bike projects have maximum bang for the transportation buck.

It was obvious from Gabe’s speech that he is very excited to launch bike sharing by June 2012.

When we reach a critical tipping point [of people bicycling], the streets will behave differently, I think we can do it in a year and a half. You should have seen the way D.C. changed when we lauched Capital BikeShare.

The Request For Proposals (RFP) has been approved by the City’s legal and budget departments. It’s ready to advertise, but CDOT wants to educate alderman and staff in the Mayor’s office before that time. Gabe believes they will select a vendor in January 2012 who will then start manufacturing the stations.

New York City had announced hours before MBAC that it selected Alta Bike Share for its bike sharing vendor, to install 10,000 bikes at 600 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

As Chicago starts moving forward, former resident Payton Chung (now living in D.C.) cautions New York City’s bike sharing provider on balancing bikes and station placement.

More topics

Cell phones

Other topics discussed during the meeting were 39th Ward Alderman Laurino’s ordinance (introduced to the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety the previous week) that would ban cyclists, while moving, from “composing, reading, sending, or listening to an electronic message” on a “communication device”. You can read the proposed ordinance, O2011-7146, on the City Clerk’s website.


In responding to Jennifer James’s comment about transforming the Loop into a place that’s rideable for families, Gabe used the E word: enforcement.

We have to recognize that back in the 1960s people didn’t drive so maniacally. I think the elephant in thec room is that there’s a problem with enforcement. [We can] reengineer the streets, try to educate people, but we need enforcement. I’m developing a multi-prong enforcement approach. Some will work with the police, some will work outside of the police.

He didn’t give any more details, but this wasn’t the first time he’s discussed enforcement. Read Jennifer’s blog for more of her thoughts on how to make neighborhoods safe for cycling families. (She brought her three children to MBAC in a single bakfiets.)

MBAC is ripe for change

I remain disappointed at the lack of change in the area of public involvement on the part of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and its divisions, including the Bicycle Program. The development of the Pedestrian Plan shows a remarkable advancement in public outreach on behalf of city government, but the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council continues to be a show-and-tell event.

When I worked at CDOT, I tried to change this by designing and setting up an MBAC meeting in June 2009 where attendees twice got to discuss bicycle issues in small groups with a topical expert (also called “breakout sessions”). At the end of the meeting, a representative from a topic’s group relayed to the other attendees what they had discussed; everything was posted online. The intention was to do this once a year, in the evening, but hasn’t happened – instead, the June 2010 meeting was skipped.


Chicago Bicycle Program staff talk to MBAC attendees about on-street bikeways. View all photos from this event

One hour after this month’s meeting started, attendees had only heard from five of the 11 presenters. After Scott Kubly, Managing Deputy Commissioner at CDOT, spoke about bike sharing, Lyndon and Rick Valicenti introduced Moving Design. The meeting promptly ended at 4:35 PM. It wasn’t too long ago when MBAC meetings were scheduled until 4:45 PM.

Attendees did not hear from the following individuals:

  • Keith Privett (CDOT), who was to talk about the 2012-2016 project selection for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program funding.
  • Christopher Gagnon (CDOT), who was to give an update on bike parking.
  • Charlie Short (CDOT), who would have given an update about the Chicago Bicycling Ambassadors (formerly Mayor Daley’s Bicycling Ambassadors).
  • Carline Thomas (CDOT), who would discuss Share the Road updates.
  • Heather Way, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, “Lakeview Area Master Plan: Bicycle Facilities for Change”
Ash Lottes, present at this meeting, reminded me, “When you only meet every three months there’s no excuse for bumping speakers from the agenda.”

Read the Chicago Bicycle Program’s meeting minutes or watch a video recording on the Bike 2015 Plan website

Updated September 22, 2011, to add a new comment about the Jackson Boulevard protected bike lane; added links to CDOT’s one-sheet informational pages for Elston Avenue and 18th Street protected bike lanes, which present traffic data. 

34 thoughts on “Highlights from MBAC, and room for improvement”

  1. Steven,
    Thanks for the update. Hope you can make covering the MBAC a recurring item on GRID. For the professional cubicle dwellers amongst the bicyclists, it is almost impossible to attend these meetings in person. That’s why a clear and detailed story about the items discussed is much appreciated!

    1. That reminds me, many other cities have their Bicycle Advisory Councils at 6 or 7 PM. The thought behind 3 to 430 PM was something like, “People can leave work early and then go home afterwards.”

    2. That reminds me, many other cities have their Bicycle Advisory Councils at 6 or 7 PM. The thought behind 3 to 430 PM was something like, “People can leave work early and then go home afterwards.”

      1. Thank you for posting the summary.  I agree with others that it is difficult to attend the meetings. 

        In my office, leaving at 5pm is considered “going home early (on time)”  If I took time off to attend these meetings it would have to be the situation of leave for 90 minutes and then return to work.  A start time of 4 would be slightly better, I could then just plan on coming in at 7 am instead of 8 am and leaving the office early while still working a full day.  A start time at 5pm would be ideal, since it would not involve taking time off to attend. 

  2. I’m excited because the Jackson lane is a mile and a half long. That’s a good deal longer than any of the others. It’ll be nice to get away from the buses as well.

    1. Jackson Boulevard from Halsted east to Franklin (?) was recently repaved. Without a bike lane, protected bike lane, or even marked shared lanes. This is disappointing. 

      I don’t like using the term “cycle track”, though, as that’s less descriptive of the purpose/intent of the new, for Chicago, facility type.
      As for “safer than we were before”, David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur are the experts on discussing “subjective safety”. We can talk about the most objective data we have, that of bike crashes, but when people still don’t want to get out and bicycle because they don’t *feel* safe, then nothing has changed. 

      Read about it here:

      1. I’m excited about the new bike lane on Jackson but I’m not surprised that they didn’t add one when they repaved Jackson east of Halsted. Drivers ignore the right turn lanes, I can’t imagine they’d really heed a bike lane (doesn’t stop me from riding it every morning).  I was frustrated this morning by the lack of signage about the torn up portion of Jackson.  I turned onto it at Wood and had to detour all the way down to Harrison after a few blocks because there was no indication of when it would end.  I’ll be sure to stay on Warren>Washington tomorrow.

          1. Not sure where exactly it starts and ends as I turned south on Loomis.  Peoria sounds about right given the construction stuff I saw riding down Jackson last week.  I should have taken that as a warning, but it looked like they were going to do some work on one side of the street.

            I read the article on Harrison St last week.  It was great timing since I surprised by that construction zone last Wed night riding home with a basket of groceries.

  3. It is ridiculous to bump speakers from a quarterly meeting. What that displays is a “we don’t care” attitude. If there was not enough time for all the speakers, why put them on the schedule?

  4. I also want to say thanks for providing a detailed summary for those of us who are very interested in all the bike-related developments, but can’t make it to the meetings. Much appreciated.

  5. I also want to say thanks for providing a detailed summary for those of us who are very interested in all the bike-related developments, but can’t make it to the meetings. Much appreciated.

      1. A different day of the week would work much better for me. However, I’m just one person and I recognize that any time/date will never be convenient for everyone. However, given the packed agenda and new public interest, maybe they could hold the meetings slightly more often than quarterly and continue the 90-minute limit. Maybe 8:00 to 9:30 am would allow more participation? or 4:30 to 6:00 pm?

  6. I think mornings were a much better time. Ideal for me would be 9a.m.
    Why not make it first thing in everyone’s day? How about donated coffee? It’s probably much easier for would-be new attendees to blow off in mid-afternoon when you’re tired, or have a few things to finish up.

      1. I think a poll is a great idea, but it better be promoted in ways that get beyond Grid and the Chainlink.  There are an awful lot of bicyclists out there who aren’t permanently linked to the internet.  Even I miss most of the discussions on Chainlink, and I’m practically a drooling internet addict.

      2. I think a poll is a great idea, but it better be promoted in ways that get beyond Grid and the Chainlink.  There are an awful lot of bicyclists out there who aren’t permanently linked to the internet.  Even I miss most of the discussions on Chainlink, and I’m practically a drooling internet addict.

        1. This issue pervades so many areas. How do you deal with the public when you want to raise tolls on the highway, fares on the CTA, or install protected bike lanes in a neighborhood?

  7. I wonder how the attendance at that special June 2009 meeting compares to the average attendance at any MBAC meeting.  I thought that meeting was pretty interesting, fun, and informative, but I think the feeling was that for all the effort that went into planning it, the meeting’s attendance disappointed. But I cannot remember the actual numbers, so I’m hoping I’m wrong.

    1. The number of attendees was lower than the average MBAC meeting. We could have explored additional promotional avenues. However, it was the first one and if that style of meeting continued, or an offshoot or hybrid, then perhaps word would catch on. 

      I feel that the purpose of MBAC meetings is unclear and unknown. Even I’m not sure. Is it a public meeting or presentation time?

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