Imprecisions in widely shared Reuters article on Chicago biking

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People ride their bikes across the point at which Milwaukee Avenue was measured to have a mode share of 22% bicycles. 

These are important to mention because they will be shared again and again. While nothing was inaccurate, there was definitely space to clarify and expand. Original article.

1. “[Gabe] Klein hopes the percentage of trips taken by bike will rise from under 2 percent to 5 percent”

The percentage of “trips taken by bike” (for any purpose) is not known. We only know the percentage of trips taken by bike to work, and it stands at 1.4% right now.

The goal of the Bike 2015 Plan is to have 5 percent of all trips under 5 miles be by bike. But we won’t know when we achieve that because we lack baseline data: no survey collects the data on trips by bike for all purposes and categorizes them by distance – there was a household travel survey in 2007-2008 from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), but only for counties and not Chicago. I have written many times before about the “missing data” and baseline data problem: One, two, three, four.

2. [percentage of trips taken by bike] “it’s already 22 percent at rush hour on Milwaukee Avenue”

This is only true at a single point on this very long street, and that point is at 640 N Milwaukee Avenue, not in the hipster neighborhoods of Wicker Park and Logan Square, where, to my knowledge, mode share has not been recently measured. The measurement was taken in September 2009.

3. “But both [Gabe] Klein and bike advocates said the city will have to proceed with care and lots of outreach to avoid the kind of pedestrian and driver backlash seen in New York”

Such outreach hasn’t made itself evident yet. For the protected bike lanes, the City has stated it has talked to businesses along the routes. But it has not talked to residents nor engaged the public in planning meetings or design charrettes.

The backlash in New York City the author refers to is about a two-way, protected bike lane on Prospect Park West.

4. “Protected paths, as well as [Rahm] Emanuel’s plans for a new vertical park for cyclists and pedestrians on an old railroad bed”

The Bloomingdale Trail is not a plan by Mayor Emanuel, but by a group of residents who organized themselves into Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail; however he has committed to finishing the project in his first term and it progresses. It’s an above-ground horizontal park.

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The Bloomingdale Trail is on one plane. 

I think that author Mary Wisniewski knows all of these things, though, as she wrote about them for the Chicago Sun-Times.

11 thoughts on “Imprecisions in widely shared Reuters article on Chicago biking”

  1. Mary Wisniewski’s repeated use of the term “bike paths” is irritating since “bike path” connotes a recreational path or trail found in a forest preserve or a park. I have nothing against recreational biking but using “bike paths” term in place of more precise terms such as “dedicated bike lanes”, “shared bike lanes” and “protected bike lanes” reinforces the mistaken notion that bikes are toys. Moreover it makes the author look out of touch.    

    1. I also don’t like “bike path” (or “bike routes”) in labeling bike lanes, marked shared lanes, and multi-use trails. I prefer the all-encompassing term “bikeways”. It means any way created for a bicyclist. 

      I don’t think she is out of touch – maybe just writing for a wider audience? There’s still room to more accurately identify things. 

  2. The new administration loves figures with no context. Their policies are all 11!

    Eleven on a scale of what, they’re not saying.

    1. The lack of context may also be a result of the person reporting it. Writers have a lot of room to paraphrase and choose what part of quoted text is included or excluded. 

      I understand what you mean. I try not to report figures without context or sources. Call me on it if I do, please. 

  3. Question: When Gabe Klein uses Portland, Oregon’s 8%  “trips taken by bike” as a benchmark, does he adjust for weather conditions or assume that the 4 months of the year in Chicago with snow and subfreezing temperatures vs. no months in Portland is no obstacle to achieving his goals?

    1. In the 2005-2009 5-year estimates in the American Community Survey, 5% of Portlanders aged 16 and older who had a job when asked the question reported that they rode a bicycle to work as their primary (distance wise) means of transportation.

      Here’s the data.

      I don’t know what the frequency is for ALL TRIP TYPES, which is more difficult to gather – you must have a different survey because the Census does not collect this information. In the same survey, the figure was 1.1% for Chicagoans. 

      The 2005-2009 5-year estimate is better than referring to 1-year estimates because it has a larger sample size (more people were asked that question). 

      1. I was using Klein’s comment in the Reuters article: “Klein said the work was needed to keep Chicago competitive with cities like Portland, which has a nearly 8 percent bike rate.”

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