Dearborn Street’s celebrity status skyrockets


Active Transportation Alliance posted a 1:50 video showing before and after conditions

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.

“More than just bike benefits”


The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) produced their own 1:50 video interviewing Chicago transportation commissioner Gabe Klein about the economic benefits of building bicycle infrastructure and showing scenes from the press conference and of people bicycling in the Dearborn Street bike lane.

“Back to the Future moment”

Architecture “observer” Lynn Becker reviewed how this new piece of infrastructure fits into the history and culture of Chicago, then and now. The following are unconnected excerpts.

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.

Read on for Becker’s full commentary and a video of Klein and Emanuel’s speeches.

“It’s in beta”

Brendan Kevenides, bicycle lawyer, and author of the blog, My Bicycle Advocate, published a video taken by helmet camera alongside his review.

Usually, the Loop is deserted on a Sunday. However, today being only nine days until Christmas it was quite busy with both pedestrians and motor vehicles.

All and all I enjoyed the experience. It was down right luxurious to have space to ride through the Loop that I as a bicyclist could call my own. That said, the new bike lane is definitely in beta, and as such, great caution should be taken when riding it. Many pedestrians and motorists clearly do not know how to deal with the new infrastructure.

Kevenides helpfully advises a taxi driver, seen in the video, that the taxi stand had been moved, offset from the curb.

“We’re no longer accepting traffic fatalities”

Brent Cohrs, writing for the Chicago Now family of blogs, discusses traffic safety in Chicago with an empirical perspective, and how the Dearborn Street bike lane moves us towards the goal of zero fatalities.

Dearborn Street in Chicago’s Loop is fast becoming a complete street. The new, two-way, protected bike lane on this one-way northbound thoroughfare separates cyclists from other road users. Bicyclists are physically buffered from the opening doors of parked cars and protected from left-turning motorists by dedicated traffic signal phasing. Motorists making left turns will not encounter cyclists in the bike lane or pedestrians in the crosswalk as they follow their own left turn signals.

Dearborn Street prior to the new bike lane had the capacity for 40,000 vehicles per day yet it saw only 13,000. The result was too many travel lanes which encouraged speeding between traffic lights. Eliminating one lane of traffic for the bike lane and door buffer zone will slow the street down, making it safer for everyone who uses it.

Cohrs mentions the costs of traffic crashes, which are never part of the discussion when the Texas Transportation Institute releases its annual report of the costs of congestion, always lower than the costs of lost or injured lives.

Emanuel wants your cyclists

At the press conference last Friday, Mayor Emanuel quoted envious statements from Seattle Bike Blog and Bike Portland: “I expect not only to take all of their [Seattle and Portland’s] bikers but I also want all the jobs that come with this, all the economic growth that comes with this, all the opportunities of the future that come with this.”

Seattle Bike Blog appreciated that and wrote about it, saying, “The great cities of the Pacific Northwest no longer have a free ride as the top bicycling cities in the United States.”

“Squeezed no more”


Payton Chung, a former Chicago bicycling advocate now living in Washington, D.C., posted to his blog a photo of him cycling on Dearborn Street that the Chicago Tribune used on its website in 2008.

Hey, anyone else remember this photo? I used to squeeze through fast-moving traffic on Dearborn daily and recall more than a few close calls that resulted with cabs, buses, cars, even pedestrians.

Well now, thanks to a new cycle track, those bad old days are just a memory.

But how does it feel to ride?

Michelle Stenzel, co-chair of the Bike Walk Lincoln Park community group, took a spin on the cycle track with her husband on Sunday.

After riding it both ways now twice, my opinion in a nutshell: Fantastic. I’m so used to being buzzed by fast-moving cars in the Loop and being very tense from having to concentrate really hard. This lane allows me to relax and enjoy the ride! Whether heading southbound or northbound, I can just roll slowly, knowing that either parked vehicles and/or bollards are keeping moving vehicles from getting physically close to me. All I have to do is watch for green light in the shape of a bike, which is downright fun.


Stenzel riding northbound from Van Buren. 

Stenzel also pointed out the several neighborhood eateries at the south end of the bike lane (Harrison, Polk) that she and her husband are looking forward to dining in.


Several who’ve ridden the lane, myself included, have noted how the southbound lane floods. I am confident this is a solvable problem, as is the issue of people walking or standing in the bike lane. I’ll close this collection of feedback with a beautiful image and statement from @maryrachel on Twitter:

[tweet_embed id=280847976954482689]

21 thoughts on “Dearborn Street’s celebrity status skyrockets”

  1. I think the new bike lane is great as long as we can figure out how to keep the cops and cabbies out of it. Still much better than my old route into the Loop using Wells. The flooding is also an issue, as are the missing bollards and Kathy plates on the bridge. I hear those will be fixed soon, though. In addition, pedestrians seem to be using the bike lane as an extended sidewalk or crosswalk while waiting for the light to change. How do we fix this problem?

    1. The City has posted “safety ambassadors” at each intersection (at least on Friday and Monday they were there). These staffers are talking to people and handing out flyers that describe to people on bikes, in cars, on foot, how to use/cross Dearborn Street.

      I received a report this morning of a laundry truck parked in the bike lane. I think for the first few weeks, a police officer or parking ticket writer should be walking up and down the street educating delivery persons.

      1. The new buffered bike lane on L St NW in Washington has stanchions not only alongside the lane, but also at the block entrance. It takes a little bit of maneuvering, but they’re also not nearly as dangerous as the metal bollards often posted at trail entrances.

        Adjustment to these lanes always takes several months: I counted 14 signs per block on 1st Ave in Minneapolis trying to get people not to park in the bike lane, and years later the message is finally beginning to sink in. I’ll grant, though, that a car parked in a buffered cycletrack is MUCH harder to evade, and therefore much more dangerous and obnoxious, than a car parked in a bike lane.

    1. There’re only 4 videos that I know of (2 embedded on this article; 1 linked; 1 I took and posted Friday) and the bike lane’s been open for 90 hours. So chances are not that great you’ll see many people on it at all.

      1. There are a lot of potential Dearborn users being directed down Clark instead. The detour sign near the Wells Street bridge is still directing cyclists down Clark, and I see many people still doing so. The sign should be changed to direct bike traffic down Dearborn instead.

    2. I ride southbound in the morning. I think Adam does, too, and I know there are others. I have seen a few, even at 8:00 a.m. when I am there.

  2. Can we get those safety ambassadors to start draining the water off the pavement, too? Just wait until there’s a freeze and all the cyclists start hitting the patches of ice near Madison.

    (p.s. this morning, the “safety ambassadors” weren’t doing anything about those right-turners from Dearborn onto Madison… wonder why)

    1. Because the safety ambassadors inexplicably don’t bother to direct any attention or blame to motorists breaking the laws – only pedestrians and cyclists.

        1. I assumed the OP was erroneously referring to motorists illegally turning left on red, but I could be mistaken.

  3. There was a big construction truck parked in the lane a little bit south of Kinzie this morning. I talked to the workers and they said, “We’re not parking, we’re unloading a truck.” I pointed to the loading zone but they waved me off. I called the police and waited around for five minutes but then I had to leave, so I don’t know if anyone ever came.
    I don’t know why people parked in the bike lanes on Kinzie and Dearborn irritates me so much. I guess going southbound on Dearborn it’s particularly annoying because there is literally no other way to travel down the street (on Kinzie you can at least merge into traffic, which I know is dangerous).
    At any rate, it seems important to me that the police be vigilant in ticketing people who park in the Dearborn bike lane.
    I did see one of the orange vest guys doing a good job of keeping pedestrians out of the lane at Dearborn and Washington. That was nice to see. 🙂

    1. I think it annoys you because the city went way out of their way to provide us with good-quality cycling infrastructure and some people choose to blatantly ignore that and ruin it for everyone.

  4. Any idea of how much it cost to complete this project? It was stated previously–by a Chicago official–in a previous Grid Chicago article that the city is averaging $170,000 a mile to install barrier protected bike lanes.

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