WGN TV’s bike lane map transforms Chicago into Copenhagen overnight


Don’t be fooled by the bike lane map that WGN TV displayed yesterday morning on television. There’s a stark difference between the lines on that map, which denotes the location of all bikeway types (a part of transportation infrastructure, with pavement markings) and recommended bike routes (not a part of transportation infrastructure, without pavement markings), and the lines you see on the ground (a large portion of which are faded). A superimposed “bike lane” sign and the single color representing the aggregated bike lanes, marked shared lanes, and recommended routes, make it seem as if there are more bike lanes than actually exist.

Chicago doesn’t provide an up-to-date online map, but occasionally updates the bikeways geodata on its open data portal (which I used to create the right side map of the above image). The City is short 20 miles of protected bike lanes for the first year of four (25 miles per year, 100 miles total), which ended May 16, 2012.

Watch the TV segment filmed at a spinning class at the Bean – as part of Bike to Work Week – or read the partial transcript below.

Host: “And that suggested map is where you would be the safest, Charlie?”

Charlie Short, Chicago Bicycling Ambassadors coordinator: “Absolutely, it’s really easy to get from one place to the next on the map, whether it’s on a regular bike lane or one of the recommended routes”.

Host: “Cause we have bike lanes now”.

Charlie: “We do. We have a lot of bike lanes. We have over 100 miles of bike lanes. That’s just regular bike lanes. We also have protected bike lanes that keep riders more safe than they would be just on the street”.

Grid Chicago isn’t aware of research that shows the impact on bicyclists’ safety (usually a measurement in the change of crashes and injuries) when cyclists use recommended routes. Recommended routes do not have markings or signage that indicate how people driving or bicycling should use that part of the road; recommended routes should not have been included in the WGN’s on-screen map, or the distinction between marked, on-street facilities and “passive recommendations” should have been made more clear.

12 thoughts on “WGN TV’s bike lane map transforms Chicago into Copenhagen overnight”

    1. It wouldn’t be very hard for them to show an actual map – just zoom into a printed one. Or they could have taken the bike map PDF and zoomed into it. Instead someone created a Google Map with all bikeway types/classes shown and merged them into a single color.

      1. Most of the reason I don’t watch the news is they tend to over-exaggerate or fabricate everything. This is a perfect example of this. The person who made this map knew exactly what they were doing. Don’t forget that WGN is nationally broadcasted. They have an agenda to make Chicago look good to the whole country.

        1. Huh, I was guessing that you were going to say that they have an agenda to portray existing bicycle infrastructure as more than adequate, allowing an argument against spending any more money on it.

          1. There are a lot of subtle ways to mislead with maps. But this one is hardly subtle. They merged every bikeway into one class and called it a “bike lane”. With the graphic, and implied it with the conversation. 

            If you’d like to know about those subtle ways to mislead with maps, there’s a GREAT book: How to Lie with Maps.

            I use the book Making Maps to help me avoid them (but it doesn’t actually instruct one how to be critical in evaluating maps). 

  1. They’re not lying, they’re just lazy. Somebody turned on the Bicycling layer in Google Maps, omitted the off-street trails, and made all the remaining lines solid orange, and then somebody else overlaid the “Bike Lane” logo because a producer told a graphics person that the map was for a segment on “bike lanes or whatever,” or some similarly vague wording, and who’s going to argue with Google Maps with a deadline in 5 minutes?

      1. I think it’s the result of a low level of professionalism. There are many ways they could have accurately described and displayed a map of bike lanes or bikeways but they chose not to.
        A transit equivalent of this is saying that Chicago has a lot of rapid transit lines and then showing a map of CTA train lines and Metra train lines as the same color. Metra is not rapid transit, except on some lines during some periods of the week.

        1. I’ve seen that happen, too. Don’t ever buy maps at souvenir stands.

          Doesn’t one of the WGN traffic reporters bike to work, or used to? The one everyone castigated a few years ago for blogging about all the new clothing and gear she found herself needing as a bike commuter? Anyway, if you could track her down, it might be interesting to get her opinion on this.

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