City Has 83 Miles of Better Bike Lanes, Will Surpass 100 Mile Goal in 2015

Painting eastbound bike lane stripes
Crews stripe Kinzie Street, Chicago’s first protected bike lane, three and a half years ago. Photo: Brandon Souba

The Chicago Department of Transportation has nearly reached Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s much-ballyhooed goal of building 100 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes during his first term. CDOT staff at last week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting said that they’ve striped 83 miles of the better bike lanes so far, and plan to surpass the 100-mile mark next spring.

2014 saw substantial progress made on building out the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. 34 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes were striped this year, and now such lanes exist in 38 of the city’s 50 wards. As in prior years, almost all of these bike lanes have been buffered, rather than fully protected: This year, 30.75 miles of buffered lanes, and only 3.25 miles of protected lanes, were installed. Another nine miles of streets saw sharrows or conventional bike lanes added in 2014.

An additional 31.5 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes have been designed, and are planned for installation by the end of spring 2015 — giving the city a grand total of 114.5 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes.

Additional greenways, curb separated bikeways, and other safety improvements continue to be coordinated with the city’s ongoing street resurfacing projects. Yet work on some street could always be coordinated better, as with the recently repaved stretch of Garfield Boulevard between King Drive and the Dan Ryan Expressway. That project also included bulb-outs and improved pedestrian crossings, but bike lanes remain only a future possibility. Garfield, from Western Avenue to King Drive, is marked as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan.

A neighborhood greenway is being studied along 97th Street, west of the Dan Ryan and the Red Line’s 95th Street station. If it’s completed, the greenway would include a contraflow bike lane along Lafayette, between 95th and 97th, to link the bikeway to the busy station.

Unfortunately, Chicago’s record of bike fatalities in 2014 has been much worse than in 2013. Since September, another bicyclist died after a crash at Lincoln Avenue and Addison Street, due in part to a speeding driver. Eight bicyclists have been killed so far this year in Chicago, compared to three fatalities in all of 2013.

CDOT’s education and outreach program, the Bicycle Ambassadors, had another busy year across the city. During the 2014 season, they reached 83,000 people at 650 events (including 212 school events at 108 schools), gave 2,200 citations at 150 enforcement events, fitted 1,600 helmets, and visited 154 park district day camps.

As Streetsblog reported earlier, CDOT will try out a new snow removal strategy on protected bike lanes this year, and CDOT staff at the meeting elaborated on their plans. On “snow emergency” streets, where on-street parking is prohibited after snowfalls, bollards have been removed for the winter to allow the Department of Streets and Sanitation to more effectively clear snow from curb to curb. On other streets, bollards have been left in place and CDOT will use narrower vehicles to clear the protected bike lanes.

CDOT has already done outreach at locations where neighboring property owners have made a habit of dumping snow in bike lanes in recent winters (notably downtown, along Dearborn and Kinzie). CDOT aims to have a more proactive response to snow this year, and will work with Streets and Sanitation to improve operating procedures and ensure better bike lane conditions.

  • rohmen

    Not to be a downer, but I’m interested to see how well the City keeps up with the lanes once the goal is reached. Installing new lanes creates a juicy news item, but maintaining the lanes has so far seemed to be a pretty low priority for Rahm’s administration. The paint is already pretty bad on some of the newer lanes. At some point, I guess I’d want to ask the question of whether its better to have 100 miles of lanes kept in poor repair, or less miles but a real commitment from the City to upkeep the system.

  • Fred

    In 2014 there’s money to be made in chemistry that results in barf flavored jelly beans, but not paint that actually permanently sticks to Chicago pavement.

    I’m not surprised that politicians don’t want to fund un-sexy re-striping projects; my mind is blown that with modern chemistry re-striping is even necessary at all. Does this technology really not exist, or is this a lowest-bidder/government contractor issue?

  • Pat

    Agreed. And while we’re at it, someone come up with a better substitute for asphalt.

    Some of it really is the latter though. Many contractors have done a crappy job or striped under conditions that it wasn’t meant for, only to have to do it again. I do believe there are some warranties on the work, but probably only a year.

    My main issue is building out these lanes (or repaving streets for that matter) only for them to get torn up by utilities and the poor job they do returning them to the as-is condition. The city needs to do a better job of making sure when a cut is made in a street, that it is repaved properly. There are too many shoddy patches that end up resulting in mounds and craters

  • Personally I vote for more miles.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    When you get federal money for the installation of bike lanes, but no federal money for upkeep, this is what happens. Where the last fatality happened the paint is nearly gone.

  • There needs to be a line-item in each yearly approved budget for “maintainance and replacement of pavement markings.” Right now it’s only ever paid for out of new projects or alderman menu funds, which is ridiculous.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    In the last few days I have gone over Los Angeles Police Department bicycle collision data. Like Chicago, Los Angeles also started aggressively installing bike lanes mid 2011. For 2011 there were 7 bicycle fatalities in collisions with motor vehicles in Los Angeles. In 2012 there were 10 and this rose to 15 in 2013. From fiscal years 2012 through 2013 there were 151 miles of bike lanes installed in Los Angeles.

    The 2013 Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) results for bicycle commuting in the city of Los Angeles rose 20% to 1.2%, compared to 1.0% in both 2011 and 2012. The rise in bicycle fatalities is not likely to be caused by bicycling becoming more dangerous, but by a significant increase in the number of people riding a bike.

    I would also expect the 2014 ACS bicycle commuting results to rise in Chicago due to the miles of bike lanes installed since 2011 and the the increase in the number of bicycle fatalities as a result of more people riding bicycles.

  • undercover epicurean

    Same is true for anything. Most voters don’t understand the difference between capital and operating budgets.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Is raw number of fatalities a good measurement? By that logic, my old hometown in Florida is one of the best places in the world to ride a bike (no one rides there). Fatalities per mile traveled is probably better.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Fatalities per mile traveled would be a better measurement, unfortunately that data for these specific years is not available to my knowledge.

    The point I was trying to make is that a sudden large increase in bicycling fatalities is probably due to a large increase in bicycling. The LA county MTA counted a 42% increase in bicycle boarding’s at transit train stations (most of them located in the city of LA) in 2013. There was also a 50% increase in bicycle collision fatalities with motor vehicles for 2013 in the city. It didn’t suddenly become much more dangerous to ride a bicycle in the city of Los Angeles over the last two years. The large increase in bicycle fatalities were the result of a significant jump in the number of bicycle trips in that period of time.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    There are no lanes of any kind on a large portion of city streets, someone needs to just create a budget for restriping streets period. The lack of lane lines and center lines and bike lane lines where they used to be is appalling.

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