Rotterdam’s Boulevards Demonstrate How to Make Chicago’s Bike-Friendly

Is this Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago, or a boulevard in Rotterdam? Both of them have a main drive and two service drives. Only one is designed for safe and convenient bicycling.
Is this Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago, or a boulevard in Rotterdam? Both of them have a main drive and two service drives. Only one is designed for safe and convenient bicycling. Photo: Steven Vance

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I’ve discovered few similarities between the city of Rotterdam, where I’ve been living for seven weeks, and Chicago. The most striking similarity is the nearly identical layout of the boulevard streets. While biking from my apartment in Rotterdam towards the cool neighborhood of Witte de With, I realized that as I was cycling on the side road of a wide street, I was really biking on a facsimile of Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago.

In the middle was a two-way “main drive,” where through traffic and buses ran, and on both sides, separated by a landscaped area, were one-way service drives for access to individual houses or apartment buildings – just like in Chicago. Other Chicago streets with this layout include Franklin Boulevard and Ogden Avenue.

The difference was that the city of Rotterdam implemented “filtered permeability,” by preventing motorists from driving more than one block at a time on the service drives. As a motorist driving on the service drive approaches the next intersection, there’s an “exit ramp” that carries vehicles over the landscaped area and onto the main drive.

chicago versus rotterdam boulevards
These two maps show boulevard layouts in Chicago (left) and Rotterdam (right). Where service drives meet main intersections on this street in Rotterdam, motorists must return to the main road while bicyclists can continue straight (in the dashed blue lines).

Side streets that intersect the boulevard can only be entered from the main drive, eliminating the possibility of using the service drive to get around a backed up intersection on the main drive in order to turn right.

A bike path connects the “end” of this service drive to the start of the next one, on the other side of the intersection. Of course, the sidewalks are continuous. Doing a similar layout in Chicago would require eliminating only about one car parking space per block.

The video demonstrates how it works. The Rotterdam design can’t exactly be copied and pasted here because of the parklike status of the landscaped area between the main and service drives in Chicago. But a modified design could still reduce through traffic on the residential service drives, thus making it an even more comfortable place to cycle on.

However, the area of asphalt could stay the same or even be reduced, and replaced with more green space, as the ramp over the median replaces the need for so much asphalt in the secondary intersections between the side street and the service drive.

The benefits of using existing infrastructure to accommodate bicyclists and residents simultaneously cannot be overstated. This way there’s no need to build separate bikeway, and simple traffic calming measures like bike-friendly speed humps would be inexpensive to built. Complete access to each and every building is maintained, yet residents would live on a slightly quieter block.

By Chicago standards, our city’s service drives are already pleasant to cycle on, but changes to eliminate non-local traffic and create better connections for cyclists at and through intersections would create truly livable streets.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

  • Chicagoan

    Great stuff, Steven.

    Did you take that photograph of the woman cycling on the Rotterdam boulevard?

    She was not ready for the photo!

  • undercover epicurean

    I’ve been making this argument for years! Existing infrastructure that could be retrofitted at minimal cost.

  • The similar between the boulevards in the two cities is uncanny. I think about it every time I ride on this boulevard (which was twice yesterday).

  • Yes, I took that photograph!

  • Glad to see that this concept is FINALLY getting some airtime here. A significant portion of the bikeway network in several Dutch cities is composed of shared service roads that are connected with a protected intersection but force motor traffic to join the main flow of traffic to continue on. Not only does it make better bikeways, but it also gives pedestrians shorter crossings and actually improves traffic operations as well by moving all driveways and minor streets off of the main road. The other good thing about this design is that frequently, people are allowed to bike in either direction on the service roads, meaning that no matter what side of the road one is on, it’s not hard to access destinations.

  • tooter turtle

    I thought about this recently while riding on the Logan Blvd. service road, as I was followed closely by the same impatient driver for several blocks.

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