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CDOT’s “Safe Cycling in Chicago” Info Booklet Rides Again

Cover of the new booklet.

The Chicago Department of Transportation bike program recently updated a classic: the city’s “Safe Cycling in Chicago” guide. The new version of the booklet, loaded with useful info for newcomers to urban biking, was released a few weeks ago. CDOT has also printed about 10,000 hard copies for distribution via the Bicycling Ambassadors and other outlets.

Back in the early 2000s, cycling educator Dave “Mr. Bike” Glowacz created the guide for the city, basing it on his popular book “Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips.” The booklet has been updated every few years since then, most recently around 2011, according to Charlie Short, CDOT’s bike and pedestrian safety and education manager. Although online publications have become increasingly important since "Safe Cycling" debuted, many Chicagoans who might benefit from the booklet may have limited Internet access, so it's still important to print hard copies.

The guide is a great resource for people who are interested in bike commuting in the city, but aren’t sure how to get started. There are tips on how to shop for a new or used bike, register it, and equip it for all-weather riding and carrying cargo. The booklet explains basic maintenance, including detailed instructions on fixing a flat.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 2.48.00 PM
Description of buffered and protected bike lanes.

Novices can get advice on how to safely and legally ride in traffic. For instance, it explains why riding against traffic is a bad idea, even though many Chicagoans mistakenly believe it’s the safest option. Other info includes secure locking procedures, what to do after a crash, and how to deal with wet or wintery weather.

New in this edition are a list of state and municipal bike laws and an explanation of how buffered and protected lanes function – these types of bikeways didn’t exist in Chicago when the last version was printed. Images of contemporary bike styles have been added, and half-toned photos have been replaced with line drawings to make them easier to understand and photocopy.

CDOT will be publishing a Spanish translation of “Safe Cycling” early next year, at which point all city bike handouts will be available in both English and Spanish. In the future, all bike publications will be released in both languages simultaneously, Short said.

The new “Safe Cycling” is a nice-looking, easy-to-understand document. One suggested tweak for future versions: add images that reflect the broad demographics of cycling in Chicago. While the booklet features some well shot photos by Serge Lubomudrov, almost all of the people in the published images appear to be young, white adults in North Side locations.

It would be great to see more images of people of color, kids, and seniors, in various parts of the city. CDOT has done a good job with this in other bike publications, such as the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.

Cover of the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, shot from the 18th Street bridge.

Streetsblog writer Steven Vance also feels there’s a little too much emphasis on purchasing specialized gear for riding in the dark, wet and cold, such as safety vests, shoe covers, balaclavas and goggles, which may be a turnoff to would-be riders. He feels it would more productive to emphasize that all you need for year-round cycling is your street clothes and a set of lights and fenders. “Dressing for cold-weather biking is really not that hard -- wear whatever you normally wear when walking to the bus stop,” he said.

Those critiques aside, it's great that this handy start-up guide for new cyclists is updated and back in print.

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