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Active Trans: Rahm Should Aim for 100 Miles of Bike Lanes Again, Not 50

Emanuel and Scheinfeld and Burnett on Milwaukee Avenue
27th Ward alderman Walter Burnett (wearing the cap), CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, and Mayor Emanuel inspect the city's in-progress bikeway network at last Friday's press conference. Photo: CDOT

Last week at a press event celebrating the installation of 103 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to build 50 miles of new bike lanes, including PBLs, over the next four years. The Active Transportation Alliance's new "Bikeways for All" campaign, launched on Monday, urges the mayor to double that goal.

In a press release. Active Trans director Ron Burke congratulated the city for reaching the milestone, noting that, along with the Divvy system, the new lanes have transformed bicycling "into a mainstream mode of transportation." However, the group says that, even with all the new lanes, only a third of Chicagoans who live outside of downtown have quarter-mile access to a protected lane, neighborhood greenway, or off-street trail.

The organization is asking the city to build 100 miles of these "low-stress bikeways" by 2020. "Even though the number of people cycling has multiplied, we still have a long way to go before the average person feels safe and comfortable getting on a bike to ride to work, run errands and drop off kids at school," Burke said.

The city uses the Orwellian phrase "buffer-protected" to refer to buffered bike lanes and considers them to be a type of protected bike lane, even though they offer no physical protection. Active Trans' 100-mile proposal wouldn't count buffered bike lanes, but it would include existing bikeways that are upgraded to low-stress routes.

Bikeways for all: access to low-stress bike routes
The Active Transportation Alliance has called on Mayor Emanuel to focus on building more low-stress bike routes because few residents currently have quarter-mile access to them.

Active Trans says the proposal is called Bikeways for All because it "would allow people of all ages and abilities to get around efficiently and comfortably on a bike." While's they're only calling for 100 miles of low-stress routes to be added by 2020, they've identified 180 miles of potential locations for the facilities. They say that if all 180 miles were built, 80 percent of Chicagoans would have quarter-mile access to a LSR.

While it might seem bold to propose a big expansion of the bike network in the middle of a city budget crisis, Active Trans notes that many of the bikeways could be federally funded. As it stands, the Chicago Department of Transportation mostly uses federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants to pay for bike projects. The Bikeways for All report states that CDOT uses less than 0.5 percent of its own budget to built bike routes.

In addition to expanding the bike network, Active Trans is asking the city to make it more equitable. The report states that while 82 percent of Chicagoans who live on the North Side have half-mile access to any type of bikeway, only 71 percent and 74 percent of those on the South and West Sides, respectively, have the same access. See a breakdown of the official community areas included in each region here.

proposed routes bikeways for all
The Active Transportation Alliance proposes upgrading buffered bike lanes to protected bike lanes, and building 180 miles of new, low-stress bike routes.

So far, the city’s implementation strategy has often been to build disconnected segments of bikeways here and there when opportunities arise, such as street repaving projects, with plans to link them up in the future. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said on Friday that increasing connectivity will be a goal for the next four years.

Bikeways for All recommends that creating a bike network that is seamless and intuitive to navigate should be a top priority. As maps in the report show, it’s currently impossible to bicycle between, or even within, neighborhoods on only low-stress routes.

Building more neighborhood greenways -- routes on traffic-calmed residential streets -- would be a great strategy for encouraging "interested-but-concerned" cyclists to ride more. Right now, the city only has 1.5 miles of neighborhood greenways. Both of the greenway streets are on the North Side, and neither of them involve the traffic diverters that are commonly found on other cities' bike boulevards.

The Berteau Avenue Greenway involved lowering the speed limit to 20 m.p.h., installing a contraflow bike lane, adding curb bump-outs to calm traffic, and removing excess stop signs. Another project on Wood Street, simply added a contraflow lane, plus some shared-lane markings, a bike box, and "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs.

One of the novel aspects of the Bikeways for All Report report is their proposal for temporarily reserving travel lanes for bikes and buses at certain times of day. For example, Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park gets tons of cyclists, but there isn't enough right-of-way to build protected lanes without stripping parking.

Perhaps cars could be banned from the southbound lane during the morning rush, and from the northbound lane during the evening rush. After all, drivers can use the Kennedy Expressway or Elston Avenue as alternatives for traveling between the Northwest Side and downtown.

At the press conference for a new public bike parking facility in the West Loop on Monday, Emanuel gave a non-answer to a DNA reporter's question on whether he will follow Active Trans' recommendation to double his bike lane goal. Even if he doesn't increase its mileage target, hopefully Bikeways for All will inspire CDOT to prioritize building low-stress routes and fill in network gaps.

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