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At Bike the Drive, Mayor Johnson promises better walk/bike/transit, riders thrill to a less car-centric DLSD

Mayor promises "abundant access to safe active transportation options", residents love biking DLSD largely without motor vehicle traffic

2:29 PM CDT on September 5, 2023

Eight lanes usually filled with metal boxes instead carried people on bikes. Photo: James Porter

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

Mayor Brandon Johnson pedaled in Active Transportation Alliance's 22nd annual Bike the Drive car-free ride last Sunday on DuSable Lake Shore Drive. He posted that the advocacy group told him "I am the first mayor to Bike the Drive." That's an interesting factoid, because the event was launched in 2002 under then-mayor Richard M. Daley, and kept going under Rahm Emanuel (who started cycling the perimeter of Lake Michigan on his first day out of office) and Lori Lightfoot.

Several bike-friendly alderpersons joined Johnson on the the cruise, including Daniel La Spata (1st), Will Hall (6th), Timmy Knudsen (43rd), and Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th).

Pulling onto DuSable Lake Shore Drive from Jackson Boulevard. Photo: Active Transportation Alliance

And, encouragingly, Johnson used his participation in the ride as a chance to restate his goal of making all of our city's neighborhoods safe and convenient places to bike, walk, and ride transit. "I’m committed to ensuring that all of Chicago has abundant access to safe active transportation options in order to create healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities," he posted.

While many sustainable transportation advocates were happy to read this, some urged the mayor to pick up the pace of improvements. For example, Segway tour guide Mike Perrino pointed out that one of the photos Johnson posted included the "ghost bike" memorial to Gerardo Marciales, 41, who was fatally struck by a red light-running driver in February 2022 as he crossed DLSD at Balbo Drive on a Divvy bike. While the Chicago Department of Transportation made some safety improvements to downtown crossings of the drive under Lightfoot, Perrino, who has organized traffic safety events at the site, argued more needs to be done.

But what did everyday Chicagoland residents have to say about bicycling a 15-mile stretch of DLSD largely without the danger, sight, noise, fumes, and vibrations of motor vehicle traffic?

Of course the Lakefront Trail already offers space for theoretically car-free biking and pedestrian activities next to DLSD. (Unfortunately it's not uncommon for motorists to unintentionally drive on the trail, or even do so on purpose to avoid highway congestion.) But several Bike the Drive riders told Streetsblog they enjoyed the freedom of having the entire outer drive to themselves.

"All the space on the road is so nice," said Vicki, who did the ride with longtime college friends Judy, Lisanne and Mary. "We’ve been doing Bike The Drive for 10-15 years now... There’s a bike trail on the other side, and it's a zoo. But on Bike the Drive, you can just spread out and talk.”

Lisanne, Mary, Judy, and Vicki. Photo: James Porter

On the other hand, John Goerner, who estimated that he’s been doing the Bike The Drive rides for 12-14 years, said the Lakefront Trail "is a lot better now that they separated the pedestrians from the bikes. That made a big difference.”

Alicia, who said this is her second time doing the ride, told Streetsblog she loved riding along the lakefront with no car traffic. “It’s very rare that you can ride down DuSable Lake Shore Drive in the street," she said. "It feels amazing – the streets are great.”

Clarence and Alicia. Photo: James Porter

Alicia's friend Clarence was on Bike the Drive for the first time after recently moving to Chicago. "I'm excited to be here and experience it," he said." I was living in Toronto and I’d bike occasionally, but I think the infrastructure of [Chicago] really makes it easy for people to get into biking.”

"It’s nice to see the people use the street without any cars on it," said Eric Soriano, who often rides to work. He'd said he'd like to see the Chicago do more to create a citywide, connected, protected bike lane network. "We’ve got a nice flat city, and we could make it safer by separating the cars and bikes."

Eric Soriano, right, and his son Jax. Photo: James Porter

As a four-year BTD vet Guerdy Jeanty's experience hasn't been seamless – last year she crashed after biking into a pothole. "The pavement is jacked. This year I’m being very self-conscious." She added that conditions are worse on the South Side. "When you get up north, the pavement is smooth." CDOT recently announced that this Friday it will start pavement patching on South DLSD from 31st Street to 57th Drive.

Guerdy Jeanty. Photo: James Porter

Despite that mishap, Jeanty is very enthusiastic about Bike The Drive. "For a couple of hours, you have the whole drive to yourself. That’s something to try and experience."

Indeed, experiencing the car-free highway raises the question, why does Chicago give eight travel lanes to private motor vehicles 364 days a year along our beautiful lakefront? Check out recent proposals by the Active Transportation Alliance and the grassroots advocacy group Better Streets Chicago to make the drive less car-centric as part of the upcoming North DuSable Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project.

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