Thursday, August 23, 2012

Will Protected Bike Lanes in the Loop Reduce Bike Accidents in Chicago?

Earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a plan to build protected bike lanes in the Loop. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the newest protected bike lanes will run along Dearborn Street in the Loop and will include red lights for bicycles. The lanes on Dearborn will run in both directions from Polk Street to Kinzie Street.

This announcement reaffirmed Emanuel’s commitment to make Chicago a biker-friendly city. Dating back to his campaign for Mayor, Emanuel has held firm to his goal of making Chicago the best big city for bicycling in the United States.  Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, to be released later this month, sets forth a strategy to achieve Emanuel’s goal of making Chicago the best big city for bicycling in America. While speaking at Malcolm X College in early August Mayor Emanuel stated, “By next year I believe the City of Chicago will lead the country in protected bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes, and it will be the bike friendliest city in the country.”

In protected bike lanes, bicycle traffic runs along the curb, and is protected from street traffic by skinny plastic pylons. If street parking is permitted in an area of the protected lanes, the cars park next to the plastic pylons, several feet away from the curb. The lanes are designed to protect bicyclist from the dangers of bicycle accidents. While the plastic pylons do not act as an actual barrier from cars, what it does it clearly define the area for bicyclists and act as a warning to motorists that bicyclists are common and present. This is what planners call "traffic calming measures." 

By the end of the year the Chicago Department of Transportation will install 34 miles of new bike facilities, including:
  • A two-way north-south protected bike route through the Loop on Dearborn Street from Polk Street to Kinzie Street.  The City will also extend the Kinzie bike route east to meet up with this new route.  The Dearborn bikeway will separate bicyclists from high-speed traffic and include bicycle signals to separate bicycle and motor vehicle conflicts.
  • The City’s first “Neighborhood Greenway” to begin construction later this summer on Berteau Avenue, connecting the bike routes on Lincoln Avenue and Clark Street.
  •  The start of the Milwaukee Avenue “spoke route,” which will provide a safe and comfortable bikeway connection between the popular Kinzie and Elston protected bike lanes. 
  •  New buffered bike lanes as part of a “road diet” on South Chicago Avenue that will increase safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.  The improvement will work to reduce crashes along South Chicago Avenue, which is consistently ranked as one of the city’s highest crash corridors.
  •  Newly installed protected and buffered bike routes on parts of: Wabash Avenue; Halsted Street, Jackson Boulevard, 55th Street, 31st Street, Clark Street, Martin Luther King Drive and the West Side Boulevards. 
However, the question remains how much protection these lanes will actually provide to bicyclists. Regardless of the numbers of traffic calming measures, the users of the roadways, bicyclists and motorists alike, have to cooperate and abide by the traffic laws and regulations to make bicycling safer and reduce the number of bicycle accidents in Chicago.

If you have any questions regarding this post or an issue involving a bicycle accident or Illinois personal injury law, please contact Illinois Bicycle Attorney Mike Keating at 312-208-7702 or 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All e-mails and phone calls are returned promptly. All initial consultations are confidential and free.