Chicago proposes plan for safer city cycling

Cycle Track will separate cars and bikes along commuter route

An issue that continues to plague urban commuters everywhere is their close proximity to cars. Chicago is among the cities taking notice of the issue and proposing solutions to make city cycling safer.

To further separate cars and cyclists, Chicago is lobbying to add a bike lane along an underserved commuter corridor. If built, the lane will be called ‘Cycle Track’ and meant for use by both commuters and recreational riders. Chicago’s Department of Transportation have special plans for the lane, which include a physical barricade between the cyclists and automobile traffic.

The department have suggested a Jersey barrier or even a raised concrete planter box to separate the bikes-only lane from traffic. The lane is proposed to travel along Stony Island Avenue between 69th and 77th streets. These lanes will be constructed with money that is part of a US$3.2 million federal grant, and if these prove successful could result in other cities following this model.

“This type of bike route could offer a model for certain areas,” says Anne Alt of the Chicago Cycling Club, noting that the choice of road is a wise for an area that hasn’t been so cycle friendly. “Before the interstate highways were built, Stony Island was the equivalent of a highway for Chicago's south side. It still carries a very high volume of traffic at higher-than-average speeds for a city street.”

She notes that due to highways, rail lines, rail yards, industrial parks and waterways, Chicago's south side is one of the most challenging areas to travel by bike outside of one’s neighborhood, and the addition of the Cycle Track could make it a bit more cycle friendly.

“Compared to the north side, fewer streets go through for more than a few miles,” says Alt. “Those that provide good through routes tend to be more like highways and generally are not bike friendly. Stony Island has four lanes of traffic in each direction, plus a turn lane and wide median.”

The city's Department of Transportation also agree. Ben Gomberg, Bicycle Program Coordinator for the Chicago Department of Transportation says, “ facility like this would build on the bicycling infrastructure and programs the City has put in place over the last 20 years, and is another example of Chicago's efforts to provide safe and convenient places to bicycle.”

As planned, the Cycle Track will only offer a 1-mile stretch of protected bike lane, but on a busy commercial street with many possible destinations for cyclists. Alt says that it will connect some of the south side's most populous neighborhoods and offer another transportation option in an area with decent bus service but few train stations.

City planners believe it will help promote bicycling in the area, especially when compared to regularly marked bicycle lanes that run directly next to vehicle traffic, and are only separated by paint on pavement. More importantly the Cycle Track could provide a working model for future bike routes in similarly challenged locations.

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