Riders increase in Chicago, but so do crashes

38 percent hike in crashes in last decade, 43 killed in last seven years

Known as the Windy City or Second City, Chicago could unfortunately also be soon known as “Crash City” as bicycle related accidents have gone up 38 percent in the past decade. The intersection of Halsted and Chicago Avenue is considered one of the most dangerous in the city, but the answer as to why isn’t entirely clear.

More than 1,000 people have suffered “incapacitating” injuries since 2005 according to a state transportation department data analyzed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which has tracked crashes around the midwestern metropolis. In total 43 cyclists were killed in Chicago over the last seven years.

The Chicago Police Department tracked the number of bicycle related accidents – at least those that are officially reported – and found that from 2001 to 2011 there had been an increase of 38 percent of crashes. But there is another factor that must be considered.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that commuting by bicycle has also been on the rise, with 1.2 percent of commuters riding to work, a number that is up by a half-percent from a decade prior. That number also doesn’t include recreational ridership nor trips that are “non-commuting” such as to the store.

The Windy City has also worked to make Chicago a more bicycle friendly community, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel backing a plan that would see investment of $27 million on 100 miles of new protected and buffered bicycle lanes. These would be in place by 2015 if approved.

Additionally, Chicago is looking to follow New York City, Los Angeles and other communities by adopting a multimillion-dollar, city-wide, bike-sharing program. This will debut next spring and provide more than 3,000 bicycles, which will be available for rental from 300 stations.

Given all these initiatives it seems that the city is on the right path towards becoming bicycle friendly. So what is causing the crashes?

One problem is the usual feud between riders and drivers, as the latter have complained that bike lanes reduce the amount of space for cars and only serve to exacerbate the problem. The other is that Chicago is known for hot and humid summers, and cold and wet winters. The result is that roads, including bike paths typically are covered in potholes.

One solution may be more protected bike lanes.

“There’s some streets where you need to segregate the bikes, the pedestrians, the buses and the cars,” Gabe Klein, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, told The Chicago Sun-Times. “It makes a lot of sense to segregate users, and the operational efficiencies you get out of that are dramatic — and it’s much safer.”

But is this as much of a problem as the home town paper making it out to be? Unfortunately two wheeled pedal powered vehicles do tend at times to run into trouble – just as automobiles do.

What is likely needed is further studies to see what is causing the accidents – is it the potholes, the multi-lane intersections or just bad luck?

“It’s clear that reported bicycle crashes has increased, as has the number of people cycling to work,” Steven Vance, transportation planner and co-author of GridChicago.com, a blog about sustainable transportation, told BikeRadar. “But without additional data on the estimated number of crashes that occur and aren't reported, and the number of bike trips made for all purposes, it’s hard to say if the crash rate has increased.”

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