Chicago, Cycling City

Chicago’s gained notoriety for many things, from the Italian Mob to, um, wind, but i bet you’d never have guessed that it aims to become America’s most bikeable city within the next 8 years. of course, every city should be loaded up with bike lanes and bike-friendly zones – in fact, if i had my way, i’d like to see every city in the world have a bike-ONLY zone at its heart – imagine how nice that would be…

Chicago's most infamous son, Al Capone - not, as far as we know, much of a cyclist....
Chicago’s most infamous son, Al Capone – not, as far as we know, much of a cyclist….

but i digress. Chicago’s biker-mayor, Rahm Emanuel and his traffic advisor Gabe Klein recently unveiled their Streets For Cycling Plan 2020, a pretty aggressive, full-on scheme that aims to have a 645-mile network of cycling lanes in place by 2020. these lanes won’t just be out by the rivers or on the country roads, but incorporated within the city streets – the aim (far too sensible surely for politicians to have come up with) is to have a bike lane withing half a mile of every Chicagoan.

that aim was one of three guiding principles behind the scheme, the others being to have more bike lanes where people actually live, and to build more lanes where ‘ridership’ is high whilst establishing infrastructure where ridership is currently low. that is something that needs to be redressed within first world countries where car ownership is common across the social classes – simply put, you’re more likely to get the middle and upper-classes out riding, as they have more expendable income, more free time and better access to information that encourages an active lifestyle. access to bike lanes for every citizen would help encourage every citizen to ride – and that has to be a good thing.

more people riding = less journeys by car which = a good thing

more people riding = less fat people which = less people getting sick which = savings for the local government which could = less taxes which = a good thing.

wait, is Chicago socialist? those godless Commies!

to get things off with a bang, the city nabbed a double lane section of a busy downtown street and turned it into a two-way cycle lane, banishing motor vehicles to the other side of the road. they even put in cycle traffic lights. just how did they manage to do this, without protests from angry motorists and those that make a living on the road, such as taxi drivers and delivery men?

amazingly, the moves drew very little negative criticism. the Chicago Department of Transport teamed up with the Active Transportation Alliance, a local nonprofit advocacy group that set up community meetings in nine areas of the city. over a year, the group’s volunteers met people who lived in those neighborhoods and thrashed out detailed maps which were then presented to the CDOT engineers, highlighting where the locals actually wanted the cycle lanes to be.

Gabe and Emanuel inspect the new bike lane
Gabe and Emanuel inspect a new bike lane

“To my knowledge,” says Lee Crandell, the Alliance’s director of campaigns, “no other city has involved the public as much as Chicago has.”

the cost of the whole 2020 project is said to be aiming at $91 million but the mayor and his team see this as more of an investment than a figure that is going to dent the city coffers negatively.

“It is said that the faster a credit card goes by your door, the less likely it is that card will be used in your store,” explains Crandell. “When someone is on a bike, they can just pull over, hop off, and park. And biking creates more bike-related businesses.”

in the video attached, Klein makes a note of the number of accidents that occurred on the street that was finally rescued from motor vehicles – he says that between 2006 and 2010 there were nearly 1,000 crashes, and that cyclists and pedestrians were involved in nearly 2/3 of the crashes that resulted in serious injuries, yet were involved in only 14% of crashes.with lots of traffic you have people hurrying to cross roads and cyclists dodging between buses and cars, a problem that is removed from city streets if motor vehicles are removed – yet another reason for reclaiming more city center roads.


Mayor Emanuel makes another point – ‘People are gonna ride their bikes to work, it’s going to happen,’ he says, and this is true, as the economic squeeze and environmental problems become more pressing. he goes even further to say that ‘you can’t be for a start-up high tech economy without being pro-bike.’ (and then he even talks about  bringing in effective gun law).

i like this guy, good for you Chicago, let’s hope this spreads.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

3 thoughts

  1. nice post. glad to see you branching out to transport advocacy. 🙂 I am equally glad to see Chicago stepping up to the plate and making sound and progressive transport choices. I hope we see more of this in the US.

  2. Great post!! I actually just posted something about this on my blog, too! Although I think I called it Bike 2015? Hmm…I’ll have to double check where I got that from and correct my mistake.

    But anyway, I love what Chicago (and the mayor) is up to, and it made me so excited to move back home. I like the pictures, too!

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