Chicago’s First Protected Bike Lane + Bike Box

Yesterday, while waiting at a red light on my bike, a woman with a baby on the back of her bike rolled up and stopped next to me. I waved and cooed to the baby until he smiled. Then his mother said, “Say hi,” and he did, flapping his chubby little hand, eyes shining under his helmet. The light turned green, she told me to go ahead and I told her to have a good day.

My friend Ash’s daughter, whom I photographed last week. Not the baby I saw yesterday, but equally adorable.

In an ideal world, sweet meetings like that would happen all the time. In reality, I very rarely see anyone bicycling on Chicago streets with a child. Even as more and more people, men and women, start bicycling for transportation, the venture still seems risky to most. The only way to get a substantial amount of people to bicycle in the city, especially parents with children, is to provide safe, separated infrastructure. Chicago needs protected bike lanes.

For 3 years I have been bicycling in Chicago on a daily basis. During this time, I have seen how easily and cheaply the city’s streets could be adjusted to accommodate protected bike lanes. (Easy and cheap relative to all the other construction projects going on. I know all of Portland’s bike infrastructure was created for the same cost as one highway interchange). This knowledge left me perpetually frustrated, because no one with power in Chicago seemed to care, despite the fact that bicyclists make up ~1/4 of the traffic along my commute route.

This week, Chicago’s disgraceful apathy has ended. All in the past 3 days, new Mayor Emanuel announced the first protected bike lane, CDOT started construction, and the scheduled complete date is next week. The city’s first protected bike lane will be on Kinzie Avenue where it crosses Milwaukee Avenue, leading into downtown. Currently, bicyclists make up 22% of the traffic along this stretch.

There are a few different ways bike lanes can be “protected.”  For this project, the street pattern will follow this order: sidewalk, curb, bike lane, painted buffer zone, parallel car parking, motor vehicle travel lane. While visiting the construction site, Steven Can Plan noticed that they are also building a bike box (where bicyclists can wait in front of motor vehicles at red lights) and a bike-only left turning lane at a big intersection.  Those are also firsts for Chicago.

You can watch the Mayor’s press conference below:

View more videos at:

[You have to sit through a car commercial before watching the press conference.]

Some choice quotes from Mayor Emanuel:

I want Chicago to be the bike friendliest city in the nation.

Speaking of the role bicycling plays in the city, he pointed out three factors for the future:

1) another means of transportation
2) people can do it with safety
3) as we attract businesses to Chicago, an integrated biking system to and from work is essential to the type of workers I want to see in the city of Chicago.

He noted that bicycling is:

Both an economic development essential tool and it adds to a quality of life that is essential to the city.

This particular project is only 1/2 a mile. But the Mayor announced that Chicago will build 100 MILES OF PROTECTED BIKE LANES OVER THE NEXT 4 YEARS!

Yes, you read that right: 100 miles of protected bike lanes.

Obviously, I am excited about these developments. My approval is conditioned on the city following through with its promises here, but for the first time since I started bicycling in Chicago 3 years ago, I’m seeing real and positive change.

I encourage everyone in Chicago to write the Mayor and thank him for his trailblazing support of safe bicycling infrastructure. Also, even more importantly, reach out to your Alderman to state your strong support for protected bike lanes and bike boxes. On June 21, I will attend an Active Trans Social with my Alderman Waguespack to voice my support. You can attend or organize a social in your neighborhood with the help of Active Trans.

{For much more detailed information on the Kinzie Avenue project, check out Steven Can Plan. He’s been doing an excellent job of reporting on this project and others around the city.}

{For more information about cycling with children, check out Kidical Mass.}

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23 thoughts on “Chicago’s First Protected Bike Lane + Bike Box

  1. Simply Bike says:

    Wow, this sounds really great! What a great step in the right direction, way to go Chicago!

  2. cycler says:

    Love the strong clear editorial tone of this post!
    Congratulations, and I’m envious!
    Ironic that the video is preceded by a car commercial, though :)

    Last night I was at a public meeting where the (nationally known) king of anti- infrastructure VC’s John Allen was arguing against building a cycletrack on a major arterial. But unlike 10 years ago, there was a real sense in the room that he was an outlier, and that this was the wave of the future, and that the city and the engineers were committed to this approach for the future.

    I’m so glad that Chicago not only has come to this approach, but that Rahm is willing to put his political will behind making it happen. Menino has become much more pro- bike, but he’s not willing to throw his weight behind it so completely. Cambridge of course, doesn’t have a strong mayor system, so it’s more a matter of committees and endless public input. On one hand it’s unimaginably tedious to make policy, but on the other, there isn’t a lightning rod for a backlash like in NYC.

  3. I want to see pictures of it when it is done.

    Here in Austin, our best bike line (and it is pretty amazing) looks something like this (starting from the right): sidewalk, curb, parallel parking, bike lane, motor lane, oncoming motor lane, ??? (I have never travelled this road in the opposite direction).

    One thing I always wonder about with separated bike lines is how to get out into traffic when I need to make a left turn. I really want to see how they are going to do it here, especially with that dedicated left turn lane. And… dude… they’re doing it in slightly over *A* week. And 100 miles in four years! Amazing!

  4. kt says:

    Chicago is so lucky to have Gabe Klein (guy speaking at the end of the video) leading your transportation department! The new mayor here in DC let him go which was a huge mistake – he did a lot of great projects here: separated bike lanes, at least one bike box that I know of, started the Circulator buses, and also started up the outstanding bike share. I love the guy and miss him!

    • Steven Vance says:

      I have heard nothing but great things about Capital BikeShare. Out of all the ones in the United States (and there aren’t many), DC’s seems to be the most successful (in terms of growth and daily ridership).

      • Andrew says:

        Do the bike sharers have to wear helmets? We have a scheme in Melbourne and Brisbane but our helmet laws make it very cumbersome – we have to think before we leave home and take our bike helmet everywhere with us in case we want to hire a bike…so not many people do this.

  5. Dave says:

    It’s great to see this happening more around the country. Portland has done a few small projects here and there, but there is still major political opposition to any kind of major effort to install comprehensive bicycle infrastructure, and it’s clear that the business and freight interests in the city (who generally oppose removing any car parking, or removing any automobile-designated space on roads) hold greater sway over politics than the citizens do (who often *want* bicycle infrastructure, and don’t mind losing a few car parking spots or a motorized travel lane here and there in order to make it happen).

    The biggest problem with our bicycle network in Portland still is cohesiveness. There are *spots* where it is great, but after 5 or 6 blocks, it just stops and you’re left riding on the road again, often with no transition or warning (that is, the bike lane just ends and dumps you out into a main traffic lane – or the cycle track just ends and you’re back on the road in a bike lane). This gets confusing for everyone involved (people on bicycles, walking, and driving), and therefore there’s a lot of backlash from everyone at the infrastructure that has been put in – so I hope that Chicago will really take this seriously and do it right from the beginning. If you half-ass it, nobody will be happy, and I think it really stunts the growth of separated infrastructure by cooling public opinion from all sides.

    This summer, Portland is testing removing car traffic from a small section of a street in downtown, because it was requested by the restaurants and bars along the street – the test is for 4 months, and if it goes well, they will look at making it a city ordinance (permanent).

    Anyway, here’s hoping this trend continues, and that we do actually get to a point where we aren’t designing streets, and then adding pedestrian and bicycle facilities to them, but that streets become thought of as space for everyone, and are designed that way from the get-go.

    • Sarah C says:

      I also live in Portland and agree with Dave about the cohesiveness issue. I live in North Portland and some of the worst spots I can think of are on Interstate and Williams/Vancouver – both major bike thoroughfares. You will be in a bike lane for many blocks then it disappears or is muddled with a bad traffic intersection.

      I bike a lot with my kids and I never take them in the bike lanes. I don’t even know that I would bike with them in the protected lanes when they are on their own bikes. Bike lanes tend to be on busy streets and they are not wide enough to make us comfortable with the trailer and other set ups. Also, the cohesiveness issue is worse when you are worried about your kid. Then you have the issue of busses, trucks, etc blocking the lane at any point. Same as for anyone else but I can’t trust a child to handle it as well as an adult.

      So, when Dottie writes about more people biking with kids – I can’t say that bike lanes is the solution to get more people out on bikes. It can increase overall cycling and numbers can bring a change in thinking. We tend to use quieter streets and greenways but when we do that we do not have as many as a person in a bike lane. I live on a greenway and would love to see it split down the middle – one lane would become a one way street for cars. You would need this for residents that live on the greenway. The other lane would become a protected (with a barrier between cars and bikes) two way bike path.

  6. Steve A says:

    My concern about “protected bike lanes” is that the “protection” not cause diversion falls to any cyclist wandering away from the middle. That and it not be considered an offense to leave the lane prior to wanting to make a left turn or avoid a “right cross.”

  7. Steven Vance says:

    Thank you for your strong words.
    “This week, Chicago’s disgraceful apathy has ended.”
    I’ve never been confident to say this on my own blog. Instead I write my feelings in less-strong question form.
    In my blog yesterday, I wrote:
    “What were Mayor Daley and the previous Transportation commissioners waiting for when it came installing modern and then-innovative bikeway facilities?”
    This is partly due to lack of priority about bicycling in the mayor’s office (despite his rhetoric about being the most bike friendly city in America) and partly because the mayor replaced the commissioner every 2-3 years.

  8. Sue says:

    Great news for Chicago! And I hope other cities get inspired by Mayor Emanuel’s enthusiasm and support.

  9. sean says:

    Congratulations Chicago. I think this is optimistic news for many cities. Chicago bicyclists will benefit directly, but those in other cities may as well as their political leaders see Chicago’s example and follow it.

    My one warning to Chicago residents, is that proposed bike lanes are not necessarily actual bike lanes. Here in NYC, some of the recent bike lane proposals have been put on hold or scaled back and significantly. For example, protected bike lanes scaled back to no bike lanes or useless “sharrows” – painted marking on the road encouraging drivers to share.

    Be watchful to make sure proposed construction actually happens.

  10. Eco Mama says:

    That’s great, I hope other cities follow suit. Would be a great source of jobs everyone’s clamoring for and get more people out of their cars, healthier, etc. It’s a big win-win.
    Eco Mama

  11. Julia says:

    For goodness sake however, don’t get carried away like NYC and force cyclists to travel in bike lanes only. If a person is capable and confident, she should be able/allowed to ride in traffic.

    This (only 3 minute) video seems to be getting a lot of play recently:

    Our own CBC radio even interviewed the film maker!

  12. Courtney says:

    This is so exciting!!! The idea of the bike box at red lights, as well as the bike only left turn lane is enough to make me squeal. Turning left is TERRIFYING for me, especially on busier stretches of traffic. I usually end up having to use the cross walks in order for me to feel safe enough to turn left. I’m happy so far with Rahm’s efforts in bettering the roads for bicyclists, as well as being green.

  13. Liesel Basil says:

    A protected bike lane would encourage more people to bring out their bicycles instead. Though coaxing people from their cars is rather difficult, everyone should try to look at it in terms of road safety. With more people on bike lanes, accidents would dramatically decrease.

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