Chicago Loop’s First Protected Bike Lane


Chicago now has a protected bike lane going through one of the busiest areas of downtown, the first of its kind in the central Loop district.  The lane is on Dearborn, a one-way street that formerly had three travel lanes and two parking lanes.  My experience bicycling on this street was always pretty scary: drivers exceeded the speed limit and constantly changed lanes with no warning and there were often conflicts with turning vehicles.

With the new protected bike lane, everything is different.  Dearborn feels miraculously safe.

Dearborn now has two main travel lanes, two parking lanes, and a two-way protected bike lane.  The protected bike lane is directly next to the curb, separated from car traffic by the parking lane and bollards.  The two-way bike lane allows bicyclists to use Dearborn to go both north and south, while cars can go only north.  Bicycle-specific stoplights are included at every intersection, next to the regular stop lights.  Conflict with turning cars is now eliminated, as cars may turn left only on a green arrow.  When the bicycle light is green, the car turning arrow is red and vise versa.  The turning arrow is activated only when a sensor picks up the presence of a waiting car.  Brilliant!


Two-way protected bike lane on Dearborn


Stop light for bicyclists and dedicated left turn arrows for drivers


Lots of bicyclists enjoying the lane


Martha of Bike Fancy approves

The Dearborn protected bike lane opened for use on Friday. Here is a video I made of the inaugural ride.  I cut out the time waiting for stop lights and increased the speed twofold.  If you pay attention, you’ll see a clueless SUV driver ride in the lane for a block.  The final part of the video shows the crappy bike lane after the protected bike lane ends.  I hope the city extends the protected lane further in the spring.

Prior to the inaugural ride, there was a press conference.  The speakers included our kick ass CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and Mayor Emanuel.  For those really interested in the wonky side, here is a video of their speeches (and you can sometimes see me in the background looking very serious).

Here is an illuminating video that Active Trans put together, showing the before and after conditions.

Hat tip to the always-excellent Grid Chicago for making me aware of these videos and for their top-notch reporting on the Dearborn lane and other Chicago developments.

I am so, so, so hopeful about all of this! All I want to do is get to work and back safely, efficiently and happily on my bicycle – finally, those in power are investing in this as a worthy goal. I look forward to more serious improvements in the spring when construction season restarts in Chicago.

PLEASE say thank you to the politicians for the Dearborn protected bike lane.


My ride on the Elston Avenue protected bike lane
My ride down the Kinzie Street protected bike lane
The importance of protected bike lanes

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25 thoughts on “Chicago Loop’s First Protected Bike Lane

  1. Steven Vance says:

    Thank you for the link love, Dottie.

  2. meligrosa says:

    awesome! I thought of all you chicago peeps when I read that on the news/twitter mentioning your city’s mayor Emanuel :)

  3. Dennis Hindman says:

    Dottie, you’ve got the best video I’ve seen that shows the stark contrast between the stress-levels of riding on the same busy arterial street along a barrier protected bike lane compared to a unprotected bike lane.

    The protected bike lane had a SUV driver annoyingly traveling in it, but the unprotected lane had vehicles partially or fully blocking the bike lane, or pulling out in front of you from a parking space and a passenger door opening into the bike lane.

    It’s tough to get traffic engineers to understand the difficulties of riding along unprotected bike lanes on arterial streets unless they find out what the conditions are like by bicycling there.

    When the Dutch came to participate in the ThinkBike workshop in Los Angeles last year, the lead Dutch planner/traffic engineer Hillie Talens asked that everyone bike in the areas to be studied in much the same way that she insists traffic engineers under her in the Netherlands have too. The idea is to try and learn to plan traffic facilities from a cyclist’s perspective.

    I was also shocked to see that a female traffic engineer from the bikeways division of the LADOT was going to ride a bike for this workshop. She previously had a very strong look of horror and fear when I asked if she ever rides a bicycle in the streets.

    Here’s hoping that Chicago will inspire other cities to install barrier protected bike lanes. I consider that Chicago is starting to displace New York City as the northern star for guiding traffic engineers towards installing protected bike lanes in this country.

    A Green Lane Project article anticipates that 100 protected lanes will be built nationwide in 2013. Chicago will likely install a double-digit percentage of them:

  4. dukiebiddle says:

    The bike lane runs on Dearborn between what and what? Polk and Lincoln Park? Less? I’m looking all over the internet & I can’t find that info.

  5. perthbiker says:

    An interesting post. Perth city could learn a lot from this. It is good to hear that you have been getting back onto a bike and are gradually dealing with the recent crash. Thoughts are with you.

  6. Chicago continues to lead the country in AWESOMENESS! The protected bike lane is wonderful news and someday I hope to pedal it. Yes, what a difference in safety where it ends.
    And I like what Mayor Rahm had to say at the end about gun violence.

  7. georgina ormrod says:

    Wow, that is a great step ahead – I hope the first of many. I am envious :-)

  8. Silvia says:

    Agree that the contrast between protected and unprotected bike lanes is amazing.
    How will the city deal with the poles when plowing snow?

  9. ridonrides says:

    yuck at the 3 minute mark, when that car decides hey this half of the bike lane looks like a good place to double park! thanks for the video. it’ll be interesting to ride with the bike traffic lights.

  10. Paul says:

    Wow what a great video I’am from northern California and of course we also have to be very aware of traffic when riding,but after seeing this video all I got to say is you gotta be tough to ride in Chicago.

  11. […] miles of protected bike lanes have been opened in Chicago, part of a planned, 645-mile network of joined-up on-street bikeways. This is impressive, but it’s not new. Chicago was once certifiably bicycle-mad. For a few […]

  12. The protected bike lane looks glorious to ride in (except for the SUV). After watching the end of the video I feel very lucky to live in Boise, the unprotected bike lanes and traffic in Chicago look terrifying to ride in.

  13. Sarah W. says:

    This is great!

  14. The lane looks great, so happy you have that over there!

  15. Donna says:

    So jealous over here in Toronto.

  16. […] You can see more of his speech and additional photos and a before and after video of the Dearborn bike lane on Dottie’s great blog Lets Go Ride A Bike. […]

  17. […] After the museum, we headed through the Loop to have a drink and a bite at Pops for Champagne.  The ride there was lovely, as we got to take advantage of the Dearborn protected bike lane. […]

  18. […] I got downtown, I was able to take the Dearborn protected bike lane for the final mile and a half.  The city has a special snow plow to use for protected lanes and […]

  19. Andrej says:

    Sure, the protected bike lane feels safer… but the unprotected lane is not crap because it’s unprotected.

    First of all, it should be on the right side of the road (that is the correct side to ride for slower vehicles, like bikes) – then it would pose no problem to simply merge into the next traffic lane and go around anyone who is stopped in the lane.

    Second, it should not be so close to parking cars, or better, no parking cars should be next to the normal (unprotected) bike lane.

    The good side of it you can see at the very end of the video. The only correct solution visible: turning cars cross the lane way ahead of the intersection, so at the intersection everyone goes their way without conflict! This also reduces waiting time, which is introduced by the separate phases of green light for left-turning cars and straight-going bicycles.

    • LGRAB says:

      The problem with unprotected bike lanes is that cars are always in them and they are almost always directly next to parallel car parking (the door zone), at least in Chicago. The only effective solution I have seen for this is to create some sort of protection/physical separation for the bike lane.

  20. A True Man of Honour!!

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