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Chicago Is Lagging Behind Other Cities In Creating Protected Bike Lines, Active Trans Says

The city's worked for years on plans to create more bike lanes. But bicyclists keep getting killed; just earlier this month, a driver hit and killed a bicyclist on the Near West Side.

A cyclist rides past a decorated bollard on a Milwaukee Avenue protected bike lane.
Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — An influential bicyclist advocacy group is calling on the city and state to dedicate more funding and manpower to creating protected bike lanes.

The Active Transportation Alliance, which focuses on making travel safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, released an analysis Thursday where it said Chicago is lagging behind other cities when it comes to creating protected bike lanes. The report calls on the city and state to dedicate more funding and manpower toward creating the lanes.

The city’s worked for years on plans — like its Vision Zero initiative — to create more bike lanes and reduce bicycle and pedestrian deaths from crashes. But bicyclists keep getting killed; just earlier this month, a driver hit and killed a bicyclist on the Near West Side.

When running for office, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she wanted to create 50 miles of protected bike lanes and 100 miles of bike lanes overall.

It’s unclear what progress Lightfoot’s administration has made toward that goal. The Chicago Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment.

While normal bike lanes are typically set apart by just a line of paint, protected bike lanes have barriers that can better separate bicyclists from drivers. They’re safer and lead to more people riding bikes, according to the Active Trans report, yet protected bike lanes “remain scarce and so many streets remain uncomfortable for biking” in Chicago.

That’s particularly true on the South and West sides, where there are fewer miles of protected bike lanes — even though those areas see a disproportionate number of crashes and people have to travel further between destinations, according to the report.

Chicago faces four key barriers as it’s trying to build protected bike lanes, according to Active Trans: a lack of dedicated funding, shortage of staff in the Department of Transportation, more help needed from the state and, in some instances, opposition from politicians and community members.

The organization’s analysis offers solutions for those issues.

The group suggests Chicago’s plans for making streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians have “floundered because no dedicated funding exists for implementation.” The city should create a $20 million fund that will be used to create bike lanes and other infrastructure for walkers and bicyclists, especially on the South and West sides in corridors where there are a lot of crashes, according to Active Trans.

The group also recommends the city hire more full-time workers for the Chicago Department of Transportation, with an emphasis on creating full-time positions for bike, pedestrian and public transit planners and traffic engineers.

The state should pass legislation to strengthen the Complete Streets Law, according to Active Trans, and community members can help by electing “more walking and biking champions” to the legislature. They also suggested the state-run Illinois Department of Transportation needs to be reformed so it will better support efforts to make protected bike lanes in Chicago, since IDOT controls many major roads.

Finally, Active Trans suggests the Chicago Department of Transportation work more on community outreach and put a greater focus on racial equity.

Some residents have concerns about protected bike lanes, worried they’ll lose parking or traffic will slow down, according to Active Trans.

“The city’s outreach resources are limited so the people and organizations with the time and energy to speak out on their own are heard the most under the current process,” according to the group. “Meanwhile, the voices of people living in high-need Black and Brown communities on the South and West Sides are often overlooked.”

The city can help by working with existing community groups, special service areas and park advisory councils, according to Active Trans. It can also conduct racial equity impact assessments for major projects.

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