Chicago's first protected bike lanes being installed on Kinzie

06/08/2011 10:00 PM


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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and new Transportation Department chief Gabe Klein walk over some of the new bike lanes on Kinzie Street.
Photos by BEN MEYERSON/Staff

Click here to see a slideshow with more photos.

Chicago’s very first walled-off bike lane is headed to the Fulton River District, after a swift push from Mayor Rahm Emanuel kicked the project into gear in a matter of days.

The new bike lanes, called a cycle track, are being installed on Kinzie Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street, connecting two of the busiest bike routes in the city.

The idea is to create a designated bike path that’s protected both from car traffic and from the dangers of parked cars and their doors, by designating a route that’s separated from both.

One of the main perks of the new lanes will be a physical barrier: Soft poles will separate bikes from parking and traffic, clearly delineating it as an exclusive pathway, not meant for motorcycles, joggers or anyone else.

The plan has moved forward incredibly swiftly. Though Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele said plans for the route had been on the table for several months, construction of the lanes was first announced by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) in his newsletter last Friday.

By Tuesday morning, when Emanuel came out to dedicate the construction with new CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein, more than a block of lanes had already been painted.

“Those who know me, know that I am a bike enthusiast,” Emanuel said. “It’s another means of transportation, but it also helps attract new businesses to the city of Chicago.”

One of Emanuel’s campaign promises was to install 100 miles of protected bike lanes in the city.

Klein, who expected to be confirmed as CDOT commissioner at the city council’s meeting on Wednesday, said this was an important first step in the city’s goals of adding more protected bike lanes.

The reconfiguration is not the simplest task, though with relatively wide Kinzie, few modifications to traffic flow were needed.

“We’re prioritizing the [city’s] central core, not because it’s the easiest, but because it’s the hardest,” Klein said. “It’s where people are. You want to make it safe in the least safe place and then work our way out.”

Milwaukee is one of the busiest bicycling streets in the city. About 22 percent of all the traffic on the street is bikes, according to CDOT. Wells is one of the most-trafficked bike routes in the city as well, providing one of the best-marked bike routes into the Loop.

Adding a protected bike lane between the two just made sense, Klein said.

“We’re trying to make it easier for people to make their way into the downtown corridor without driving,” he said.

Larry Gage, president of the Fulton River District Association, said he was excited about the cycle track but had a few concerns. With so many different things happening right next to the path, there are a lot of obstacles.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it works in this area — it’s very congested and it gets a lot of use,” said Gage. “That one corner is tough. … They definitely picked a street that brings up some unique problems, that if addressed, they could do this anywhere.”

Namely, there’s the Blommer Chocolate factory along Kinzie, which frequently uses the street as a staging area for its trucks; there’s a Jewel on Desplaines just south of the track’s beginning; there’s a cluster of brand-new residential high-rises; and there’s a park along Kinzie where families come and go with strollers.

But as a cyclist himself, Gage said he’s looking forward to seeing how it works out.

“They’ll address all these concerns, hopefully, over the next couple of years,” he said. “I think everybody sort of likes the idea that it’s protected in there, so you don’t have to worry about plowing into a car door.”

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By El Toro Negro from the Holy City
Posted: 07/01/2011 9:25 PM

Delivery trucks with no way to dock, drivers stepping out into traffic, pedestrians crossing through cars into the lane blindly, cars turning across a lane they can't see, & my favorite....passengers in cars flinging doors open (without the aid of a mirror) into the bike lane. When exactly did this seem like a good idea?

By Neil from Wicker Park
Posted: 06/16/2011 12:02 PM

Now lets hope that Emanuel gets the Bloomingdale trail into gear...

By Bike Rider from South Loop
Posted: 06/15/2011 1:04 PM

More bike lanes will be great for the neighborhood

By Brad from Jefferson Park
Posted: 06/14/2011 12:49 PM

I got yelled at by a cop for riding outside of this new bike lane this morning. I had to go around him as he was parked, get this, in the new bike lane. No matter how many miles of new bike lanes the city installs, if drivers don't start honoring them, they'll do no good. Cops included.

By Mike from Chicagoland
Posted: 06/09/2011 2:39 PM

This is biketastic! So glad to hear that Mayor Emanuel is also a bike enthusiast! Hope you are all planning on riding your bike to work next week, and for that matter, the rest of the year! Happy cycling, Bike like Mike, Cycle like Michael!