Chicago's first protected bike lanes being installed on Kinzie
06/08/2011 10:00 PM
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.”