Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=200413
Story Retrieval Date: 5/24/2013 12:54:10 PM CST
A cyclist rides in the Loop on Wednesday as rush hour begins.
Drivers check your mirrors: Chicago bicycle commuters on rise, here to stay
Data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking 2012 Benchmark Report.
2009 data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking 2012 Benchmark report.
Nearly 30 years ago Anne Alt was riding her bike down an Evanston street and crashed into an open car door. Although she wasn’t badly hurt, the act, referred to as “dooring,” left both Alt and the car owner distraught.
But Alt, who is president of the Chicago Cycling Club, said she has seen fewer and fewer episodes of dooring, which she says is a testament to Chicago’s commitment to becoming a more bike friendly city.
“More drivers are looking in side view mirrors and are holding the door before I pass,” Alt said. “Ten years ago that hardly ever happened.”
Chicago drivers are more aware of cyclists in part because the sheer volume of riders has increased in the last 20 years. From 1990 to 2009 the number of daily Chicago bicycle commuters has increased 145 percent, according to a 2012 Alliance for Biking and Walking report. In 2009, more than 14,500 Chicagoans used a bicycle as their primary method of commuting to work, the report said.
“We have come a long way,” said Tom Murtha, a senior planner for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. “We are moving rapidly in assuring the region has a good bicycle accommodation policy and plans in place.”
CMAP has introduced a GO TO 2040 plan that outlines many improvements for metropolitan Chicago, all of which are aimed at making Chicago more bike friendly.
One such improvement is the addition of neighborhood greenways, which are designated residential streets where cyclists and pedestrians are given priority. This idea, pioneered in Portland, Ore., and Berkeley, Calif., offers a low speed and a low volume of traffic for cyclists.
“Greenways are a key aspect to our plans moving forward,” Murtha said. “The greenways would encourage more biking on residential streets.”
One measure that was recently implemented in Chicago was the addition of protected bike lanes, which offer a physical barrier between motorists and cyclists.
More than 25 miles of protected bike lanes will be built in this year as outlined in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 transition plan. Other measures the mayor has planned to improve cycling in Chicago include building a 2.65-mile Bloomingdale Trail and an improved bike sharing system.
“We are really excited about Mayor Emanuel’s transportation vision,” said Ethan Spotts, marketing and communications director for Active Transportation Alliance. “He has laid out some bold plans for biking.”
Spotts explained that Chicago offers bike trails and paths for riders of all skill levels, and cyclists shouldn’t be concerned about Chicago’s heavy amount of traffic.
“People may not bike because they think traffic is bad,” Spotts said. “You can find a route that has a really nice bike lane or a trail connection. We recommend you go an extra mile or so out of the way to be a little safer.”
Chicago has the fourth most daily bicycle commuters in the country behind New York, Los Angeles and Portland, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s report. But of those three cities, only Portland has seen a larger percent increase in bike commuters since 1990 than Chicago.
“So many more people are biking to work now,” Spotts said. “Reports show that being a cold weather city doesn’t really affect biking. There is still a significant amount of biking in Chicago year round.”
“The growth [of Chicago cyclists] has been enormous,” Alt said. “As the number of cyclists has grown, drivers have gotten more used to looking out for riders.”