The Chainlink

do we need to start rethinking our biking infrastructure?

Maybe it's just my impression - but our bike lanes seem to be installed mainly on the City's major arterials - Damen, Halsted, Western, Washington, etc.

I've always assumed this was because those are the bigger, higher capacity, most direct streets - and have supported fighting for our place on those roads, as a matter of convenience - but also a matter of principle. 

With all that's happened this summer, though, and a conversation I had with a coworker, I'm starting to wonder: what if, instead of fighting daily, and, frankly, exhausting battles that we're almost always going to lose with commercial vehicles and jaywalkers and cabs and speeders and comment trolls etc etc - we shift our focus from installing bike lanes on major streets - to developing a bike-focused network of through-ways just off the main arterials - for instance, one block OFF the main roads. 

When my coworker first shared this idea with me, my reaction was that that felt like giving up on my vision/ideals of shared streets, etc. But the more I thought about it - do I love riding between parked cars and speeding traffic on Halsted, even if i'm in a bike lane? No! It's often frightening, maddening, and, apparently, lethal! 

So why not shift the fight to fight for space that works better for us anyway? Why not work to create a network of connecting streets that feels and is safer, and does so without competing with [as many] drivers? 

This won't work everywhere, obviously, and i think we should dig in on creating and securing protected bike lanes on the diagonals - in part because they almost always parallel major expressways which the cars should be using anyways - but maybe it's time to start rethinking the battles we're fighting!  

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I take quiet neighborhood streets over a 1 car lane / bike lane / multi-car lane whenever I can.  But getting across major road is a problem.  If you don't have a stop sign or stop light, the wait can be pretty lengthy.  The best route is where it has stop lights to get me across other roads and the lowest traffic among the alternatives.

i think that's a great example of how beefed up bike infrastructure on these minor-street-bike arterials could help: where those streets cross major intersections, put in four way stops or traffic lights with sensors that bikes can activate. 

We have two challenges here. Major streets have the best crossings at major streets (stop lights or 4-way stops), making it easier (at least in theory) to use those streets if you're trying to go more than a few miles.  Side streets usually have challenging crossings at major streets. We also have the problem of many side streets being one way streets, some of which change direction, have cul de sacs at some major streets, etc.

Major streets are more likely to be wide enough to accommodate bike lanes. Side streets are narrower, so neighborhood greenways are the way to go there. As we've seen, neighborhood greenways can generate some SERIOUS NIMBY resistance. Berteau has a greenway, though the design was watered down somewhat, making it less effective for traffic calming.  Sunnyside in Uptown has a little one, though it's more pedestrian oriented. Wood St. in Wicker Park/Bucktown has one, though the design is less effective than it could be. One is planned for Glenwood in Rogers Park, with an additional section further south in Edgewater.

Among these projects, I think Glenwood is the best of the lot, and it's the result of participatory budgeting - yeah!

Right now there's a major fight happening over the Ravenswood Manor greenway and traffic diverters. A recent public meeting had a big turnout (approx. 130 people), some of whom seemed determined to intimidate anyone who didn't agree with their vocal opposition to the project. When anyone spoke in support of the project, they got loud applause.

This is a subject I've been following closely. It requires enough of a culture change and change of driver habits that I expect it will take a while to take root. I'd like to see a few greenways in my ward (19th).

thank you Anne. I will spend some time with these links.

It's worth riding in these locations, too. It's good to see the actual infrastructure after you've read about the projects.

in my ideal world i totally agree with you and if I had any idea what a "dynamic" cyclist was, i would probably consider myself one.

it's just - how is that going for us? and how many more people have to to die for the cause?

Here's the issue I have with the"Effective Cycling," i.e. the "take the lane," solution.  Damen (on the stretch we're talking about where the latest fatality occurred) is a wide enough road that both a bicycle and car can be on it at the same time, but not wide enough to put in a proper bike lane.  

One of two conditions regularly happen on it: (1) the four way stops (which there are several of) create pretty bad back ups, meaning most cyclists during rush hour times actually move much faster than vehicle traffic (which may be hardly moving at all at times); and (2) the other times (when back ups are not occurring) cars are moving at 30 mph. 

As a rider, that leaves me in a horrible position in either event if I use a "take the lane" strategy---(1) I'm either stuck in line with cars during the congestion (and most are on a bike in first place in part because we don't want to be stuck in vehicle congestion, especially on roads never designed with us in mind); or (2) I'm stuck in line with cars moving at over 30 mph behind me and trying to aggressively pass me at any opportunity.  So, instead of dealing with either of those crappy situations, the 99% of us using Damen (including the "dynamic" riders) end up riding in the door zone scraps where we fit.

The above repeats on almost every other road where sharrows are added as some sort of compromise.

If you want me to be dynamic, and mix with traffic, design the infrastructure with me in mind in the first place.  Otherwise, being strong and confident has nothing to do with it. 

yes!! and - the implication is that the six people who've died this year just weren't dynamic enough? that's #@#%@#$#. 

clp, are you seriously asking whether the spirit of "Effective Cycling" (TM) and the spirit of critical mass are the same? Here's my take: NO.

The spirit of critical mass is to transform the street through massive prescence into a safe space for casual cycling. Cyclists might "do better to become confident, strong and dynamic" but they would do *better* to become lots and lots of cyclists! Effective aka Vehicular Cycling is too intimidating and our decades with it never increased ride share as much as the creation of lanes has done. Are the lanes objectively safer? Dear god, please don't let that tired debate flare up here again, because: Are the lanes attractive to people who consider riding a bike to work for the first time? Absolutely, yes. And more bikes = more better.

Wait, what?! I'm definitely not advocating that we get pushed onto "dangerous, poorly paved, narrow neighborhood streets" - i'm advocating that we claim those streets as ours! we work to get infrastructure, signage, restrictions on cars, traffic lights or four way stops to deal with cross streets - and - essentially - legitimize the way that many of us ride anyways - on side streets we know to feel safe and fun to ride on. 

From Anne's comments, it sounds like that approach runs into its own share of nimbyism. doesn't everything...

Yes, one of the big drawbacks of trying to get greenways on residential streets is NIMBYism.

Of course neighborhood/residential side streets are safer for biking, and Chicago actually has a number of them due to their grid network of streets. But they're not marked so you have to look for them.

Some of them do deadend, but you can usually continue on a nearby street. And one way streets in one direction will have a counterpart in the other direction no more than a quarter mile away. Some even have stop signs/stop lights (you can check for these on Google streetview).

Most people don't travel far, so these streets are the best option.

Poorly paved streets aren't a problem because, with very little traffic, you can easily ride around the bad patches.

But 'bike advocates' have a problem with these routes because they don't 'encourage biking' like bike lanes do. Bike lanes make people 'feel safe' so more more people ride bikes and 'join their club'. Side streets don't do that. So they put narrow bike lanes on streets like Damen, and 'protected' paths that have no protection at intersections (where most crashes occur). But they're good because more people bike! Unfortunately, they're not safer.


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