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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Many side streets are great for traveling within your neighborhood, but traveling more than a mile on one of them can be challenging because they often lack safe crossings at major streets. If side streets work for your trip, that's great.

BTW, my street is one of those usually quiet side streets. To get to the nearest safe crossing of a major street, I have to pass through a 2 block section that looks like the surface of the moon - craters, craters, everywhere. There's no way to avoid all the craters and patches even if there isn't any traffic. 

I make lots of trips within my neighborhood that are 2-3 miles where those safe crossings are really helpful, especially if I'm carrying a heavy load of groceries and can't accelerate as fast as I normally might.

" way to avoid all the craters..." That's why God invented sidewalks. Also, alleys.

I wrote a law journal article in Trial Magazine earlier this year about these issues facing bicyclists as our roadways deteriorate. The amount of funding to bicycles versus motor vehicles is astounding. My article focused in large part on Federal funding because it is a national publication. The bike specific infrastructure is great compared to most parts of the USA. Here is a key section to the point of the original post: 

Prior to 1991 there was no specific Federal funding program at all that included bicycle-specific infrastructure. In 1991 the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) made initial changes to the United States’ transportation policy to include bicycles for the first time and since then progress has been staggered. It was not until seven years later in 1998 that the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) as passed and included considerations for bicycles. In 2005, seven additional years after the TEA-21, the Safe Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005 continued these provisions and in 2012 the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) of 2012 continued to encourage bicycling as a part of the Federal transportation plan.[1]


However, the total amount of Federal investment starting in 1992 is approximately $39.5 billion. Even with the increase over the last 24 years, only about 2% of federal transportation funding goes to biking and walking improvements. To put that number in perspective, the total amount our government has invested in bicycle-related infrastructure since 1992 is a mere $2 billion more than the Federal Highway Administration’s funding for roadways in just the year 2015 alone.[2]


Here is a link to the article.


Do you think the proposed IL Safe Roads Constitutional Amendment will have an effect on bike facility funding?

Its a federal requirement.  Historically, in the U.S. dedicated funding only covered 40% of road construction costs.

We need to find and vote for people who will actually do this; people who have the political will (and capacity) to get s**t done (see for example Pittsburgh mayor who walks the walk). Without that, it is baby steps and reactionary politics - if anything - , and too often we lose. I'm not holding my breath.

Thanks to all those advocates (probably many of you reading this) who do contribute to those baby steps along the way. We definitely need your work!! But with all the deaths and crashes, bigger picture infrastructure changes, as Kara suggests with this thread, are our only hope (I'm writing/saying this with my Princess Leia voice when she tells Obi-Wan Kenobi he is the only hope for the rebels, via R2D2 hologram).

If I could always bike on side streets, I would.  When I ride near my house in Evanston, I know all the side routes and can avoid major streets everywhere except downtown.  But when I bike from here to the Gold Coast, I take Clark St., even though it's a lot more mental work to ride there, and occasionally downright alarming.  But for a longer trip, taking the angle street is much more efficient (and makes my trip about the same length as the ride on public transit).  I'd love to see more infrastructure (i.e., safe crossings of major streets, counter-flow bike lanes on one-way streets) on side streets.  And I'd also like to see more bike lanes on major streets.  I think we need both.



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