Getting excited for the Dearborn protected cycle track

December 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Tonight on my way to the Red line home I caught a glimpse of the new cycle track on Dearborn here in Chicago. It’s the first of its kind here, with its own dedicated signals for bike traffic. It’s scheduled to open soon, and it looks almost there!

Cycle track on Dearborn

Cycle track on Dearborn. A slight flaw is the drain cover on the right (southbound) lane, pictured above. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

It’s a bidirectional lane running from Kinzie to Polk in the downtown area. It’s a bit narrow but functional, and will be attractive for riders in all seasons, especially if its well-maintained. Along Dearborn, there is a lack of many places to secure a bike, but hopefully this changes as bike traffic increases.

As this article from WBEZ notes, there is one less traffic lane on Dearborn, formerly a 3-lane one-way street (with only 10 parking spaces). This is not the end of the world, even if that means speeds are lower on the street. Stand on any street corner in the Loop and look at how fast auto traffic is moving. Downtown is not a freeway, and speeds in busy, pedestrian-heavy areas should be slower. Initially there will be complaints, but having bike lanes on some streets will become a new norm soon (just as much as having cars on streets became the norm back in the first few decades of the 20th century). Drivers have plenty of other streets in the Loop to get around. Some of these streets should probably beĀ priority zones for pedestrians in the first place.

I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about the problems that we have here in America when it comes to “alternative transportation,” or biking, walking, and riding public transportation. Unless the issues are known, they won’t be fixed. Giving people ideas and information will only help strengthen the discourse about how we can make our cities safer for all users, which have been designed mainly for automobiles for decades. With strong advocacy, we’re finally seeing progress. We also have a long way to go.

I’m optimistic that this cycle track will lead to many others around the city, especially on busier streets. I also hope the City starts thinking of smarter, more innovative ways to incorporate bicycling into the urban fabric, like residential complete streets, which would provide bike-prioritized traffic on already-calm auto traffic streets.

This is a great start to what will hopefully be a great increase in the number of people that will feel safer on a bike now that there are dedicated facilities for them. With the price of driving ever increasing (despite a few, but ephemeral, declines), the number of young people driving less, and the government’s frequent failure to adequately fund public transportation, biking could become a more popular way to get around for many people living here. The only way to make it popular is to make it attractive and safe.