Cycle Chic on Chicago the Bike Friendly

Chicago has bike share programs, bike valets and a vast network of bike lanes leading to some pretty cool destinations. If you cycle for the workout, we’ve even got some things resembling hills on the lakefront. There are also many less-developed roads where cyclists basically hold their breath and pray. Still, we recently squeezed into Forbes’ top 10 cities for biking, somewhere after Philadelphia, Tucson and Denver.

We’re number 10! We’re number 10! Not bad considering Chicago is a metropolis known more for traffic congestion than physical fitness.

I’ve lived in a few cities. My take is that it pays to have broad shoulders. Chicago is steadily installing a mix of protected and “buffered” bike lanes with extra painted-in protection. Some contain curbs, poles or other barriers to keep out drivers. To me, some protective curbs appear unnecessarily wide, leaving less room for cars and bikes alike. They’re also difficult to clear of snow and debris. But progress is progress. Divvy riders were out in droves last winter, proving I’m not the only weirdo who bikes around in February. Bike commuters and bike share stations are growing in number, and there are increasingly sophisticated spaces to accommodate them.

They say you get an inch and want a mile. I definitely want more miles. Included in my utopian bike city fantasy:

Educated drivers. Time to review our Driver’s Ed curriculum? Judging from my experiences, not swinging your door open into bikes isn’t one of the lessons. The more cyclists there are, the more drivers should be educated about sharing the road with them, and vice versa.

Safer trails. The new 606 trail has beautiful foliage, 2.7 miles of uninterrupted lanes and a pattern of muggings. Cyclists have been robbed this year on both the 606 and the lakefront path. The trails are generally safe during the day, but it’s troubling that cyclists are being targeted.

More bike racks, por favor. If it were up to me there would be a bike rack every three feet. Street signs aren’t always the most secure or welcome option for locking up.

More south and west side bike love.The city is working with aldermen and community groups on the south and west sides to expand the growing bikeways network into those areas. Getting back and forth in Chicago can even seem unfeasible to drivers. The more bike lanes that interconnect neighborhoods, the better.

Expand lakefront path to the north. I don’t know how, but let’s do it! Even if it means building out over the lake like one of those wildlife-crossings. Filling in the gap between Chicago and Evanston’s lakefront paths would create a handy commuting route to the north. Not exactly in the city’s budget, but a girl can dream.

All hail the tiny stop sign. Mini “State Law” stop signs have cropped up around the city, confusing thousands of Midwestern drivers who don’t understand the concept of yielding at crosswalks. More, please. While not necessarily pro-bike—cyclists also face challenges in adapting to them—crosswalk signage makes the city friendlier to all. Attitudes don’t change overnight, unfortunately. A couple signs near my home were run over so many times that the city stopped replacing them. But overall, drivers appear to be adapting.

I used to bike downtown in the mid-aughts on a mostly unmarked, partially crumbling road shoulder. Provided you had sturdy tires, it got you where you needed to go. Bush was in office, and I often found myself tailing a petite woman of about 20 with a large “No Blood for Oil” sign on the back of her bike. In many areas, female cyclists were more anomaly than norm. Now miles of added barriers are pushing traffic aside for us.

Clare Curley writes about biking, business, being a broad and other stuff that piques her curiosity.

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