Protected Bike Lanes: Help or Hindrance?

Drivers, bikers and pedestrians adjust to change on Kinzie

Cruising down Kinzie is supposed to be easier now that the city installed new protected bike lanes this June.

Liz Kramer, a cyclist who commutes to work, thinks the new protected lane is wonderful.

“Yeah, I think they’re great,” Kramer said. “I changed my commute into the loop to ride on Kinzie because I felt the other routes to be dangerous.”

But one person’s dream can be another person’s nightmare. Just ask a few drivers who are not too fond of the new street design, or don’t even understand its complicated layout.

“I’m not sure I quite get it,” said Tom Osier, a resident of the River North neighborhood. “There is a lot of visual clutter as a motorist driving through.”

Holly Becker shared similar sentiments.

“I don’t think people know exactly what it is to be honest,” she said.

The confusion has turned into congestion for more commuters than anticipated. Rush hour on Kinzie has turned into a series of near misses. These almost accidents have left commuters asking, “Whose turn is it anyways?”

Even those who approve of the new lanes are wary.

“The first week and a half was really rough,” Kramer said. “It really seemed like cars didn’t know where to go, bikes didn’t know where to go, pedestrians were standing in the middle of the bike lane and the cars would drive down the bike lane.”

With many commuters not knowing exactly how to navigate the new lanes, careening down Kinzie might seem like an obstacle course.

But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a basic explanation: The bike lane, designated with special dividers, is closest to the curb. Next to that, you’ll see a four foot wide buffer lane and then a row of parking. The travel lane for cars is to the left of the parking lane.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled new protected bike lanes on the half-mile stretch of Kinzie between Milwaukee and Wells in June, hoping to make Chicago the “bike friendliest city in the country.” But old problems have come along with the new bike lanes. Sometimes, cyclists ride in the opposite direction of traffic. Often, they blow past stop signs, and on some occasions, they forget to signal while turning.

Ethan Spotts, a spokesman for the Active Transportation Alliance, said change is a little difficult.

“It takes people a while to adjust to them,” said Spotts, who fought to bring the protected bike lanes. “But the overall benefit of those lanes—and the level of safety for the people who are biking and the people who are driving—is so great that it is just a good thing to keep putting these in.”

The Chicago Department of Transportation plans to add an additional 25 miles of protected bike lanes per year over the next four years.

And with a total of 100 miles of these lanes by 2015, drivers should keep a few things in mind:

Never park in the bike lane -- you will get a ticket. Check the crosswalk and bike lane before turning. Car passengers should check for bikers. Cyclists will now be passing on the car’s right side.

These changes can make your commute a little longer, something Spotts said you should get used to.

“Fifteen seconds here or there to make those choices could be worth someone’s life,” he said.

Not everyone is complaining about the commute. Pedestrians like Danielle Meneffee who walk through the half-mile stretch seem to be the ones complaining the least.

“I really love the new bikes lanes because [they] really provide a great sort of path for bikes to get through as well as pedestrians to cross.”

As for Kramer, the cyclist who commutes to work down Kinzie, she hopes the kinks will work themselves out.

“There are a lot of options that are safe for cars and not as many options that are safe for bikes,” she said. “So it’s good to have one.”

What They're Saying About the Kinzie Street Bike Lanes on EveryBlock:

- Paul M. says, "I drive in from Oak Park to my River North office and typically take Lake St to Halsted to Kinzie. There are not too many options coming from the West that are not congested in the morning, ie: Grand. After the City put the bike lanes and the outer-parking spots between Halsted and Kinzie, just west of East Bank Club it has increased the traffic exponentially. Really not a smart decision on the part of the City..."

- Lou M says, "Both Canal and Clinton Streets between Fulton and Kinzie are a mess! The bike lane has made it worse but it is not the sole reason. 1000 new residential units, new traffic patters re. bike lane, ground level train crossing etc., 6000 (Sometimes traffic is stopped for 25 minutes at the train crossings in the afternoon)..."

- LN says, "Holy smokes, folks. It's only 1/2 mile, and a forward thinking experiment by the city. Yes, bike riders should follow the rules, and most do. A minority are hotdogs and risk-takers, just like some drivers are distracted and/or too aggressive, and some pedestrians are inattentive and clueless. Share the road, with a little courtesy and attention (and perhaps a tiny bit of inconvenience to you for the greater benefit from time to time), moving around the city can be less stressful for everybody."

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