“As part of our effort to make Chicago the most environmentally friendly city in the nation, one of our main goals is to promote environmentally friendly lifestyles. Bicycling is a great way to get around Chicago. It’s fun, fast, healthy and good for our environment….We want to make Chicago the most bicylce-friendly city in the United States”
Mayor Richard M. Daley!
Amazingly enough the Windy City is not just blowing smoke, they are serious, as evidenced in part by the mayor’s quote above which appears on their bike map. What was truly amazing in Chicago is that everyone, motorists, pedestrians, bus drivers, and bikers all respect each other and their place in the ecosystem that is Chicago’s streets. Bikes and pedestrians have the right of way, no questions asked.
At one intersection in the city. I had just picked up my parked bike and I was riding on the sidewalk to the corner to enter the street. When I got there, I stopped and put my feet down. A car had just pulled up to the stop sign next to where I was, and other cars were coming to stops in the other directions. I just stood there waiting for the intersection to clear, but when I looked up, I realized no one was going to move until I did! It was my world they they were just living it! I was stunned as I pulled out into the street and went my merry way. It took a while to realize this behavior was (like gravity), not just a good idea, but the law. Below are some pictures that illustrate the techniques they have used to get everyone on the same page. The tipping point has already been reached, everyone (a vast majority) seems to know and accept the legalities.
But more than just laws and paint Chicago politicians and citizens have come a rational understanding of the situation, and that more bikes means less cars, and other than public transit, there is no other relief to traffic congestion. They can’t make their 4 and 6 lane streets any wider, there are Interstates everywhere, but Chicago just can’t take any more cars downtown.
Downtown had plenty of commuter bikers, and the Lakeshore path seemed have quite a few commuters as well as the majority of recreational users, here are some pictures from my ride to Evanston and back downtown. Watch the video, you will see just how many people use this 10 mile stretch of path, many to commute to their homes on the north side.
Chicago has used combination of paint, signs, and speed bumps to make residential street safe. These pictures were taken on the north side where nearly all the residential streets had speed bumps, children at play warnings, and at every intersection the “No right turn when pedetians present” sign appears, it seems to work, motorists always gave me the right of way when I was walking around.
Several main arteries are designated as bike routes, and even without a separate lane, I felt safe riding up Clark St. (Chicago Bike Map) Running northwest, Lincoln has lanes just part of the way, and both streets are filled with bikes, people going from here to there, not commuting, but traveling to and through to various destinations on the commercial strips. The lesson I took was that you have to make your main commercial streets safe for bikes, or you will never reduce auto traffic.
I also spent some time biking in the Chicago suburb of Schaumberg, and I have several pictures here to show what they have done in suburban environment. The first thing I noticed was the residential streets were amazingly wide, allowing for four wide lanes. The right side of the road is shared by a bike lane and the occasional parked car. When I was passing around a parked car, I noticed the car coming up behind did not pass me even though there was room. He did after that, but slowly, and it wasn’t till I noticed the signs at the next stop that I notice that the street, and all the residential streets were 25mph, even though the road design could handle much higher speeds.
Another cool feature was where bike lanes came to major intersection with car lanes for left, right, and straight through, and the bike lane goes between the right and straight lanes (I know that’s hard to understand, look at the picture below. I also liked this treatment of a path on the way to a local lake, it makes a connection between two streets that would other wise not connect, everything there was curved around the lakes.
Schaumber had paths on most of the major streets, and they make it very clear that the path crossing has priority when cars are entering from the side streets. There is a great prairie park with a nine mile path all around the exterior, it is cut by a couple of highways, the paths appear out of the grassland, and there are sturdy ped crossing buttons which work well. A last thing I will mention, the law in Chicago is that bikes are not allowed on sidewalks, unless it is too dangerous to ride on the street. In Schaumberg I found a spot where the sidewalk is shared by bikes, the signs tells bikes to stay left, while peds are to stay right.