The construction of new bike lanes and barriers in the South Loop is set to begin in 2017 and the project is meant to reduce the number of bicycle and pedestrian accidents in the area. As Chicago continues to present itself as a bike friendly city, a recent string of bicycle related fatalities and injuries has sparked concern over how well the city has adapted to the needs of the cyclists it is trying to attract. Members of the community are hopeful that this project will address these concerns and make the streets safer and easier to travel for bicyclists and motorists alike.
Plan Met With Enthusiasm at August Meeting
Residents were invited to a meeting over the matter of bike safety on August 23rd, where the proposal to increase the number of bike lanes, bike traffic signals and barriers was presented. A supermajority agreed with the plan and residents became excited over its implementation, believing that it was long overdue and needed to ensure the safety of motorists, bike riders and pedestrians alike. The details of the plan include the following.
- New bike paths will be added to Polk Street from Dearborn to Plymouth Court, Plymouth Street from Polk to 9th Street, and 9th Street from Plymouth to Grant Park. These bike lanes will provide protection for cyclists by giving them their own dedicated lane of traffic so that motorists are required to give them room on the roads.
- Existing bike lanes will be extended from Polk and Plymouth and Dearborn Street so that bicyclists have even more protected access to the street.
- Barriers on Dearborn Street will be upgraded to concrete to provide protection and a deterrent to motorists. This busy section of road is a known problem area for bicyclists and aldermen concluded that the existing barriers were not adequate to provide the much needed protection community members desire.
- New signage and lane markings will be added to Plymouth and 9th Street bike lanes and a shared lane will be added without any impact to parking or the carpool lane.
- Pedestrian bump-outs and refuge islands will be added to the intersection of Polk and Plymouth so that pedestrians and bicyclists may cross the intersection with more protection than they currently enjoy.
- Harrison Street bike lanes will also receive concrete barriers to ensure that motorists and bicyclists are separated and to discourage the illegal use of the bike lane by drivers. The issue of drivers parking in the bike lane will also be resolved through this measure.
- Bicycle traffic signals will be added to address concerns over bicyclists who routinely ignore lights to the dismay of pedestrians.
The plan was presented as a means to create distinct “low-stress” routes that bicyclists can take to popular destinations through the South Loop, such as Grant Park, the museum campus and the Lakefront Trail. These routes also serve to limit the number of dangerous turns cyclists will need to make and cover gaps in the bike path infrastructure using current streets.
Criticism Voiced Over Pedestrian Concerns
Those that did not support the measure brought up the difficulties many pedestrians face when crossing intersections due to bicyclists who ignore traffic lights and fail to give pedestrians the right of way. While some of the measures will protect pedestrians from vehicles, they fall short on ensuring bicyclists will stay out of their way.
There are nine Divvy stations located throughout the area and the number of bicyclists has risen by 170% since the bike lanes were added. The number of accidents in the area has also dropped by 30%, but data also shows that 10% of riders fail to comply with traffic laws. This is a considerable nuisance to pedestrians and motorists.
Mayor Rahm Emmanuel continues to pledge to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the nation, but some residents believe that this is coming at an unacceptable cost to their own safety and convenience. Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians are all responsible for contributing to safe roadways.