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Chicago needs safer streets and protected bike lanes now, advocates say

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Most residents don’t have safe bikeways

Biking is part of Chicago’s culture, but the city no longer has a sterling reputation when it comes to being bike-friendly.

There are 248 miles of protected and conventional bike lanes across the city, but between 2016 and 2018 less than 4 miles of protected bike lanes were constructed. More than 60 percent of Chicagoans don’t have safe bikeways in their neighborhoods, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance.

During a bout of early snow this November, major roadways were cleared but bike lanes were ignored. Many protected lanes stayed icy and slushy, forcing cyclists into the street or on the sidewalks. Even in winter, there are plenty of bikers that deserve safe roadways—last year on Chicago’s coldest day when it was minus 23, 191 people road Divvy bikes.

Transportation advocates are calling for more action from the city, but it can be hard to get the necessary changes implemented. Some aldermen prioritize parking over protected bike lanes in their wards.

Already this year, four bicyclists have died in traffic crashes. These tragedies have renewed calls from activists to prioritize the safety of people who bike, walk, and take transit. Active Transportation Alliance is again asking for the mayor to implement a Safe Streets Fund to pay for safer infrastructure in high-crash corridors.

In addition to unsafe roadways, drivers often block or park in bike lanes which means a cyclist might have to merge into traffic. According to Bike Lane Uprising, which is a platform that makes it easy for cyclists to track obstructions, in 2018 there were 5,461 reports of vehicles blocking bike lanes but the city only issued tickets for 3,946 of them. On 311, only 2,926 bike lane obstructions were reported.

“In its first year in existence, Bike Lane Uprising outpaced 13,500 city workers with the authority to ticket bike lane obstructions. It also outperformed the city of Chicago’s $35 million 311 system.”

Investment in safer streets is certainly needed, as well as maintenance of bike lanes and ensuring drivers know it’s illegal and dangerous to block bike lanes. The good news is that Mayor Lori Lightfoot is prioritizing safety projects on the South and West sides where residents are disproportionately affected by traffic crashes.

In September, the mayor introduced a plan to make South and West Side streets safer and lower traffic crashes. The report recommended neighborhood-specific projects after meeting with community members, such as a network of bike lanes for residents in North Lawndale. The action plan also includes other safety improvements for high-crash corridors and intersections.

Earlier this week, Lightfoot said, “Traffic crashes are traumatic, costly incidents that happen everyday, and far too often cause irrevocable damage, destroy lives and tear families apart. But traffic crashes aren’t just accidents, they’re preventable occurrences.”