After the Initial “Blush of Newness” Comes the “Hard Part”


Background Reading:

Chicago is in the throes of its honeymoon with Dearborn Street:

Submitted by lcrandell on Mon, 12/17/2012 – 12:23pm

Chicago media puts public support for biking on display

Giving the "Thumbs Up" on Dearborn Street

Giving the “Thumbs Up” on Dearborn Street

We know that people want safer streets for biking. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found that 71 percent of Americans would like to bike more, but fewer than half feel their community is safe for bikes.

While controversy often tends to be what attracts attention, there’s also no shortage of press coverage demonstrating the strong public support for new bike lanes in Chicago. Over the past week, there’s been a strong showing of support in the form of an op-ed in Crain’s Chicago from Donald Wilson of DRW Trading Group, a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune that gave Active Trans the last word, a column by Greg Hinz in Crain’s, and even an editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times stating that “The opening Friday of the Loop’s first protected bicycle lane is a reminder there’s a better way to design the city’s transportation system.”

Below are some highlights of supportive press coverage since Chicago’s first protected bike lane was installed. Share links to your favorite positive news and commentary in the comments.

The photo features a neighbor of the new protected bike lane on Dearborn giving a thumbs up for the project.

And Now The Hard Part

We have the luxury here in Chicago, Illinois of watching the unfolding of what might be our future if we fail to heed the warning signs. Our cautionary tale begins in Roseburg, Oregon.

Like Chicago many of the lanes that were created for use by bicyclists are against the righthand curb. And it takes very little forethought to realize that placing lines here is “not smart“. Street sweepers, snow plows and motorist travel all conspire to shove debris and gravel to the edge of the roadway, just as was intended when we began making crowned roads. This is supposed to happen just as it does.

Now when a street sweeper makes it to the curb and uses its rotary brushes to gather up the gravel, the curb acts to assist the sweeping action. But the rotary actions tend to work against the very painted lines that help define a bike lane. That wonderful new bright white logo of a bicycle can get scrubbed off in record time. And if the lane is covered in pretty green paint that too is removed over time.

The worst part is when the roadway surface along the curb is uneven and water begins to pool and not drain the paint and gravel and debris collect in the low spots. Eventually the weather turns cold and ice forms and cracks the tarmac into a fine or perhaps not so fine cement dust. And because the roadway is no longer under automobiles which would have previously been parked there the erosion proceeds at a more rapid pace.

Gravel and leaves in the bike lane on N. Interstate Ave.(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Gravel and leaves in the bike lane on N. Interstate Ave.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

You get roadway surfaces that most cyclist no longer wish to ride over. After all the real problem here is that aide from folks like myself who ride on Schwalbe Marathon tires just about everyone on an upright is riding something considerably more fragile.

So in the dead of winter the very last thing a cyclist wants to experience is a puncture that sends them to the curb where they must either repair the blasted thing with frozen fingers or wait for a bus and hopefully load their bike onto its front bumper and attempt to get where they are going.

If they were headed into work it could mean being late and if that happens often enough on the job it could mean getting instead to the unemployment line just that much faster. Neither option is desirable.

Herein Lies The Rub

So cyclists opt to ride “outside” the bike lane. Herein lies the rub.

When you agitate for increased bicycle infrastructure and you get it, you are often expected to actually use it. But if the blessed lane is in a bad place for bicycles you are likely to find yourself receiving a ticket for not using the bike lane. And even if you do not get a ticket what is the point of it all if you have to ride outside the bike lane? Isn’t that the original situation you faced before you lobbied for got the pretty green bike lane? So what sort of advancement of the cause does this situation represent?

Read the story on Roseburg. It is important to keep in mind that the situation there is really not resolved. Municipalities are going to have to rethink the locations of bike lanes.