December 14, 2012|By Jon Hilkevitch
Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago’s campaign to broker an orderly coexistence, if not complete harmony, among motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians will begin to face its biggest test so far Friday.
That’s when two-way protected bike lanes — outfitted with traffic signals for bike riders to obey — will open in the heart of the central business district, on Dearborn Street between Kinzie and Polk streets, the Chicago Department of Transportation said.
The $450,000 project covering about 12 blocks is a high-profile component of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to make Chicago one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world and to socially re-engineer how city dwellers choose to commute to work or just get around in a heavily congested urban area.
The mayor has vowed to install 100 miles of protected bike lanes in neighborhoods across the city by May 2015. The Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 calls for completion of a 645-mile network of bike lanes in eight years.
Only time, and warmer weather come spring when more people are bicycling, will tell how well the experiment works on Dearborn. The street remains one-way northbound for vehicles, but on Friday it will also have a northbound bike lane and a southbound bike contra-flow lane, both on the west side of the street.
During the busy noon hour Thursday as cars and trucks rolled by on Dearborn, passers-by on foot stopped to look at fresh pavement markings; newly unwrapped bike signals displaying the international symbol for cyclists in red, yellow and green lights; and metal signs posted above sidewalks instructing pedestrians to “look both ways” for bicyclists coming from the north and south before stepping off the curb.
“I predict this is going to be like a particle collider,” Lane Scott, a 37-year-old clothing salesman, said as he stood in the closed bike lanes on Dearborn near Monroe Street waiting his turn to buy lunch at a food truck. The city’s new food truck ordinance prohibits food trucks from parking next to protected bike lanes, officials said.
“I don’t know who to feel sorry for — turning cars or pedestrians or bikers bumping into each other,” Scott said as crews nearby conducted final tests on control devices that synchronize vehicle traffic signals with bicycle traffic signals and pedestrian walk signs.
From 2006 to 2010 there were 986 reported crashes on this part of Dearborn, city records show. Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for 57 percent of accidents that involved injuries.
Tony Romano, a deliveryman, said he is resigned to bike lanes in the city and bicyclists “blowing lights left and right,” but he would object if truck loading zones were removed.
“We need to get in, get out,” Romano said. “I wish I had time to pedal around, but I have kids at home to feed.”
Along the Dearborn stretch, CDOT has installed 38 bike traffic signals and 18 new left-turn arrow signals for vehicles, department spokesman Pete Scales said.