Wednesday, August 17, 2011

First bike lane in the Loop!

Lincoln Parkers who commute by bike to downtown jobs may have witnessed bicycling history in the making this week: The very first bike lane within the Loop was installed on Madison Street from Michigan Avenue to Wells Street. 

The same number of lanes remain for motorized vehicles, but the lanes have been narrowed. The bike lane is on the right of the moving lanes, but to the left of the bus/right turn lane.

The Chicago Loop's first bike lane begins at Madison Street and Michigan Avenue. (Photo: BikeWalkLincolnPark)
New bike lane on Madison Street, between Michigan Avenue and Wabash. (Photo: BikeWalkLincolnPark)
Of course we took it for a test ride. How does it rate?


No risk of dooring because there are no parked cars on either side.

It's decently wide, and the stripes are shockingly bright and clear, especially against the new black asphalt underneath.

The narrowing of the remaining moving lanes will theoretically have the effect of slowing down motorized vehicles, making the street safer for all users. (However, a casual observation during lunch hour reflected that a good number of taxicab drivers were resisting the reality of their newly narrowed driving space, and speeding just as fast as always.)

This cyclist appeared quite comfortable in the new bike lane. (Photo: BikeWalkLincolnPark)

This one's huge: Cyclists in the new bike lane are exposed on both sides, effectively "wedged" between moving traffic on their left and buses/right turners on the other side. This configuration is definitely not as safe-feeling as a lane that runs on the curb, much less a protected lane like the one on Kinzie.

The bus/right turn lane will be very busy, as there are numerous bus routes on Madison, and many streets heading north, so there will be constant crisscrossing of vehicles behind and in front of cyclists.

Heavy motorized vehicle traffic surrounding the Madison Street bike lane at State Street. (Photo: BikeWalkLincolnPark)

Vehicles turning right crossing the new bike path. (Photo: BikeWalkLincolnPark)

Madison is only one way, the bike lane ends after half a mile at Wells, and then you're on your own again. Hopefully this is temporary, and additional lanes will be put in promptly all over the Loop. Given the width of streets in the central business district, there's certainly plenty of room.
The oft-cited goal of creating bike infrastructure that serves cyclists from 8 to 80 is not reached with these lanes. You would not bring your young child nor aging grandmother on this route, no matter how enthusiastic they are about cycling. Similarly, we're not sure this will feel safe enough for use by tourists who rent bikes. You may have noticed them proliferating lately, and this will only increase when the city implements its plan for a large-scale bike sharing program. 

So there are some pluses, some minuses. It's certainly better than what we had before, which was zilch. We'll be riding it regularly, will you?


  1. Addendum: After a second test ride today in the early morning, with light motorized vehicle traffic, we enjoyed the message sent by the mere presence of the lane and its clear markings: Bicycles are rightful users of the streets, including this one. As we glided over every bright white bike symbol, we could almost hear the words, "Bikes belong, bikes belong." Nice.

  2. tried it today around 9am- definite improvement, but the buses that need to weave across the bike lane will take getting used to, and I was not smart (gutsy) enough to figure out how to turn left onto Wells. but an improvement nonetheless!

  3. Yes, now that you mention it, chicagogal, left turns will be tricky. I realize that I've adopted the UPS style of riding in the Loop and avoid left turns whenever possible! You should probably make the turn by continuing west on Madison to the northwest corner of the intersection, then wait for the light to turn again, and then proceed south on Wells. Takes longer but is less stressful.

    Another addendum to the post: Green paint on the bike lane would have been nice to further delineate it as space for bikes. It's easy for drivers to miss seeing the occasional bike symbols on the street, but it's harder to not notice a strip of green.

  4. Per the green striping: there is a worldwide shortage of the green thermoplastic used for bike lanes. Strange, but true.