Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Bicycle Boulevards Post

(Note that in January 2012, it was announced that in Chicago, these bikeways will be called "neighborhood greenways".)

In our recent post about different types of bikeways, we touched on the idea of “bicycle boulevards” and today we’re going to elaborate on that concept so that you’re ready to participate in the upcoming bicycle boulevards planning session on November 20, 2011. (Full details at bottom of this post.)
Bicyclists ride on Lincoln Park West at Webster on the morning of the Chicago Marathon, when traffic volumes are low.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park) 
Bike Walk Lincoln Park is working to put together an overall plan for suggested bicycle infrastructure improvements in Lincoln Park, to submit to the CDOT team putting together Chicago’s Streets For Cycling plan. Part of the city’s plan and our recommendations will be installing bicycle boulevards. (These will be in addition to, and not instead of the protected bike lanes that will also be installed.)

Anyone who is interested in participating in the “Lincoln Park Bicycle Boulevards Plan and Ride” is welcome. Just read this post and click on the links for detailed information. Think about which streets in Lincoln Park that you feel might be appropriate as bicycle boulevards. 

Then join us (co-chairs Michael Reynolds and Michelle Stenzel) on Sunday, November 20 for the planning session. We’ll meet at CityGrounds coffee bar at 8:30 am for coffee and a half-hour review of the concept of bike boulevards. Then we’ll mount our bikes and ride the streets, taking pictures and mental notes about aspects that might work or not, for each stretch. Michael and Michelle (and anyone else who wants to help!) will compile the information into some kind of useable form, and we’ll be on our way to making sure that Lincoln Park becomes a more bike-friendly neighborhood.
A bike boulevard in Portland, Oregon. Notice the baby enjoying the ride. (Picture seen on
OK, so what is a bicycle boulevard? It’s a quiet street with low traffic volumes that is made even more bike-friendly by using methods to minimize the number of cars, reduce their speed, and make bicyclists more visible. The goal is to make the street so welcoming for bicyclists that everyone feels safe riding on them. 

These are not necessarily meant to be long commuting routes, and they won’t take the place of bike lanes like Lincoln Avenue. They are meant as quiet neighborhood routes that mothers can use to ride with their children on their own bikes to get to school or to a park, or that senior citizens -- or any-aged citizen -- can ride to go to the grocery store, or library.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and since many North American cities are in various stage of introducing bike boulevards, we’ll just borrow, with thanks, their educational materials. Sometimes a video is worth a thousand words, so first watch this video about Berkeley’s bike boulevards, from Streetfilms. It’s eight minutes long.

Now look at this page from Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance (their equivalent of Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance), specifically click on the elements in the “Toolkit” labelled “Auto Speed Reduction”, “Auto Traffic Reduction”, etc to read about elements used in creating bike boulevards.
Giant bike symbols on Berkeley's bike boulevards send the message that bikes belong.
(Picture seen on
As you see from those sources, a bicycle boulevard doesn’t CONTAIN a bike lane, the street IS the bike lane. Auto drivers are expected to drive at reduced speeds (ideally 15 mph, in our opinion) and will be encouraged to do so through the use of speed humps, bump outs and mini traffic circles. They’ll be expecting the presence of cyclist due to the presence of signs remind them that it’s a bicycle boulevard. Berkeley has giant bicycle stencils on the street that reinforce the message that bicyclists are allowed to use the full width of the lane.

In order to reduce car traffic and discourage drivers from using the street as a short cut, there are occasionally diverters that make cars turn, while allowing bikes and pedestrians through. The diagram below shows a very elaborate diverter on a bike boulevard that makes a slight jog, but many diverters are made simply by strategic placement of bollards.
Wait, carcentric Los Angeles is putting bike boulevards in, and Chicago doesn't have any yet?!?
(Rendering of LA traffic diverter by Aaron Kuehn seen on
Here’s an important thing to remember for Lincoln Park: Even if a side street is one way for car traffic, it can be made into a two-way boulevard for bicyclists. On street parking remains in place and is considered a positive because it narrows the street and calms traffic. Since bicyclists ride in the center of the lane, they are out of the "door zone".

In order to make sure bicyclists can move along at a steady pace without many interruptions, stop signs are “turned” in their favor, which means that intersections of two side streets that were previously four-way stops, become two-way stops, with the bike boulevard traffic no longer required to stop. 

If the bike boulevard crosses a major street, there are signals placed to make sure the bike traffic can cross safely and expeditiously.

Signage is placed to help bicyclists stay on the route and to calculate distances. We love that they often don’t just tell the bicyclist that a destination is a certain distance, but also the time it will take to get there. 
Portland Bicycle Boulevards sign. "Milwaukie" is a town in Oregon, not a misprint.
(Image seen on
We think bicycle boulevards will be a terrific addition to Chicago's bikeways network, because they'll encourage people who would never consider riding in the city because even on-street bike lanes like the ones on Armitage or Lincoln don’t feel safe enough. 

If you’re one of those people, you’re in good company: An enormous number of people in Chicago fall into the category of “interested but too scared” to bike, and we don’t blame you. Where’s the link to the survey backing up our claim of “enormous numbers of scared people”, you ask? We don’t have one, but if our statement weren’t true, we would see thousands of people on the streets of Lincoln Park on their bikes every day, and only a few hundred in their cars, instead of the other way around. But we’ll get there...with your help.

Maybe Lill Street near Jonquil Park would be a good bike boulevard? (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
So join us on November 20. Mark your calendar. We’ll send you an e-mail invite if you’re on the e-mail list (contact us at to join the list). We’re looking forward to planning with you.

Lincoln Park Bicycle Boulevards Plan and Ride
Sunday, November 20, 2011
8:30 am to 11:00 am (?)
Start at CityGrounds Coffee Bar, upstairs
507 W. Dickens (just west of Lincoln, next to Four Farthings)
RSVP appreciated for planning purposes: Michelle/Michael at


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