Monday, July 23, 2012

The scoop from Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan guru Mike Amsden

by Michelle Stenzel

If you’ve been to any of the citywide Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan meetings, you’ll probably recognize Mike Amsden, who is a Bike Program Project Manager at CDOT. He and others are working hard to create the final eight-year S4C2020 plan, and also concurrently drawing up new and upgraded Chicago bikeways to be installed this season. 

For bicyclists who are dying to know what’s next on the horizon for Chicago’s bike network, he’s THE man to talk to.
Mike Amsden presents at the north side Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan meeting in February 2012.
(Photo by Flickr user saumacus, used with permission)
He also happens to be a resident of Lincoln Park! I worked with Mike in my role as a volunteer community advisory group leader for the S4C2020 public input gathering, and he graciously agreed to answer questions recently about the ongoing bikeways being installed right now and in the coming year.

Bike Walk Lincoln Park: There are seven miles of protected bike lanes installed in Chicago so far, almost all on the west and south sides. It seems like to date, they’re being put in where it’s easy to put them in, meaning extremely wide street width and no parking meter issues. Would you say that’s true?

Mike Amsden: Well, we began with areas in which aldermen actively expressed an interest in having them, and in which there were fewer design problems to overcome. It also gave us a chance to get experience designing them, and they give us examples within the city to show that they can be implemented successfully.

BWLP: Will the north side ever get protected bike lanes?

MA: Yes, of course.  Depending on your definition of the northside, two rather prominent protected bike lanes are already in – Kinzie Street and Elston Avenue.  We can’t do protected bike lanes in some northside neighborhoods as quickly due to the narrower width of the streets and the number of metered parking spaces in the densely populated areas. 

BWLP: Will we be able to move or remove parking in order to make way for protected bike lanes on the north side?

MA: Yes, we’re looking to do that whenever possible. Relocating metered spots off the main arterials and onto the adjacent side streets is an option, but it will be tough.

BWLP: I was surprised to see in Alderman Michele Smith’s newsletter that Halsted from Division to North Avenue will be getting a buffered lane. I was hoping that a protected bike lane would be possible on much of Halsted, or most of it. It seems really wide to me.

MA: It all comes down to roadway width.  Without looking at it in too much detail, it’s probably a 50-foot wide roadway, and 52 feet is the bare minimum needed to put in PBLs.  And even with 52 feet, it’s a relatively tight 5 feet wide bike lane and 3-foot buffer.  
Screen shot taken July 23, 2012 from the Active Transportation Alliance's Interactive Bikeways Tracker map.
Blue lines are completed bikeways, red lines are proposed to be done soon. Kinzie and Elston blue lines are completed protected bike lanes. All other lines shown are completed or planned buffered bike lanes.
BWLP: There are many people out there who feel that buffered bike lanes are not enough change from what we currently have to get more people riding bikes, because it’s just a little 2 mm high layer of paint. What is your response to that?

MA: Buffered bike lanes definitely don’t provide as much protection as protected bike lanes, but they do provide more width and visibility to the bicyclist compared to conventional bike lanes, and they encourage cyclists to ride outside of the door zone. People should keep in mind that buffered bike lanes and even regular bike lanes are used successfully in other cities and other countries with high levels of bicycling, as part of their overall network.  Protected bike lanes will be installed when feasible, but they’re not the only solution. 

BWLP: I know that colored paint increases the costs of a project by a lot more than one would expect, but will we at least see more green thermoplastic paint on the lanes to improve visibility? Both buffered and conventional?

MA:  It does increase costs quite a bit.  Right now we’re only using green in conflict areas where motorists and bicyclist cross the same path – when right turn lanes are introduced for motorists or at driveways/alleys/cross streets.  Going forward, we would like to experiment with green for longer stretches – especially on the Spoke Routes identified in the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan.  
Green paint increases visibility of the new lane on Elston at Division. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
BWLP: For the north side, Clark Street has been designated on the draft Plan as our “spoke route”, providing the safest facilities to get people in and out of the Loop. So I’m gathering though that Clark won’t be a protected bike lane for its entire length? [See our post on an overview of the S4C2020 Draft Plan here for more about spoke routes and other lingo coming up in the interview.]

MA: We’re going to put in protected bike lanes wherever possible on the Spoke Routes, but it won’t be for the entire stretch of Clark from downtown to Howard.  We definitely want protected lanes downtown, but we’ll also be putting in buffered bike lanes.  The stretch from Oak to North, for example, is currently being resurfaced and will be getting buffered bike lanes.  

BWLP: How about Clark from North to Armitage?

MA: That’s definitely a good candidate for a protected bike lane, through converting it from four lanes to three lanes. Immediately north of Armitage, it gets very tight again. 

BWLP: I saw recently that the Wells Street bridge will be out of commission completely starting in December 2012 for a full year. That takes out the only bridge to get into the Loop that has a bike lane and a plate. What’s going to be the best alternate route for northside bike commuters after December?

MA: We’re currently working on an alternate route for bicyclists coming into the Loop from the northside.  We’re hoping to have protected bike lanes coming into the Loop this fall, but at a minimum, we need to at least make an additional bridge bicycle-friendly.  

BWLP:  So Clark and Dearborn are identified in the S4C2020 Plan as either Crosstown or Spoke Routes through the Loop. Will these be actual protected lanes, along the curb, with parked cars moved over, like on Kinzie Street?  And a moving car lane will be taken out to do this?

MA: That's the plan; we'd prefer to have protected lanes through the Loop. Designs haven't been finalized, but we realize cyclists need as much comfort and protection as possible in the Loop.

BWLP: When will the final Streets for Cycling 2020 plan be released?

MA: We’re expecting to release the final draft for public review in September.

BWLP: We didn’t make the deadline of 25 miles of protected bike lanes in Chicago by May 2012, but what are the chances we’ll have 50 miles installed by May 2013?

MA: Our goal is to install 100 miles of protected bike lanes by May of 2015.

BWLP: Can we bug you for more updates in the future?

MA: Sure. 


  1. Thanks so much for this interview, Michelle. Some very exciting stuff.

    1. You're welcome, Aaron. Lots to look forward to. -- MS