Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Loop's first protected bike lane is open for business!

by Michelle Stenzel

You'll remember that in August, Mayor Emanuel announced publicly that Chicago would be getting its first two-way protected bike lane in the Loop on Dearborn, by the end of 2012. As the weeks and then months went by and there was no sign of it materializing, I began to lose hope, but suddenly, construction began. I've been stalking the new lane every opportunity I had while it was being installed, and I still can't believe it's done, but it is! 

It opened on Friday, December 14th, at a press conference hosted by Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, and attended by Mayor Emanuel. I rode on the lane for the very first time on the way to the event, and was pleased to immediately be in the midst of five or six other riders heading the same way. It was like a little slice of Europe, right here in Chi-town:

Way more to be seen after the jump!  ---------->

I'm completely in love with the bike-specific signals along the route, this one at Jackson:

Here's the mayor speaking at the press conference. Yes, I stand on top of park benches in order to get a better view for you, dear Bike Walk Lincoln Park readers:

The best coverage of the event was on Grid Chicago, of course, which post you can see here.

At the end of the press conference, we got on our bikes, high-fived the mayor, and rode off! There were at least 50 people with bikes in attendance, and here's the little group that was behind me. I see Bike Walk Lincoln Park friends Harry and Craig! We were well represented at the opening ceremony:

My husband and I rode downtown again today since the rain had let up, so that he could experience the new lane, and I could further assess it. Keep in mind that if you live in Lincoln Park, the Dearborn bike lane is not far away! The start point is less than two miles from the corner of North and Wells, which is about a ten-minute ride.

First, here's a review of the map of the lane. It's just over one mile long, from Kinzie on the north, to Polk Street in the south:

After riding it both ways now twice, my opinion in a nutshell: Fantastic. I'm so used to being buzzed by fast-moving cars in the Loop and being very tense from having to concentrate really hard. This lane allows me to relax and enjoy the ride! Whether heading southbound or northbound, I can just roll slowly, knowing that either parked vehicles and/or bollards are keeping moving vehicles from getting physically close to me. All I have to do is watch for green light in the shape of a bike, which is downright fun.

Here's the view southbound, by Wacker. I love the signs saying "Do Not Enter, Except Bikes":

It was very busy with lots of pedestrians and car traffic near the Goodman Theatre and the Christkindlmarkt near Washington, so I didn't take more pictures until it was a little calmer. Here's the intersection of Jackson and Dearborn, looking south. I'm really, really hoping these painted symbols stay nice and bright like they are currently:

Here's the view south of Congress, when it become very quiet. There are many cute little neighborhood eateries down there that will undoubtedly love customers who arrive on bikes! I know that my husband and I are going to make a point of patronizing them regularly. We encountered about 15 or more other bicyclists in the lane while we were  on it, which seems like a decently high number, given that it was a chilly and overcast Sunday in December:

The bike lane ends at the T intersection at Dearborn Station:

Here's the full trio of signals seen by northbound vehicle traffic (including bicycle riders). People on bikes get either red, yellow or green bike signals:

Motor vehicle drivers are supposed to follow the arrow signal and not turn when they have a red arrow (this is not new technology, People!) and yet there were quite a few drivers who ignored that, and proceeded to turn left across the bicycle lane as if they had a green arrow.

This ignoring the red arrow was most prevalent at Van Buren, where drivers seemed to be doing it blatantly in violation of the law, and not because they were confused or distracted by too much sensory input. That seemed to be the case at Madison, when a female driver started turning in front of me as I rode southbound with the green bike light. I pointed up to the signals and she nodded and waved apologetically. 

But those tense moments were outweighed by the overall joy I felt on our leisurely ride. Look how relaxed I am here:

I like this picture because it reflects how compressed, busy, vital, and alive the Loop is, and now people on bicycles have our own space carved out:

Yes, there is a big puddle there, and the drainage needs to be improved. Yes, those people are indeed standing in the bike lane. All that will all work itself out in time. The important thing is that I've got that green light, and I'm moving forward.

Follow Bike Walk Lincoln Park on Twitter @BikeWalkLP


  1. I cannot wait until tomorrow morning when I will turn right off of Kinzie onto Dearborn instead of going out of my way to State or holding my breath to see if I make it alive on Clark! And I am going to start looking up the restaurants in the south Loop!

    1. Looking forward to some Dearborn lunch adventures with you! -- MS