City brings shielded bike lanes to 55th Street

As part of Rahm Emanuel’s project to pave 100 miles of bike lanes in his first term, protected bike paths will stretch from Cottage Grove to Lake Park.

By Stephanie Xiao

Hyde Park is about to get a lot more bike-friendly.

One mile of bike lanes will be added to 55th Street from Cottage Grove Avenue to Lake Park Avenue early this summer as part of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Streets for Cycling Plan.

Protected bike lanes, located next to the curb and separated from traffic by a median or a parking lane, will be installed from Cottage Grove to Dorchester. Along the narrower section between Dorchester and Lake Park, buffered bike lanes, outlined by heavily painted lines, will be installed between parking lanes and traffic.

South Side resident and active cyclist Howard Zar, who co-leads an advisory group for the Streets for Cycling Plan, pointed to safety concerns as a main motivator for the expansion of Chicago’s bike lane network.

“Many people don’t ride bikes in the city because they’re wary of injury, so we hope that if bike lanes are installed, current bikers would be safer, and people who don’t like biking now would be encouraged to ride,” Zar said.

City traffic data show that 55th Street only serves about 15,700 cars each day, compared to the 165,200 cars that pass through the busiest segment of Lake Shore Drive daily. Along with wider-than-necessary travel lanes, that relative emptiness encourages recklessness and speeding, according to the CDOT website. With the addition of bike lanes, 55th will undergo a lane reduction, ultimately reducing the prevalence of dangerous driving practices without considerably increasing traffic congestion, Zar explained.

President of the U of C Velo Club and fifth-year graduate student Jesse Williams offered support for new bike lanes while highlighting the extent of unsafe road practices on 55th Street.

“There is definitely a fine line between safe riding practices, which many people in Hyde Park don’t follow, and drivers not being aware of the cyclists, which is surprisingly common. Regardless, however, the Velo Club is in full support of increasing the number of bike lanes on the South Side, as it is currently severely deficient,” Williams wrote in an e-mail.

The entire Streets for Cycling infrastructure plan is projected to cost approximately $32 million in federally-funded grants over the four-year-span of its implementation. Almost 30 non-metered parking spaces will be removed with the addition of bike lanes, according to the Hyde Park Herald.

Lee Crandell, Director of Campaigns at Active Transportation Alliance, also attested to the widespread benefits of an increased bikeway network, pointing to statistics from other large cities such as New York City and Portland, Oregon, where the installation of bike lanes have led to significant reductions in bicycle accidents.

“More people will have the option to bike, which is great for the city because riding a bike makes people healthier. It helps reduce diabetes. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the economy,” Crandell said.

The 55th Street bike lane project is only one of many that Chicago is sponsoring to increase the availability for greener transportation options around the city. In addition to the implementation of a citywide bike-sharing program, bike lanes have already been installed as far north as Division Street in Humboldt Park and as far south as 103rd Street.

At a January 2011 press conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised 100 miles of bike lanes by the end of his four-year term. As of Wednesday, the marker of his first year in office, only 6.5 miles of bike lanes have been installed. To Crandell, however, the wait will be worth it.

“The streets should be welcoming to all kinds of people whether they are eight years old or 80. Anybody should be able to ride their bikes through the streets of Chicago without having to worry about their safety,” Crandell said.