Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chicago's New Cycle Track Will Not Be Optional For Bicyclists

Our beautiful new cycle track on Kinzie Avenue is nearly complete.  It provides a safe pathway for bicyclists traveling into Chicago's Loop from Milwaukee Avenue to Wells Street, segregated from motor vehicles.  Long overdue, the track promises to be the first 1/2 mile of a promised 100 miles of protected bikeways to be built in Chicago over the next few years.  Segregating bicyclists from motor vehicles is likely to make riding in the city safer and will encourage more folks to pedal around town, decreasing motor vehicle congestion and increasing the city's overall health and livability.

Bicyclists, like any other loosely defined "community" of individuals, like to complain about stuff.  And I have already heard concerns among bicyclists over the new cycle track.  Some worry -- not unreasonably -- that funneling riders into a insulated space will make getting around by bike slower, less enjoyable.  The cycle track, some fear, will get clogged with slower riders, and that it will be difficult for quicker riders to pass due to the presence of the segregating barriers.  Some of those concerned about being forced to "go Dutch" have declared an intent to simply ignore the cycle track, to ride Kinzie in the regular lane of traffic.  Well, not so fast.  Once the Kinzie cycle track is complete, riding in it will be required for bicyclists, not an option.  Section 9-52-020 of Chicago's Municipal Code states,
(d)  Whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.
The only time when a bicyclist may arguably avoid the cycle track will be if its use is not feasible, i.e. due to the collection of snow or debris.  Otherwise, it must be utilized when traveling that stretch of Kinzie.

I like going fast.  I am guessing there are going to be times during my commute when I am frustrated because I am behind a slow poke in flip flops on a cruiser carrying 25 plastic bags of junk.  But I am hoping that will happen rarely, and in any event is a fair trade-off for not constantly fearing for my life while trying to get to work in the morning.


  1. So a cycle track is no longer part of the roadway just because of the presence of some paint and bollards? I was always under the impression that 9-52-020 was in reference to explicit non-road infrastructure like MUPs, not demarcations on what is obviously still road.

    If 9-52-020 works the way you're reading it, that 100 miles of protected lanes is a whole lot less exciting. And I'm not thinking so much about a loss in speed as I am the same sort of wobbly "it's not road! no rules! no courtesy! wooo!" dangerous nonsense you see on the LFP.

  2. Nick,

    The term "usable path" is not a defined term in Chapter 9-4 of the Municipal Code of Chicago. I think it likely that absent further guidance as to what that term means, that a police officer and/or a judge could reasonably view the cycle track as a "usable path for bicycles." But let's give this thing a chance. I certainly don't see Kinzie becoming like the LFP.

  3. So we now have a selectively-mandatory segregated stretch of road (which is arguably *not* road) which is boxed in by bollards and impossible to exit at a second's notice to avoid debris unless it's at a section where it's possible to exit the thing by design. That's *worse* than the LFP. Are Streets & Sanitation at least responsible for clearing the thing? And if they are, as opposed to, say, the Park District, why is it "path" and not "road"? - it's inwards of the sidewalk.

  4. And no, I didn't miss your point ("no definitions"). But the interpretive nature of the term is pretty dodgy when you look at it pragmatically. I'm not thrilled by having to ride through a heap of safety glass and waste a tube and/or tire just because I'm boxed in and maybe not allowed on road-proper.

  5. Well, the good thing about a bike Nick, is that you can actually pick it up and carry it over or around obstructions, unlike a car. +1 for bikes!

  6. "The only time when a bicyclist may arguably avoid the cycle track will be if its use is not feasible, i.e. due to the collection of snow or debris."

    Slowpoke cyclists = debris

  7. "Well, the good thing about a bike Nick, is that you can actually pick it up and carry it over or around obstructions, unlike a car. +1 for bikes!"

    +1 for bikes, indeed. -10 for playing make-believe cyclocross when the daydreamer riding along behind you in segregated bliss notices you getting off your bike when they are right on top of you.

    Non-segregated infrastructure at least allows you to maneuver around things (+1 for bikes!). If we're to be stuck in the cycletrack while riding that stretch of Kinzie, they'd damn well better sweep it out regularly.

  8. This language in the existing municipal code needs to be changed.

    As it stands it threatens the hard fought and hard won rights of cyclists to the road, puts them in danger of being ticketed unfairly, reinforces the erroneous notion that bicyclists should always be on a road with a bike lane, and always in that lane and on occasions puts cyclists and other road users safety in jeopardy.

    Separated facilities are a necessary step towards encouraging more people to bicycle and to increase safety through numbers. But bicyclists should not be glib about sacrificing their right to the road. To do so is to step onto a very slippery slope.

    What about accessing mid-block destinations on the opposite side of the street from which one is riding?? Are cyclists now required to pedal past their destination to the next intersection, do a box style U-turn and double back on the opposite side of the street?

    Or more importantly how are left turns expected to be executed legally under this code? All turns must now be made from the bike lane, pedestrian style? How is that expected to work on Kinzie at Franklin?

    If a cyclists moves out of the lane to avoid an obstacle, make a left turn, access a mid block destination on the opposite side of the street and is struck by a vehicle, has the cyclists compromised their legal protections under this current language?

    These are not questions to be taken lightly and I think very few people realize the potential impact of this law on cycling in the city as we gain new separated facilities.

    Separated facilities should be an option, not a requirement.

  9. I recently visited Amsterdam where bicycling is the norm for most rather than the exception. A separate path is generally provided everywhere, and with a bit of patience on the part of you folks who act like it's a crime to ride at a slower pace, the path is a godsend. Get over yourself and let's move forward into a greener 21st century and more fit citizens!

  10. So Nurunt you would have said back in the 60s that separate facilities, for minorities, were ok, and get over it.


Search This Blog