Friday, December 14, 2012
What makes a bike lane good?
Family riders, the older and the not bold have a different need for what makes a bike lane safe and usable than a hypothetical 22-38 year old male strong rider. Attracting this huge segment of bike traveler - people like us - is the constant mantra of the major cycling organizations in the country— including in Chicago. It follows that lanes which comfortably accommodate the largest swath of potential riders are the best long term investment for our city. Good lanes speak for themselves. They get used without fanfare all over the United States.
In honor of the debut of the Dearborn Lane tomorrow here is our own yardstick from a family rider perspective for measuring the new lanes erupting in Chicago. It just so happens that we really do have riders in the family from 8-80!
Is the new lane...
Likely to leave you hanging?
Connecting useful destinations?
A protected lane should be so protected from other traffic (and car doors) that your 8 year old nephew can ride it with you and tell you all about Star Wars without making you nervous. In other American cities (except e.g. Washington DC) and in other countries, this usually involves concrete. A concrete wall, car-proof barrier, or at least a curb keeps the teenage texting driver away from your kid, and vice versa. This is much better than a little plastic bat or simple paint as generally used in Chicago. Trees or planters or steel barriers are also strong enough to protect lanes.
Here in Chicago the gold standard protected lane is the Lakefront Path, which is separated by an entire park from traffic along much of its length.
A truly protected lane is also durable enough to last for years without much upkeep. If the bike lane is divided from the other traffic with concrete Jersey highway barriers it'll last a lot longer, be safer and be cheaper than one divided by paint or plastic bats, even without upkeep. You can't see paint under dust and snow or after it's worn away. You can see concrete.
Summary: Lanes get full marks if drivers can't drive into the lane; plastic bats and bollards are, um, protected-ish? Paint is just, well, paint.
Won't leave you hanging?
If Grandma and Junior are headed off to school on the bike lane and it only goes halfway before stopping and spilling them out into car traffic, like (among many examples) Kinzie at Wells, the lane doesn't make riding easier; it increases their chance of scaring them off their bikes. Lanes have to go the whole way somewhere without stranding riders in the middle of nowhere. A lane that is hard to get on and hard to get off is not helpful.
Summary: No good lane is an island.
Connecting useful destinations?
If a lane doesn't go near where normal casual family riders need to ride, it isn't that useful. A lane on Elston is nice but few families can use it to go anywhere efficiently. Why not put car traffic back on Elston and block off half of Milwaukee for bikes instead? Schools and shopping and train stations and so on should all be linked by the bike path network, not just factories and empty lots.
Summary: Simple routes to popular places.
All we wanted for the holidays was a nice bike lane in the Loop. We can't wait to try out Dearborn tomorrow and see what is in the box!