Most of Chicargobike’s information is now years old. It still holds up pretty well, most of it, but we haven't been adding to it or editing it. Most of us aren't riding bikes as much, anymore, either. We needed to get to places much further away, faster, and the kids got too big to schlep on a parent's bike. We are still riding, some of us more than others, and of course the kids are big and independent. Some of us have ended up at Stroger Trauma with serious injuries more than once after cars broke the law. We are still bike people, I guess. But we often use a car now.
We stopped actively writing in 2015 for many reasons. The main reason, though, was that we didn't feel comfortable encouraging other families in Chicago to get out onto the street with their kids anymore. It seemed too dangerous. It also seemed too unfriendly to advise against it.
At the time we stopped adding to this blog, CDOT and the city were well along putting in 'protected' lanes. We actively participated in the planning process but the 'protection' when the lanes were done was not what we had hoped and pressed for, and in the end it was not very safe. Only in a few places, to separate us bikers and our kids from the usual speeding vehicles and late commuters, has concrete been used. Mostly the city still installs plastic bollards that started to be plowed down as soon as the first rush hour starts or painted lanes. Look at the entire right hand lane of the westbound Roosevelt Road bridge from the South Loop, for example. Within a week it was back the way it started. The whole right lane was (and still is?) designated as a bike lane. It just isn't one.
Amsterdam, the constantly cited model bike city, separates bike traffic from motorized traffic on a largely separated road system. New York City put in concrete barriers on many of its lanes, or moved parking into the street and allowed the bike lane to run between parked cars and the sidewalk. In Chicago, this approach worked OK in the few places like Lasalle downtown where it was separated by a concrete curb, but areas without the concrete barriers, like Lake Street, just became another 'express' lane for people in a hurry to drive their car past the traffic on the right. CDOT also added a designation for quieter streets with lower speed limits and speed bumps that were not protected by concrete or bollards, just painted "sharrows". The city of Chicago changed the international designation of 'protected' (which means concrete) to include paint and plastic.
Now, this week, the worst fears of anyone who has taken their kids on these 'safe' bike lanes have been realized. From reading the news, it seems that a family of three riding on a designated low-traffic street with an official bike lane were moving past a utility truck parked in their bike lane, and a semi-trailer truck that probably shouldn't be on a traffic reduced street anyway apparently ran over the mom's bike, killing the toddler on the back. The mom and dad did nothing wrong. But it is not the semi truck driver's child or the child of the bike lane blocking utility truck driver who was lost. We can't imagine the grief.
Streets that allow kids on bikes and also allow semi trucks are badly planned streets. Bike lanes and city offices that promise safety but don't actually offer it are fraudulent shams. Laws that prohibit blocking a bike lane but that aren't strictly enforced are window dressing. And selling an insufficient scattershot bike lane system as a solution to Chicago residents who need to get around the city in a time of $5 gas is unjustifiable.
From reading the news, we think the two truck drivers, their companies that apparently permit unsafe practices, and CDOT and the city are all responsible for this disaster. It is not at all the fault of the family who were falsely reassured by promises of safety.
Until the concrete infrastructure and the will to make change at the highest levels of planning are there to make bike transportation in the city truly safe, is it safe to family ride in Chicago? There it is. Sorry. We applaud the "Walk and Roll for Safe Streets” event organized by Better Streets Chicago and Chicago Family Biking. We also support the work of Active Transportation Alliance in combination with Better Streets Chicago and especially Bike Lane Uprising who have all been raising voices for better lanes long before this awful month.