Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mayor's Bike Meeting and .... A Total Streets Approach to Creating Better Neighborhood Riding Conditions for Children in Chicago

Parents in Chicago who wish to use bikes as transportation with their independent young riders are thwarted at every turn. Dangerous traffic uneducated about our youngest cyclists, terrible road conditions, lack of infrastructure for bikes, poorly marked and vulnerable bike lanes. All these factors add up to using public transportation or the car instead of a bicycle in most cases when families are often traveling less than two miles to reach school, shopping, parks libraries or museums.

How can we rectify this as a city? I'm sick of telling my sons they can't ride the four miles to school each morning they can easily pedal in no time because it just isn't safe period.

Today Pedestrian Observations published a critique of rails to trails conversion in the U.S. and separated infrastructure overseas. As a huge fan of well designed separated lanes and road calming here in Chicago I was particularly interested in the comment left by a Dutch reader describing how they use a variety of methods to create better cycling opportunities in Holland. I was interested as always in the mix used in other places both in the U.S. and abroad  and it is part of my solution to riding with children here in Chicago. The comment will be published at the bottom of the post so you can read it too.

Here's my prescription for Chicago.
Let's infrastructure "bomb" one or two neighborhoods here in Chicago in the next year to create cycling forward zones. We could target four-five schools, two CPL libraries, shopping and parks to create pathways that reach these key places designed specifically for the 8-80 rider. The infrastructure for cyclists could and should be a mix of traffic calming and separated lanes in a mix of styles. This would not be ward specific but cycling user specific designed to increase ridership to these most used places for families. Studying the families that use other kinds of transportation to get to school as is being done in Mr. Colon's ward could give some of the information needed to begin laying out lanes.

In my neighborhood there are five schools in close proximity to four parks, three shopping areas, a major university and one public library. These places serve families in at least two wards. I'd like to address moving beyond ward thinking for creating better cycling in another post! That said, the ward to ward thinking behind cycling development is not how we all actually ride. I pass through four wards in my first leg to school alone. By the time I ride home and back I have been in at least three to four more. This is how most of us commute here and as constant users of roads in every ward we all have a stake in each community change in cycling infrastructure.

While Logan Square is a natural choice for this due to political support and a high number of cyclists, I think that it would be wise to choose one ward that has the motivation or Logan itself  (or say Pilsen) and another far less obvious community with far, far fewer cyclists.

I think that creating one or two cycling specific communities would create demand for this amenity in other parts of the city if done well!  What neighborhood would you choose?

Just something to think on before you head off to the Mayor's Bike Meeting Tomorrow click for all the details. See you there!

Here is Andre Lot's comment from Pedestrian Observations:

Andre Lot says:
Alon, one must not take a one-size-fit-all approach! The Netherlands, due to its flatness, are probably the country with the larges cycling infrastructure in the World on a per sq. mile/per 1.000 inhabitant basis. This is how they do it, I’ll provide you with some links from the municipality I live in (the canal belt in Amsterdam is not a good reference with its odd demand pattern and lousy tourists).
On the very roads that front houses outside downtown, they use traffic calming patterns and “total street” approach, with speed limited to 30 km/h. Look here:http://g.co/maps/h4s48 , here: http://g.co/maps/3wm9j or here:http://g.co/maps/8bsbd.
For fast connections, they have segregated, well signed bike paths, like the one you can see on this traffic light crossing orthogonal: http://g.co/maps/5bd8u and also here: http://g.co/maps/jk2ds
Along major urban roads, bikes don’t share the lanes with cars or trucks. That is dangerous. Instead, they have physically segregated parallel bike lanes, like here:http://g.co/maps/qp8jj or here http://g.co/maps/fkht8 (these roads all have 50 km/h speed limit).
Outside urban areas, only minor roads allow bikes to share the ROW like this one: http://g.co/maps/rtzq5, speed limith 70 km/h.
Else, they either have segregated bike paths like here: http://g.co/maps/8ya9a or here http://g.co/maps/6j24g.
On high-speed links, freeways, or even urban expressways/ring roads, bicycles, scooters and small motorbikes are not allowed at all like herehttp://g.co/maps/zwazr or here http://g.co/maps/xdg8d or herehttp://g.co/maps/rcngf
There are also many completely independent bike paths, far from any other car-road, some linking different cities, that I can’t show because they are not on Google Street View.
Use segregation, albeit scorned by part of urban planners, is still the most efficient way to organize traffic in bigger cities.
That doesn’t mean rail lines should be converted on bike paths if they have better use as rail lines in first place. This is another discussion you took on your post. However, to suggest that own ROW, segregated bike paths are inherently bad is the same of passing a blank condemnation on all pedestrianized areas, or all restricted access highways no-matter-what.


  1. Focusing on one or two neighborhoods would be an interesting strategy. If we're deciding where to do it based on families, here is a map of the population density of children aged 0-17 in Chicago that I created (Download the PDF for the most legible version). It looks like Albany Park, Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Cragin, Hermosa, Pilsen, Heart of Chicago, Little Village, Brighton Park, Back of the Yards, Gage Park, and Chicago Lawn have the highest concentrations of children. Little Village and Back of the Yards might be the highest. All or most of these are largely Hispanic neighborhoods. I'd want to look at a few other factors, but I think these would be good candidates.

  2. Interesting and thought-provoking post, thank you. I agree there must be a better way to plan bicycle infrastructure than taking it ward by ward, especially given their irregular boundaries and small size. As you said, a relatively short bike ride on a single street can pass through multiple wards. I touched on this issue in a recent post, which may be of interest to you or your readers:


  3. Hi- Thanks to John and Michelle for commenting! Sorry to be slow to respond- we're swamped by the science fair!
    Pilsen interestes me for many reasons- the mix if cyclists and non riders to start. Many kids that live in Pilsen commute to a magnet school near us and much of the last year I have been wondering if it would be possible to make it easier to ride to school for them if the infrastructure ws in place. It would be under two miles for most if not all of the kids who make the trip interestingly enough.
    Michelle- I need to come to one of your meetings and learn about how to grow a ward bike peds committee!! J.

  4. Sorry for all the scary typos! J.

  5. I think it's really interesting to see where the concentrations of children are in the city. How is it possible to make a map of where the schools, parks, libraries and shopping intersect where the highest number of kids are?
    I thin any of the communities mentioned would be an interesting place to begin. Logan has such a build up of bicycle power that it would be possible to begin there-- even though it makes me envious to say it

  6. You're welcome to contact me any time (bikewalklincolnpark@gmail.com) but I'm brand new at all this and just learning on the job. :)


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