Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Spirit of '76

Not last month's Critical Mass. It's a bikeway on the Magnificent Mile about 1976, looking north toward the Wrigley Building. Are you one of these people?
Photo from the 1976 Schwinn Bicycle Company catalog, page 7.

Original caption:
"Many cities, like Chicago, provide extensive well marked bike routes.  Here, cyclists ride along the Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue. It’s one of the many streets comprising Chicago’s Bikeway network. Thousands of club cyclists take advantage of the city’s scenic spots .  .  .  .  for fun and recreation as well as commuting to the job."
The bike paths, protected lanes, and neighborhood greenways that are being planned by the Chicago Department of Transportation these days — Streets for Cycling — promise a great step into the future... but that was exactly what similar plans looked like they were promising back in the late 1960s and 1970s, and everyone is still waiting. 

For today's cycling improvements to be realized it's more important than you might think for YOU to keep pushing for them. There is a list of some things you can do at the end of this post. If there is a dedicated, vocal group of bicycling voters like you pressing for change, maybe inertia or other priorities won't be able to distract the city government's attention, and bicycling can become a sensible form of transportation for everybody.

The Chicago Schwinns from 1976 are all still rolling.
Check out the bicentennial paint job!
This is a 24" Varsity, all original but reflectors.
In the 1970s, the Daley administration, according to a couple of widely-plagiarized sentences that are nearly identical on every web source I saw, greatly expanded the small bikeway system to incorporate a full-length Lakefront Path, and by the middle of the decade they had even closed off a lane each on Clark and Dearborn streets for bicycle commuters. What happened to that, I wonder? 

I'm not sure if the Bikeways were generally simply painted lanes, or closed off streets like in the photo above. Please write a comment if you can tell us more about the 1970s and 80s cycling infrastructure in Chicago.

Of course, remember there was a major oil shock and gas mileage (MPG!) was a more important consideration than now. That and other factors led to the bike boom of the 70's. With millions of bikes sold, more bikes than cars in some years, bicycling was getting a lot of attention there for awhile.

You can compare the old and new bikeway/neighborhood greenway plans. Here's a link to the 1967 Guidelines for a Comprehensive Bicycle Route System document from the city Department of Development and Planning. Compare it to the new plan on the same website — while some objectives have been achieved, like the bike path over the Chicago River at the lakefront, we still have less of a bikeway system than they seem to have envisioned back then. 

While another oil shock probably isn't something to wish for, the costs of widespread car commuting in Chicagoland are becoming worse every year, including environmental and economic costs and wasted time. We'd love to see today's Chicago build a bike (and public transit) network that achieves and surpasses the goals of the past, making cycling a safe, uncomplicated, obvious first choice for any citizen planning a trip across town. I'd love to see that without enraging automobile drivers — a divided, well planned bike system could allow everyone to get where they are going without inconveniencing other travelers much, and it would be safer for everyone.

Those bicyclists in the photo are 36 years older now, and they're still waiting for the bicycle friendly city they were promised. There's no reason for you to wait as long as they have. 

You can still be a patriot even if it isn't 1976. Start your own revolution, cut out the middleman. If your alderman is planning changes in your ward, call and offer support. Make time for the Streets for Cycling public meetings this spring (we carry Grid Network in the sidebar so you can click it and check the meeting times), look into helping Walk Bike Transit, or join or start a ward bicycle committee like Bike Walk Lincoln Park. Please do whatever you can to support new bicycle lanes and greenways for your neighborhood and Chicago as a whole. 

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