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Let’s invest, Chicago, and make our streets safer for cyclists

New York has more than three times as many miles of bike lanes as Chicago, but 10% of New York’s bike lanes are now protected, compared with only 8% in Chicago.

Posted traffic signs remind drivers to watch for bicyclists Wednesday at Harrison and Clinton streets.
Posted traffic signs remind drivers to watch for bicyclists Wednesday at Harrison and Clinton streets.
Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Chicago has a reputation for being bike-friendly, but it’s more hype than reality.

The numbers tell part of the story: Four cyclists have died in traffic accidents so far this year, and Chicago has averaged 5.5. deaths per year since 2012.

Non-fatal traffic accidents involving cyclists are on a sharp rise, city Department of Transportation data show, with 1,940 in 2018 and 1,763 so far this year, compared to 1,308 in 2017.

Chicagoans take at least 125,000 bike trips every day. Clearly, city officials must do more to make cycling safer.

Yet as the Sun-Times’ Matthew Hendrickson reports, the city is far behind on a 2012 plan to install more safety infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes that are bordered by concrete curbs or plastic bollards.

Citywide, 60 percent of Chicagoans do not have safe bikeways in their neighborhoods, according to the Active Transportation Alliance.

Nationally, cycling fatalities have increased 25 percent since 2010. And other cities, such as New York, have been more aggressive about addressing the problem.

New York has more than three times as many miles of bike lanes as Chicago. But 10% of New York’s bike lanes are now protected, compared with only 8% in Chicago. San Francisco and the Twin Cities in Minnesota, both much smaller cities than Chicago, have far more miles of protected bike lanes than our city.

“Safety infrastructure doesn’t just protect people biking,” the Alliance’s Kyle Whitehead told us. “It makes the streets safer for everybody. In other cities, it’s been shown that it makes drivers slow down, car-to-car crashes go down. There are lots of benefits to investing in this.”

So let’s invest, Chicago.

And one final point: Give the city’s traffic experts, not aldermen, the final say on spending.

We say that because the latest cycling death happened near the intersection of 67th Street — which has sections of unprotected bike lanes — and Stony Island Avenue. The city has proposed constructing more bike lanes on heavily traveled Stony Island, but local aldermen have opposed the plan.

Would protected bike lanes have prevented this year’s biking fatalities? We can’t say for sure. But greater safety is worth the investment.

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