What cyclists love — and hate — about biking in Chicago

Here’s what 200 cyclists said in a survey of riders in the city.

SHARE What cyclists love — and hate — about biking in Chicago
Cyclists said they don’t like lanes that are merely painted on the ground — because they often fade and offer little protection.

Cyclists said they don’t like lanes that are merely painted on the ground — because they often fade and offer little protection.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicagoans love their bikes, and they eagerly share their favorite routes to ride in the city.

Local cyclists also are quick to spout their frustrations and concerns, from safety to inadequate infrastructure. Those worries have been underscored this spring by a series of crashes that have killed riders at busy intersections.

WBEZ recently asked Chicagoans their thoughts on biking in the city — the good and the bad — and what questions they had for City Hall transportation officials. Questions and comments from nearly 200 cyclists poured in. (See their questions — and the city’s answers — in our sidebar.)

Frustrations include obstructed bike lanes and potholes, while protected lanes along Elston Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive drew praise.

What bothers Chicago cyclists the most

• When cars and buses block bike lanes

One of the most common annoyances we heard about biking in Chicago is how often bike lanes are ignored by motorists.

“They are almost always blocked by double parkers, delivery trucks, you name it. Looks great on paper, but does not work so well in real life,” wrote Susan Tonon of North Center.

A resident of North Lawndale said “it’s especially frustrating to see cop cars, CTA vehicles, news vans [and] other municipal vehicles do this when they especially should know better.”

West Loop resident Robbie Ellis said he’s “resigned to ride-shares” pulling into bike lanes.

Cars parked in protected bike lanes, like these in the 500 block of West Harrison Street, frustrate cyclists.

Cars parked in protected bike lanes, like these in the 500 block of West Harrison Street, frustrate cyclists.

Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

• Finding east-west routes

Riders love moving north-south on the Lakefront Trail and on other major thoroughfares, but “east-west bike travel could use some love,” as Benjamin Bedley of Buena Park put it.

“East-west is a lot more difficult,” an Uptown rider wrote. “Crossing the river is always an issue because you are funneled to the bridges, and they are hit or miss as far as bike lanes.”

There are some particular frustrations with Chicago Avenue, where one Wicker Park resident noted there’s a designated bus lane, but not a bike lane.

“So now if I try to be a law-abiding citizen and stay out of the bus lane, I get bombarded with car honks and cars that drive too close to me because they don’t want to share,” the biker wrote.

Eboni Senai Hawkins, who lives in Oak Park, said she chooses residential streets even over roads with bike lanes.

“The ones with lanes are often laid out alongside major traffic routes and I’d rather not play hopscotch with buses,” she wrote.

• Bike lanes that go nowhere

Riders in Chicago not only want protected bike lanes, but connected bike lanes. In the current network, cyclists say sometimes they’ll be cruising along and the lane abruptly stops.

“I ride along and all of a sudden, the bike lane is GONE! (Example: Jackson Boulevard),” wrote a cyclist from Oak Park.

An Uptown resident wrote that “bike lanes should be continuous, and all interconnected.”

With not enough connections, it forces riders to cross unsafe streets in order “to get to safe routes,” as a West Rogers Park cyclist put it.

• Potholes

Riders from around the city stand united in their hatred for potholes and their frustrations in how long it takes the city to fill them.

“The lanes through the West Side parks are often riddled with potholes,” Hawkins said.

Bike lanes can be rendered “useless” by potholes, like on Cortland Avenue, writes an East Village biker. That area has become a “rim-bending nightmare,” as a Humboldt Park resident put it.

“All over the South Side the quality of sidewalks, bike paths in parks and even streets are TERRIBLE. So many potholes,” wrote a Hyde Parker.

• Feeling unsafe

Chicago bike enthusiasts want more spaces where they can cruise without competing with cars for space.

“Having been hit and knocked to the ground twice by cars, once seriously, really impacted how safe I feel,” wrote a Lake View resident. “I know lots of people who won’t [bike] because they feel it is not safe. I would like to see more infrastructure dedicated to physically separating cars from bikes for main arteries.”

Liz Kersjes of Andersonville said biking around Chicago is a huge source of happiness — but it also comes with some anxiety.

“I would bike even more and farther if I felt safe doing so, but every single time I ride, at some point I think about my safety and whether a car is about to hit me or door me,” said Kersjes.

“Car-free streets for biking would be a joy and so many people would use them for alternate transit. Just look at the Lakefront path — it is packed all the time!”

The Lakefront Trail is one of Chicago cyclists favorite places to ride.

The Lakefront Trail is one of Chicago cyclists favorite places to ride.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

What cyclists love

• The “606” trail

There’s a whole lot of praise for the roughly 3-mile elevated trail that transformed a former rail line into a popular bike artery between Ridgeway and Ashland avenues.

A Hermosa resident said the 606 is his “favorite Chicago feature” and said “everywhere besides the 606 is frustrating by comparison.”

Other survey respondents said time of day makes a difference when it comes to the 606: Many often opt to get out early and have the car-free passage nearly to themselves or “when it rains and no one is around,” as Belmont Cragin resident and year-round cyclist Laurie Wettstead responded.

• The 18-mile Lakefront Trail

Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of folks we heard from regard the Lakefront Trail “above all” over other bike routes in the city — calling it “glorious,” “a treasure,” “ideal” and “obviously the best.” But their praise did often come with this caveat: “If you can access it.”

That frustration alludes to the fact that despite the 18-mile length of the trail, only a few major thoroughfares connect to it and they tend to be high-traffic areas.

“I love the Lakefront Trail, but I hate reaching it from downtown,” wrote a rider from Lake View.

“The Lakefront path is amazing but GETTING there is treacherous!” wrote another rider from the Andersonville area.

Some riders say they avoid the Lakefront during the busy summer months, but that some parts of the trail can be less congested.

“South Lakefront is beautiful and not crowded like the north Lakefront,” wrote a Hyde Park resident.

Others say improved communication among riders could help make it a better experience for everyone.

“There are lots and lots of cyclists that don’t give a friendly bell ring or ‘on your left’ warning as they pass. It can be scary and dangerous,” wrote Bedley of Buena Park.

• Elston Avenue

Cyclists’ love for Elston, which zips riders from downtown up through the Northwest Side, is real.

“Elston is great and would be so much better if they regularly swept/shoveled the bike lane and didn’t park in it,” wrote a respondent from Bucktown.

Wrote another: “Elston is great because bikes are protected from the traffic by parked cars and the lanes are painted green.”

Martin Luther King Drive

Laura Alagna, who lives in Rogers Park, wrote, “I love lots of the South Side bike lanes! The one on MLK Drive is wide and beautiful, and has very few obstructions with cars, etc.”

“There’s not a lot of traffic on that road and the architecture along there is really beautiful,” Alagna added.

Bikers say they want more protected bike lanes.

Bikers say they want more protected bike lanes.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

• Protected bike lanes in general

Nearly half of all respondents told us they love protected bike lanes, which separate bikes from car traffic using curbs, posts or parked cars. And they want more of them.

“If I ran the city and had unlimited money, I would make everything a cement barrier,” said Kersjes, who lives in Andersonville. Painted lanes, she pointed out, fade.

Elihu Blanks, who has been biking in the city for 20 years, said “most bikers don’t like paint on a street.”

“It doesn’t stop a 3,000-pound vehicle from throwing you where it wants,” said Blanks of South Shore.

A biker who lives in West Loop wrote that “hard protected bike lanes on streets are essential. The flagrant disregard for bike lane violations is unacceptable.”

Is there something you love or hate about biking in Chicago that’s not on this list? Share your thoughts on social media using #WBEZBikeBetter.

Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ.

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