Put the first cycle track somewhere else

Updated 06-03-11: Grew the list below from 11 locations to 15 to match the full list on wiki.stevevance.net.

I propose 15 locations for Chicago (see link for ideal segments):

  • Archer Avenue (whole length)
  • Blue Island Avenue (between UIC and Pilsen, but then connecting Pilsen to Little Village via 26th Street)
  • Chicago Avenue
  • Clybourn Avenue (entire stretch, from Belmont to Division)
  • Damen Avenue (really easy south of Congress; difficult between Chicago and Congress, and north of Chicago)
  • Fullerton Avenue
  • Grand Avenue (at least California or Kedzie to Navy Pier)
  • Halsted Street (in some discrete locations)
  • King Drive (connecting downtown/South Loop to Bronzeville, Hyde Park, Washington Park)
  • Kinzie Street (connecting one major bike laned street, Milwaukee, to another, Wells)
  • Ogden Avenue (the entire street, from the city boundary on the southwest side to its dead end at the Chicago River near Chicago Avenue)
  • Vincennes Avenue (I haven’t figured out the extents for this one)
  • Wabash Street (connecting downtown and IIT)
  • Washington Boulevard/Street
  • Wells Street – this may be one of the easiest locations to pull off, politically at least, especially if Alderman Reilly pays for all or part of it with his annual appropriation of $1.32 million (“menu funds”).
  • Western Avenue

Notice how I didn’t propose Stony Island between 69th and 77th.

I selected streets where there’s already much cycling happening – whether it’s directly on that street and for long distances or neighborhoods the street passes through. I also selected streets where there’s some cycling happening but make the all-important bikeway network connections on streets with high automobile or high speed traffic (like Western Avenue) or lead to places that attract trips by bike (like train stations). And I selected streets that lead towards downtown, to transit stations, to schools, and to jobs. The segment of Stony Island from 69th to 77th leads to a small shopping district on 71st Street and a Metra Electric train station with 197 weekday boardings (from 2006 survey).

A cycle track location will be most effective where it can:

  • attract the most new riders (goal #1 in the Bike 2015 Plan)
  • make the biggest increases in safety by reducing injuries (goal #2 in the Bike 2015 Plan)
  • (and for the city’s first cycle track, be used by the most existing riders)

It is in these locations where these facilities will be quickly adopted by people bicycling to and from that neighborhood for their shopping, school, and social and work trips. It will also help lead the City and its residents to attaining the quite ambitious goals of the Bike 2015 Plan (have 5% of all trips under 5 miles by bike and cut frequency of injuries by half).

NACTO’s new Urban Bikeway Design Guide recommends cycle tracks for “streets on which bike lanes would cause many bicyclists to feel stress because of factors such as multiple lanes, high traffic volumes, high speed traffic, high demand for double parking, and high parking turnover.”

Stony Island between 69th and 77th has many lanes, high speed and high volume traffic, but low parking turnover (there’s a low density of businesses and many have their own parking lots). This area has low cycling levels and a grand bike facility here would do little to help Chicago reach the plan’s goals. We won’t see any benefit in terms of mode shift here.

Without further information on the intentions (see paragraph “On intentions” below) of those who selected this location and their goals for Chicago’s first cycle track, my surmise is that it was selected because of the roadway width (four lanes in each direction with a wide parallel parking lane, see map), where taking away a lane from car driving may be more politically and technically feasible – I believe this is the wrong way to begin a protected bike lane program.

On intentions: A former CDOT employee left a comment on my blog in December 2010 addressing the site selection: “Stony Island was recommended as a part of a Streetscape Master Plan [I can find no information about this plan]. It wasn’t like people were sitting around saying ‘Where can we put a buffered bike lane?’ It was really just a plan of opportunity since Stony Island is crazy-wide. Nevertheless, it will connect with a new bike path along the side of Marquette Dr in Jackson Park, which connects to the Lakefront Trail.”

While Stony Island could be a good demo location to prove that this type of facility won’t be harmful to drivers, as a demonstration of the power of protected bicycling infrastructure, it won’t do a good job.


A two-way protected bike lane (just like Prospect Park West in Brooklyn) in downtown Vancouver. Photo by Paul Krueger.


A one-way protected bike lane on 9th Avenue, New York City’s first cycle track. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.
  • Renee Patten

    So glad someone else is questing the proposal of the lane on Stony Island. We discussed this cycle track along with the Navy Pier flyover in one of my public policy courses at DePaul. Definitely not the most beneficial plans for bicycling in Chicago. Do you know anyone who is working with the city to modify the plans or are they already set in stone?

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I imagine it’s set in stone. The City received a grant from the state’s ITEP program (Governor Quinn announced $90 million of transportation projects to some fanfare earlier this year) to pay for this project specifically.

      ITEP = Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program.

      “Chicago Department of Transportation – Stony Island ‘Cycle Track’ Bikeway (69th-77th)” for $3,252,600

      View the full press release.

      What did your class have to say about the Navy Pier flyover project?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=119300628 Joshua Koonce

    I’d wager the “build it and they’ll come” model is based more on anecdotal evidence than it is on facts. Also: why count bikes if that data won’t be used to support a facility where the most people are likely to use it? CDOT bike counts in this part of the city hover around .2~.6 modeshare, in summer. I don’t think the SI cycle track is a bad idea; it’s just not the best location. I don’t want a facility just where I ride (I’ll probably be one of the few to use the new cycle track often) and I don’t want one where white people ride. I want one where the majority rides. That’s where a pilot should go if you want to be able to show a success, and expand the infrastructure to other parts of the city.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I also argue that not only should the number of existing users who will benefit be included in the decision, but planners should also consider the locations that will attract the highest number of new users (because that’s goal 1 of the Bike 2015 Plan) as well as increase safety the most (because that’s goal 2 of the Bike 2015 Plan).

      • Jenn

        I think the cycle track proposed by Alderman Solis (from Benito Juarez H.S.  plaza, to Blue Island and on to Morgan) to the University of Illinois is the best place for the first cycle track in the city. It would serve a mixed population in a community with plenty of cyclists already, reach at least four schools, shopping, the University  and  the arts community.  It has close proximity to arteries  into the Loop as well.  I’m very excited about these lanes coming to Chicago. They have a tremendous power to grow our cycling community by leaps and bounds.

  • Anonymous

    Would be great if you could map these, Steve. It’s easier to wrap one’s head around your proposal when it’s layered on the city.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I did make this map, but it doesn’t have all 15 streets. And it has the entire street, not just the segment I call for.

  • http://twitter.com/rhea_butcher Rhea Butcher

    Canal & Clinton would be fantastic, since nearly everyday I ride both roads and everyday I am almost taken out by the “tour” buses and shuttles stopping in the lane and letting people on/off in the middle of traffic. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/rhea_butcher Rhea Butcher

    Canal and Clinton!!!

  • Cmiles03

    I disagree. I believe
    that this will help the Stony Island area and that it will make it easier for
    people to get around in the city of Chicago. In my childhood my love was riding my bike down in Stony Island where
    I used to live. According to a link they are building more bike ways so that
    riders can be safer on the roads. I have provided the link to that article http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-02-27/news/ct-met-cycle-track-20110227_1_bikes-only-lane-cycle-track-bicycle-lanes.
    It’s about how this will help instead of hinder the people that live in the

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      This article is outdated, now, as the *first* cycle track was installed on Kinzie Street, not as a replacement for Stony Island, but because of an accelerated schedule to build them. 

      I do not disagree that a cycle track should be installed on Stony Island. I was trying to make the argument that Stony Island should not be where the first one goes.