Chicago has a long history of being a bike-friendly city. The Bicycling Magazine upheld Chicago as the most bike-friendly city in the US in 2016. The City has since kept up its reputation of being bike-friendly.
Achieved in 2016
The article in Bicycling Magazine stated, "Chicago's commitment to safe and low-stress biking is permanent." Back then, Bicycling magazine editor-in-chief Bill Strickland was speaking on occasion. He said that Chicago earned the title because of its emphasis on separating cyclists from motorists.
The official website of the City of Chicago has a separate section for biking. It states that the City is considered one of the best large cities for cycling. This goal has been achieved by investing in bicycling. The City has also had an active role in promoting awareness on biking.
Currently, Chicago offers about 359 miles of on-street bike lanes. These include protected, buffered, and shared lanes. It also covers many miles of off-street paths. Chicago City also has more than 13,000 bike racks. In addition, there are sheltered high-capacity bike parking areas at several CTA rail stations.
It has some great trails for long biking. These include the 56 miles Des Plaines River trail and the 30 miles Illinois Prairie Path. Shorter trails include the 7-mile North Shore Channel Trail and the 7.6 mile Major Taylor trail. The North Branch Trail runs for almost 16 miles. The Lakefront Trail spanning Lake Michigan is among the most popular routes.
There remain several challenges. Adding new bike lanes in Chicago is not a cakewalk. It demands a lot of resources coupled with local political will.
Despite being named as the most bike-friendly city in 2016, a lot remains to be done. Biking advocates complain that the City can devote more funds to make it safe. They also insist on installing barrier-protected bike lanes to protect cyclists from crashes. This is especially needed on the South and West sides of the City, where biking infrastructure is sparse.
Alex Perez is the advocacy manager for Active Transportation Alliance, a pro-bike advocacy group. He was speaking of the earlier plans from the City Administration. According to him, the plans have fallen short of their goals due to the "lack of a dedicated funding source."
Perez added that he thinks City leaders "could be doing more" towards adding new lanes. He also stated that the City faces a "budget constraint." Perez said that he is hopeful that the situation could change. He was referring to the capital plan by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, approved 41-8 by the City Council in November.
Mayor Lightfoot made a promise to add 100 miles of new bike lanes. At par with that promise, the Mayor has stated that Chicago City is doubling down on the task. Current plans include accelerating the build-out within the next two years. Access to dedicated funding from the new capital plan has been of vital importance.
The five-year capital plan allocates $8.5 million in 2021. Another $8.5 million has been added in 2022 for bike lanes. In total, the five-year plan sets a budget of $37 million. The money is to be used for new lanes, racks, and parking areas.
Transportation spokesperson Michael Claffey was speaking on the capital plan. He stated that it is a "major infusion" and is "more than double the previous level of funding." He also expressed hope that the funding will be crucial in building on the success of the bike program.