Protected Bike Lanes in Downtown Chicago - We are Such a Friendly City

Driving in Chicago is tough.  Really tough.  The expressways are always crowded, even at the oddest times.  You’d think you could make an easy drive, south to north or north to south, early on a Sunday morning, but a seasoned driver should know that there is nothing easy when driving the Edens, Kennedy, and Dan Ryan Expressways.

I know this, and yet, I try to pretend that it can get better.  I try to pretend that my intelligence and craftiness can somehow set me apart from the other saps who try to navigate Chicago’s roads and expressways.  But I am a sap also.  I get stuck in traffic at 6 a.m. when no one should be driving to work and I sail through the Dan Ryan on my way home on a Wednesday at 5:15 p.m.  None of it makes any sense.

I read recently that Chicago’s expressways are the worst in America for average time standing still.  You’ll get no argument from me.  I sit still a lot.

Unfortunately, my job requires me to drive to work on a regular basis.  My route from home takes me to the Dan Ryan Expressway via the 99th Street and Halsted ramp to I-57 and then to the Cermak exit where I follow Dearborn northbound to the garage where I park. 

This week, as I traveled on a bleary Monday morning at 6:15 a.m. I was greeted by, what looked like, closed off lanes on my left side of the one-way northbound traffic on Dearborn at Adams.  About a quarter of the west side of Dearborn had been barricaded for what looked like soon-to-be-introduced two-way bike lanes.  In addition, the powers that be had moved a parking lane to float near the middle of the street just east of the two-way bike lanes.  What had been three lanes of traffic was now two.

As someone who tries to keep up on current events, I wondered how I missed the announcement of the City of Chicago introducing bike lanes that will run both with and against the flow of car traffic down the primary northbound street in Chicago’s downtown.  A quick search found an August 5, 2012 Chicago Sun-Times article entitled, “More bike lanes planned for the city,” by Art Golab.  It appears that the City is trying to attract businesses to Chicago by building bike lanes that make it more difficult for us residents and taxpayers to drive.  Mayor Emanuel is quoted in the article saying:

 “It will help us recruit the type of people that have been leaving for the coast. They will now come to the city of Chicago. The type of companies that have been leaving for the coast will stay in the city of Chicago.”

Really?  These somewhat counterintuitive bike lanes are going to recruit the “type of people that have been leaving for the coast?”  If that’s the case, and they don’t want to be in Chicago because we don’t have confusing bike lanes, let them go.  Actually, I’d like to see the statistics and the names of the people and companies who left because of Chicago’s dearth of protected bike lanes.

Also according to the Sun-Times article, Mayor Emanuel said, “By next year I believe the City of Chicago will lead the country in protected bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes and it will be the bike friendliest city in the country.” 

Yippee!!  Protected bike lanes in downtown Chicago!! And it still takes me and my fellow taxpayers over an hour to get 15 miles to work.  And, at the same time we will still be the least friendly city in the country for getting its residents and taxpayers to and from work by car.  Let me know when the rush begins to fill up those bike lanes with City residents and workers.  And, I'll let you know how those bike lanes are working out in the winter when the snow, ice and slush is turning what are now two traffic lanes on Dearborn into one and half lanes of passble traffic.  Hope you can put chains on those bike tires.

Anyway, I know I will be derided for my environmentally unfriendly ways of driving a car.  I do take Metra at least half of my trips to and from work, but Metra can’t go everywhere and sometimes I have to travel around the County for my job.  Moreover, Metra – where it’s conductors still punch holes in ten-ride tickets and which is seeking it’s second fare increase in as many years – can’t seem to operate it’s way out of a paper bag.  So there are cars, and I have to drive one.  And, I own a bike that I ride when the weather is nice and I go to spin classes twice a week – so hey, I love bikes too. 

But please, before we try to keep the people that have been leaving Chicago for the coast (what coast the Mayor is talking about I’m not sure), whoever they may be, can we think about those of us who are here and not going anywhere any time soon – literally and figuratively.

One suggestion Mr. Mayor:  Don’t close off lanes on Dearborn or Clark Street during rush hours because there’s a hole in the middle of the street and not a sole is working at the job site.  It’s kind of frustrating.  Thanks.

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