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Sure, cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists are going to need a bit to acclimate to the protected, bidirectional lane that opened this past Friday on Dearborn Avenue. It can be a peculiar, discombobulating thing riding south when all of the auto traffic on the one-way avenue is flowing north—though, let's be real, most cyclists have undoubtedly saved a few minutes of their lives by cutting the wrong way down a side street. And with the bike-specific traffic lights and left-turn indicators painted on the pavement, urban cyclists are much more visible than previously. Not a bad thing in the least—just a very different thing.
Still, the mile-long stretch is a resounding, "See, I told you I was gonna do it!" from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has been gung ho since he entered office about building Chicago's bikeability. You've all heard the ambitious plan before: build 110 miles of protected bike lanes and 40 miles of buffered lanes, make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the country. With the construction of the Dearborn lane in the guts of the Loop, Emanuel's starting to make other cities envious.
Though I was a tad disappointed I wasn't able to visit the two-way lane with my colleague Julia Thiel—we had shrewdly planned a high-five photo op as we rode by one another—my inaugural journey yesterday was a good one. Chilly and overcast, the day wasn't particularly conducive to cycling, especially at 2 PM. The lanes—four feet wide northbound and five feet wide southbound according to Grid Chicago—are a bit on the narrow side, so passing could prove difficult for speedier riders in the more congested summer months. During my ride, though, the lanes had tumbleweeds rolling through, along with the occasional real human being. Each pedestrian I saw jetted through the path without checking both ways, maybe confused by the very existence of the lanes or maybe just not giving a damn. Either way, there's going to be a learning curve.
Another issue I noticed during my easy ride was that autos had no idea where to illegally park. With parking set up east of the lanes, the taxis, delivery trucks, and cars occupied by negligent drivers aren't able to simply pull alongside the curb and hit their hazards. Now they're almost (or absolutely) parking in the middle of the street, with several of them well into automobile turn lanes. And again with the pedestrians—they can be hard to locate right before they decide to scurry out from within the rows of parked cars. Not to say that's different than any ride down a congested street. But be advised.
Dearborn's protected, two-way lane represents one nail, one two-by-four of a much greater work in progress by Emanuel. My short 20-minute excursion was a cool experience of unfettered riding in a metropolitan setting. Something of which I've never really had the pleasure. And I honestly can't wait to see what the city's bike infrastructure looks like in two years.
I dragged along the Reader's photo editor, Andrea Bauer, so she could take photos of the lanes. Check them out below (and ignore the one dude who kept sneaking into shots):