The dangers of protected bike lanes | Worst of Chicago | Chicago Reader

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The dangers of protected bike lanes

The tiny spaces we carve out for cyclists in a city built for cars can be traps as well as havens.

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JAMIE RAMSAY
  • Jamie Ramsay

This is a bait and switch: I'm a cyclist, and I support bike infrastructure. I use and mostly appreciate protected bike lanes. But the way Chicago lays out its protected lanes sets traps for cyclists. I'm talking specifically about lanes that cross side streets, where only traffic on the side street has to stop. (Milwaukee Avenue is a good example.) Cyclists traveling at cruising speed thus ride directly across the path of drivers turning onto the side street—and when traffic is light, drivers often make these turns with little to no warning. This wouldn't be worse than biking on any other two-way road, except that the protected bike lane is usually separated from the street by parking spaces—and when they're full, drivers and cyclists can barely see each other until it's too late. Even an attentive driver can be taken by surprise when parked cars conceal nearly all of a cyclist's approach to the intersection.

This arrangement also sucks for cyclists because of the constraints it places on drivers trying to turn from the side street onto the larger road: the protected bike lane is so close to the curb that drivers can't see oncoming cyclists till they're practically in the intersection, and the parking lane is so far out into the street that drivers are motivated to nose out into cyclists' path in order to get a clear look at car traffic. I don't have to imagine a driver as hostile to cyclists to perceive this as dangerous. I'd almost rather ride on the other side of the parking lane, out in the street, where I'd at least be more visible.

This is part of a ubiquitous pattern, not only in Chicago but across the country: when you squeeze cycling infrastructure into tiny gaps clawed open in a cityscape engineered for cars, you can create almost as many problems as you solve. Fellow cyclists, I wish you at least as much luck as I've had—despite too many bad scares to count, I've never been struck. Drivers, I wish you mindfulness toward all other road-using humans, especially the ones you might not know are there—these intersections are terrible for all of us, but in the event of a bike-car crash, you won't be the one who's hurt or killed.   v

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