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Mayor defends protected bike lanes along Dearborn

Vehicle traffic backs up along Kinzie last month after lanes were reconfigured give bicyclists their own curbside lane. | Scott

Vehicle traffic backs up along the Kinzie last month after lanes were reconfigured to give bicyclists their own curbside lane. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 6, 2013 9:55AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday defended his decision to constrict traffic on a popular street that runs through the heart of Chicago’s congested downtown area — by installing 12 blocks of protected bike lanes along Dearborn between Polk and Kinzie.

“I made a pledge that we were gonna do 25 miles of protected bike lanes throughout the city each year, so we could [reach] 100 miles by the time my term was done. And we’re on course to achieving that,” the mayor said.

Emanuel called protected bike lanes central to the city’s sustainability plan and his efforts to make Chicago the high-tech hub of the Midwest. Chicago “moved up dramatically” in the list of major cities whose employees bike to work, he said.

“It’s part of my effort to recruit entrepreneurs and start-up businesses because a lot of those employees like to bike to work,” he said.

“It is not an accident that, where we put our first protected bike lane is also where we have the most concentration of digital companies and digital employees. Every time you speak to entrepreneurs and people in the start-up economy and high-tech industry, one of the key things they talk about in recruiting workers is, can they have more bike lanes.”

On Kinzie Street between Milwaukee and Wells, the bike lane is located closest to the curb, flanked by a roughly four foot-wide “buffer lane” and a row of parking. That means there is literally 12 feet between bicyclists and the flow of vehicular traffic.

Motorists using Kinzie have complained about losing a lane of traffic through their popular route in River North. Now, motorists using Dearborn are likely to make the same complaints.

But the mayor said, “It’s an appropriate way to protect the bikers and also move the traffic. It’s one street in the city. And, yes, I do believe that, when it’s completed, people will adjust.”

The lines along the 1.15 mile-stretch of Dearborn between Polk and Kinzie were painted over the weekend. Bike signals have been installed, but not yet programmed. Over the next two weeks, the city will program those signals, put up signs and install bollards to separate bike lanes from traffic lanes.

The Dearborn protected lanes are expected to open in mid-December, giving Chicago, what Department of Transportation spokesman Peter Scales calls its “first two-way bike route” with dedicated bicycle traffic signals. Ten parking spaces were removed, but “relocated” nearby, officials said.

“The Dearborn Street barrier-protected bike lanes will provide bicyclists with a safe and comfortable route, making a key connection for people who commute via bicycle through the heart of the Loop,” Scales wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Like former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel is an avid cyclist who campaigned on a promise to make Chicago the nation’s most “bike-friendly” city. He installed Chicago’s first protected bike lane less than a month after taking office.

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