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Bike lanes bring learning curve for pedestrians


Updated: July 15, 2013 7:54PM

Luz Figueroa was helping to load materials into the Blue Agave Restaurant on Kinzie Street last year when a cyclist crashed into the “Caution” sign Figueroa set in the bike lane.

Figueroa says she had no choice but to cross the bike lane to haul materials from a legally parked loading truck to the restaurant. So she put up the caution signs in the bike lane — as a safety measure for cyclists — so she could carry supplies from the truck to the restaurant.

“He saw us and just kept riding,” she said, recalling how the cyclist flipped over the sign and landed on the ground, before picking up and moving on.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is hoping that these kinds of crashes will be reduced with new safety measures they introduced Thursday, including new protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue between Kinzie Street and Elston Avenue. One stretch included barriers between bike and vehicle traffic lanes, while another stretch now has parking spots between the bike and vehicle lanes.

“I have a wife who I’ve been trying to get to ride a bike with me for some time and she’s like, ‘I’m scared to ride in the streets,’” said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who helped introduce the new safety measures with CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein. “This gives the opportunity for people like my wife to feel safe riding around the streets in this area.”

Milwaukee Avenue is a particularly busy street for biking, with some 14,000 cyclists taking to the road each day, Burnett said. As per Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, the road, called a “spoke route” provides 60 miles of a continuous bikeway in and out of the Loop.

Engineer and consultant for T.Y. Lin International David Gleason, who worked with CDOT on the Milwaukee Avenue improvements, said that there were particular concerns for Milwaukee Avenue, including parking reorganization, loading operations and intersection safety.

“In engineering, there is a threshold on how poorly you can allow an intersection to operate. This is a busy city, a busy street, and I think we push that threshold a lot more here than in any other city in Illinois,” he said. “We’re trying to create a complete and balanced street, with enough space for motor vehicles and everyone else.”

Allison Ziegler, 23, an employee at Duran Café on Milwaukee Avenue, said she thinks it will increase the number of cyclists in the city, but there will be a learning curve with the new lanes. She said she bikes to work every day and has had few problems.

“In theory, the protected lanes seem pretty great, but everyone has to take the time to understand the rules. I’m hoping they’ll allow a bit of space between me and the car drivers who still kind of ignore us,” she said. “Those buses can get pretty annoying, too.”

The newest protected bike lanes were introduced just days after Chicago City Council raised fines — anywhere from $25 to $200 — on cyclists who break traffic laws. In addition, motorists saw related fines double. If they leave their car doors open in the middle of traffic drivers will pay a fine of $300 and drivers who open their car doors without looking out for cyclists will pay a fine of $1,000.

But Figueroa, who takes the train to the city and then walks to work, says that she’s more concerned about cyclists breaking rules and refusing to stop for pedestrians and vehicles.

“I cross the street and I see them coming and I’m thinking, ‘Do I stop or are you going to stop?’” she said. “I always just end up stopping because they never seem like they’re going to slow down for me.”

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