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Dearborn Street bike lane best in country, cycling advocacy group says

People bike through intersectiDearborn Wacker Friday  Nov. 6 2013 | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

People bike through the intersection of Dearborn and Wacker on Friday, Nov. 6, 2013 | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 8, 2014 6:11AM



A cycling advocacy group Friday tapped Chicago’s Dearborn Street protected bike lane as tops in the country for 2013 -- something city officials called an endorsement of the route’s unique traffic signals for bicyclists.

As a result, the city hopes to install more traffic signals for cyclists along future bike lanes, said Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales.

“We’ll be looking to use it for other projects in the future for sure,” Scales told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Cyclists lit up websites Friday with news that People for Bikes had named Dearborn’s 1.2 mile protected bike lane as the No. 1 in the country for 2013. The news was greeted with pride, but also some skepticism and even astonishment.

“There must be some horrendous protected bike routes in this country” for Dearborn to be picked as the best, said one commentator on “the chainlink,” an online community for bicylists.

“I am really glad these lanes exist, but I would hate to think that they represent the best that can be done,” said another.

“‘Best,’ yet I was hit by a car on it,’’ said a third.

The Dearborn protected bike lane extends from Polk to Kinzie, generally offering cyclists a curbside lane protected by plastic posts -- and in some areas separated from drivers by a lane of parked cars. While Dearborn car traffic is northbound only, bikes travel both north and southbound along the route.

Intersections feature a special signal for bicyclists, allowing them a “green light” while drivers seeking to turn left are stopped at a red light. Cyclist compliance with traffic signals soared from 31 percent to 81 percent after the lights were installed, Scales said.

In addition, Dearborn bike traffic has doubled, noted People for Bikes, which called the traffic signals for cyclists “really remarkable.’’

One such signal is located at an especially busy intersection on Milwaukee Avenue, which was tapped as No. 7 in the country in People for Bikes picks.

Julie Hochstadter, director of “the chainlink,” noted that some bike enthusiasts see room for improvement even on Dearborn -- including her.

“I love that it’s in the middle of the city. I think that it’s just a wonderful thing because it’s so visible,’’ Hochstadter said. “But I think there needs to be better signage out there.”

Hochstadter noted that alleys and driveways still empty onto Dearborn, creating danger zones for cyclists. She advocated for signs saying “Watch out for bikes” on Dearborn.

Sarah Dandelles, 43, who uses the Dearborn protected bike lane at least twice a week, would like a curb between cars and bikes, a la Copenhagen.

“I don’t want to get killed by a two-ton vehicle. They are in our lane,’’ Dandelles said.

“Best in the country? I feel like, wow. Really? We can so, so much better.’’

Email rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter @rosalindrossi



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