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Kinzie to get Chicago’s first ‘protected bike lane’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel marked beginning constructifirst 100 miles protected bike lanes Chicago streets near Kinzie ClintTuesday. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel marked the beginning of construction on the first of 100 miles of protected bike lanes on Chicago streets near Kinzie and Clinton on Tuesday. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 15, 2011 12:28AM

Chicago bicycle riders will no longer have to worry about vehicle encroachment into their bike lanes — at least not along a popular route in River North.

The half-mile stretch of Kinzie Street that runs from Milwaukee Avenue to Wells is getting the city’s first “protected bike lane”—the first of 100 miles of such lanes that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to deliver over his four-year term.

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.

Emanuel is currently training for a triathlon by cycling up to 25 miles on the weekends — in addition to his normal swimming regimen.

On Tuesday, he held a news conference on Kinzie to underscore the importance of a project he called pivotal to both economic development and Chicago’s quality of life.

“I am a bike enthusiast — somebody who likes biking myself. But, my principle enthusiasm [is] I want Chicago to be the bike-friendliest city in the country,” Emanuel said.

“I am proud that we are gonna have the first protected bike lane in Chicago with many more miles to come. I’m glad that Chicago will go from basically being in the middle of the pack as it relates to bike lanes to leading the pack. Planners [from around the country] will come to our city and see what the future holds: an integrated approach to transportation where biking is an essential ingredient.”

Emanuel noted that, at a recent meeting with employees of an up-and-coming technology company, six of the nine workers told him they rode their bikes to work.

Protected bike lanes help recruit “the type of workforce and companies I want to see in Chicago ... and it adds to a quality of life that’s essential to the city,” the mayor said.

Newly appointed Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said the “holistic approach” to transportation that he favors is about “much more” than just protected bike lanes.

“It’s about balancing our right-of-way for the safety of all users,” he said. “When we add bike lanes like this, we make it safer for pedestrians. We actually make it safer for motorists, and we slow motorists down.”

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley was a cycling enthusiast who installed 117 miles of marked bike lanes, none of them protected.

Klein said Kinzie Avenue was a “perfect” place to start because 22 percent of the traffic there is generated by bikes. It’s also one of the “most congested areas where people feel the least safe,” he said. Stony Island — from 69th to 77th — is also in line for a protected bike lane.

“People need to feel safe or they won’t ride to work,” Klein said. “We want people to look at biking as a primary mode of transportation vs. a secondary mode or just recreational mode. We want people to use it to get to and from work, to get the grocery store.”

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