Updated: January 17, 2013 6:31AM
Cars have been king of Loop streets for so long, it’s easy to forget there’s any other way to get around.
The opening Friday of the Loop’s first protected bicycle lane is a reminder there’s a better way to design the city’s transportation system. We hope cyclists turn out in sufficient numbers to encourage the construction of even more bike lanes through the metropolis — and that they pilot their two-wheelers responsibly.
The new two-way bike lane — replacing pavement formerly used by motor vehicles — runs along Dearborn Street for 1.15 miles, from Kinzie to Polk. It includes specialized traffic signals and turn lanes.
Unlike older bike lanes, a protected bike lane employs physical barriers to separate bikes from cars.
On Friday afternoon, a smattering of cyclists already were using it, despite its newness and the December chill.
A good bike system is heathy for a city, attracting new residents and getting some cars off the streets. Mayor Rahm Emanuel believes that bicycle lanes are important to Chicago’s quality of life and we agree with him.
The Chicago Department of Transportation has opened about 30 miles of bike lanes across the city throughout the year, and nine miles of older bicycle lanes have been repainted. Emanuel wants 100 miles of bicycle lanes built during his term.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found that 71 percent of Americans would like to bike more, but fewer than half feel their community is safe for bikes. Protected bike lanes address that. A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found the risk of injury is 89 percent less on protected lanes than on streets with no bicycle infrastructure.
Bicyclists used to weaving their way through traffic wherever they see an opening will have to adjust their behavior now that they have their own lanes. The days of the Wild West are over. If cyclists don’t adapt, it will be up to the city to enforce traffic rules.
As for motorists, many will feel miffed about sharing roadways with increasing numbers of cyclists.
But as the bike networks improve, they can leave the car at home and ride a bike instead.