Summer 2003, p.14

Making Chicago "The City That Bikes"


A Chicago style Bicycle Ambassadors program could do much to promote bicycling in NYC.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's goal is "to make the City of Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States." Daley has been mayor since 1989 and was re-elected to a fifth term in 2003 with 78% of the vote. You will not find a more powerful big city mayor. So, when Daley says he wants a velorution, New York City cycling advocates watch closely.

This spring, the Chicago DOT sent out a remarkable edition of its regular newsletter laying out the City's broad bicycling goals and implementation plan.

CDOT News: Bike 2010 Plan Edition

  • Boost trips made by bike--Especially short trips like errands and children
    riding to school.
  • Reduce bicycle crashes--Combat the most common causes of bicycling injury and endangerment.

To measure its success, Chicago will carefully track changes in the number of cyclists and the number of crashes. This will help the City understand if its programs are working or not. In contrast, the City of New York grades itself based on the miles of bike lanes and number of bike racks it installs, indicators that do not necessarily reflect cycling conditions.

Chicago's Ongoing Bicycle Improvements and Outreach

DOT-Led Bicycle Education Tours Since 2000, the Chicago DOT's Bicycle Program has led six two-hour bicycle tours each summer. Now, more people want bike facilities. Attendees vary from DOT engineers and staff to elected officials to community groups, and topics vary from the technical aspects of bike lane design to garnering community support for bicycle projects.

Mayor Daley's Bicycle Ambassadors The five summer Ambassadors attend 200 community events a year where they teach the public about bike safety, sharing the road, bike lane and bike path etiquette and how to bike to work and school. They also help novice bicyclists bike more, fit helmets and per-form bike safety checks. (In NYC, there is enormous public anger against bicyclists riding on sidewalks and disrespecting pedestrians. This saps the support for cycling.)

DOT Bike Parking Program Chicago has already installed 8,000 on-street bike racks (versus 2,000 in NYC) and installed secure parking at twenty-one transit stops. Now the City is working with building owners to build secure bike parking areas for their tenants. Next year, plans are to build a downtown bike station near transit that will have secure bike parking, showers, lockers and bike repair and rental.

DOT Bike Lane Design Guide Developed by the Chicago DOT Bicycle Program and approved by Mayor Daley and DOT Commissioner d'Escoto, the CDOT Bike Lane Design Guide established the safest bike lane standards for the forty most common roadway configurations in Chicago. The design guide makes traffic planning most efficient and greatly reduces internal DOT debate between bike planners and traffic engineers.


Chicago vs. New York

  Chicago, IL New York, NY
Population 3,000,000 8,000,000
Land Area (square miles)  228 309
Density (avg. pop./sq.mi) 13,000 26,000
City Budget (2002) $4.6 billion $42 billion
Government Bicycle Staff 20 10



Bike 2010 Plan

The Bike 2010 Plan is Chicago's most recent campaign to achieve Mayor Daley's goal of America's most bicycle-friendly city. The Chicago DOT contracted the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (a local advocacy group) to seek public input and develop recommendations to make biking safer and encourage more people to ride.

Initiatives include:

  • Ensure quality bike lanes and paths through heightened inspection, signing, striping, repaving and sweeping.
  • "Sunday Ciclovia"- Create a weekly event by closing a network of streets to motorized traffic on Sunday mornings to encourage families to do regular physical activity.
  • Collect and track data on bicycle trips and set goals to increase the number of bike trips.
  • Create "bicycle boulevards" that use traffic calming measures to lower motorist speeds and discourage through-motor vehicle traffic.
  • Install raised bike lanes to provide cyclists with more protection from traffic.
  • Use colored pavement at intersections to reduce conflicts between bicyclists and motorists.
  • Encourage the Department of Revenue's Parking Enforcement Agents, Emergency Medical Technicians, Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Police Department and other city agencies to use bicycles.
  • Support the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, Chicago Cycling Club, Chicago Critical Mass, Chicago Bike Winter, Friends of Chicago Parks and others.

Read the latest news on this subject.