As we prepared to leave the states back in December, I was finishing up an article on Bike Boulevards for Momentum Magazine (thanks to Gin for editing help!).
The article was published in the March issue of Momentum and online. I've also included the article below.
Bike Boulevards Now!
Photography: Michael Burton
In the 1880s, American cyclists led the Good Roads Movement, which paved the way for a nationwide network of streets primarily meant for bikes. By the 1920s, however, automobiles dominated most roads, crowding out bikes and making many streets unsafe for cycling.
Over the past 15 years, Chicago cyclists have reclaimed at least the margins of many roadways, with the establishment of nearly 150 miles of dedicated on-street bike lanes.
And, if Sarah Kaplan has her way, bicycles will soon again reign on some Chicago streets.
“Bike lanes are great,” said Kaplan, a 30-year old law student. “But it can be scary to ride next to traffic and that keeps a lot of people from biking. People should be able to ride and feel safe the whole time.”
Just like the Good Roads Movement over a century ago, Kaplan has called together fellow cyclists to make streets better for biking. Their first meeting in November 2009 was attended by a group of enthusiastic bike activists. The result is a new grassroots group called Bike Boulevards Now! that is advocating for special streets in Chicago to be designed to be safe, pleasant and comfortable for cyclists of all ages and abilities.
Bike boulevards, which have been established in a few West Coast cities, are usually residential streets designed to optimize the flow of bike traffic over long distances, all while diverting and slowing down cars. Often, streetscapes and beautification elements are added, such as signage and planters. The result is a quieter, safer road that is ideal for cycling and that improves the quality of life for area residents.
The goal of the City of Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan is to establish 10 miles of bike boulevards by 2015; Ben Gomberg – bicycle program coordinator at the Chicago Department of Transportation – calls this a “realistic goal.” Planning is underway for a pilot project next year.
“By spring of 2011, if not sooner, we’re hoping to have the first bike boulevard installed,” Gomberg said. “We would want it to be a meaningful length, longer than a couple blocks, and it would hopefully straddle two wards.”
“We will begin by identifying one or two potential locations where we can get local funding and support through Aldermanic menu funds,” he added.
While local financing may avoid red tape associated with state and federal funding, the high competition for these dollars could pose a problem. With tight city budgets and increasing demands on discretionary funds, it may be tough to sell the idea of Aldermen paying for a pilot bike boulevard.
“Bike Boulevards are something I’m willing to do,” said 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colon, whose ward includes much of the Logan Square community. “It depends on the cost range. Fifty thousand dollars is not so bad. But if it’s $200,000, it’s a challenge.”
In the meantime, Kaplan said the main goal of Bike Boulevards Now! is to build a groundswell of popular support. The group is launching a monthly series of family-friendly group bike rides called “Kidical Masses” to build excitement and spread the word about bike boulevards. The first Kidical Mass ride will be held Saturday, March 20, starting at 9 a.m. at Palmer Square. A second Kidical Mass is scheduled for Saturday, April 17 at 9 a.m. in Lincoln Square.
“There are thousands of Chicago cyclists who will support this,” said Kaplan. “And there are lots of people who would like to bike but don’t because they’re afraid of traffic. I really think bike boulevards will cause an explosion in the number of people cycling in Chicago.”
For more info, see www.bikeboulevardsnow.org