Bike Lane Tour of Chicago

I went up to Chicago and got a tour of their Urban Bike Network with their network engineer. Here are the lessons that apply to Louisville’s Urban Bike Network.

They are using green paint at conflict points. This is the reverse of New York’s system of using green on straightaways. Chicago’s approach is superior for two reasons: (1) green paint is expensive, it’s cheaper to do it at the rare places (2) Like a bicyclist, a motorist entering a conflict point has to go over a color transition on the pavement, potentially making them more careful.


They are also using green paint really inconsistently and confusingly throughout their network. Perhaps we will also make this mistake.

Unbuffered bike lanes are clearly on the way out. I saw a few DZBLs, but they are already the minority compared to 7+ foot bike lanes. They are sanding out their 8′ parking / 5′ bike lane geometries and going with 7′ parking, 2′ buffer, 5′ bike lane.

They pay an enormous cost-per-mile. Their Breckinridge equivalent streets cost them $150,000/mile. Their neighborway equivalent cost them $70,000 for one or two miles. The latter is sharrows and a sign or two. Our cost-per-mile is way below this.

In their favor, their pavement markings and sharrows are crisp and flat, not the icky gooey three-dee glop we use. At a fraction of the price, I prefer our system.

They, too, have problems with disappearing paint.

They have bike stop light signalheads in appropriate places. I saw about three. They saw stop light compliance from cyclists go from 30% to 80% after installation. Unlike New York City, they did not overuse them.

Their mayor has pledged 100 miles of “separated bikeways”. As with us last year, that has created a tension between fulfilling the spirit of the goal (a intuitive low stress network) and fulfilling the letter of the goal (lane miles).

They are using bollards on about 20% of their arterials. The rest are paint buffers. It was unclear if they were counting paint buffered bike lanes towards their goal.

They aspire to replace their bollards with a different pavement material from the rest of the road within 1-2 years.


This winter they lost 300 bollards to snow plows. When bike lanes went between parked cars and the curb, the bollards amdist the parking were particularly resilient. Bollards between bike and travel lanes did not fare as well. They shrugged off the damage as a cost of doing business. However, they are filthy rich compared to us.

They are just starting their neighborways. They’re still figuring out how to get nabes to accept closing blocks to thru traffic with bollards. Good luck with that!

They have a lot of traffic circle type things. They were bigger and older than what we are looking at here.

The #1 thing I noticed: Their traffic calming was pervasive. On arterials and in neighborhoods, it was just impossible to speed. The only stressors I felt were in the eddies of automotive traffic in their innermost city. Where they had built facilities through that, they helped a lot, not the least because they made a bicycle the most consistently fast vehicle on the road.

Overall, I was impressed with their progress and agreed with most of their decisions. I was surprised by how much I liked their ultra-wide bike lanes. They made arterials more relaxing than I expected.


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