January 03 2013

Safety in Numbers? Chicago’s Bike Accident Blunders

The city of Chicago’s flat topography makes it a bicyclist’s paradise, where despite the harsh winters, the lack of hills invites people to pedal. With the recent surge of citizens choosing sustainable two-wheeled transit, the city has struggled to keep the increasing numbers of cyclists safe, with a 38% increase in bicycle accidents from 2001-2011. More cyclists lead to more accidents overall, but the city is now taking measures to make the streets safe for everyone.

Over 1,000 people have suffered incapacitating injuries on Chicago streets, and some 43 of those injuries have proven fatal. With numbers of cyclists projected to increase, new Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged to add 100 miles of protected or buffered bike lanes by 2015, at a cost of nearly $28 million. This is no small feat, considering that the day Mayor Emanuel was sworn in, the city had only half a mile of protected bike lanes on Kinzie Street in River North.

Bicycle Sharrows in Chicago

The protected bike lane on Kinzie Street in Chicago

As more cyclists take to the streets, it is essential to visually and spatially articulate the responsibilities and spaces allotted to cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians to ensure smooth sharing of the road. Simple sharrows (bicycle icons with arrows) do not clearly explain what space belongs to whom. As Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein emphasizes:

“It’s important not to focus on these as bike-lane projects. They are safety projects,” says Klein. “If we do this well, automobiles will be able to move better. There’s some streets where . . . you need to segregate the bikes, the pedestrians, the buses, and the cars. It makes a lot of sense to segregate users, and the operational efficiencies you get out of that are dramatic — and it’s much safer.”

Milwaukee and Ogden Avenues Chicago Highest Bike Accidents

The intersection of Milwaukee and Ogden Avenues has the highest bicycle accident rate in the city

While some have balked at the cost of these measures, Chicago is notorious for dangerous six-cornered intersections and is planning to debut a new bike-sharing system in Spring of 2013, increasing the likelihood of bicycle accidents in the future. It is clear the city must take action now to make the street system useful to all transit modes.

Which safety precautions would you like to see your city employ to protect cyclists?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Andrew Kinaci

After graduating from Princeton University with an A.B. in Architecture and a Certificate in Urban Studies, Andrew Kinaci set out to the Midwest to break out of the insular world of academia, and into the direct service of non-profit work. After a year working on Chicago’s West Side with a social enterprise specializing in re-entry employment training for ex-felons, Andrew now works for an organization conducting energy audits of multi-family affordable housing buildings. He will be blogging about the many ways Chicago is seeking a more sustainable and equitable urban future.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 3rd, 2013 at 2:52 pm and is filed under Engineering, Environmental Design, Land Use, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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