by Yesica P. Prado, Staff Writer and Photographer
Riding at 18 mph down Halsted Avenue, I pedaled faster, trying to gain speed as I was rushing to class one Friday morning, but little did I know it was a bad day to wear shorts and forget my helmet.
Coming up to the traffic light, a white truck turned in front of me without signaling and stopped in the middle of the road. I didn’t even get the chance to yell, “Get out of the way idiot!” Next thing I knew, I flew out of my bike seat, and my body hit the hard, rocky pavement.
Blood gushed out of my scraped forehead and left knee. The jerk didn’t even apologize. Painfully, as I tried getting back on my feet, I watched the truck with a City of Chicago logo on the side door drive away.
After getting elected, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for the creation of 100 miles of protected bike lanes by May 2015 in the Cycling Plan 2020. It sounded good, but are we finally going to be safer biking from now on? Probably not. From 2005 to 2010, according to City of Chicago 2012 Bicycle Crash Analysis, our city experienced “nearly 9,000 injury crashes involving bicyclists, with 32 bicyclist fatalities. Bicycle crashes are on the rise.”
Can these fatalities be reduced with protected bike lanes? I sure hope so, but bad drivers will still continue to roam the streets, and so the potential for accidents. We never know just who is behind the wheel these days, as not even the drivers who are supposed to set an “example,” like the city employees, can be trusted to keep the streets safe.
But the same can be said about bicyclists and pedestrians, right? We are all guilty of not following the rules, especially when it comes to crossing the street carelessly in the middle of the road or not waiting for the walking signal. I know, I pledge guilty.
As a promise for safer streets, two segments of 1.05-mile protected bike lanes are coming to Uptown, on Broadway between Montrose and Ainslie parallel to the CTA Red Line. Asphalt patching and repair was started in the first week of November, and striping crews started the week after, but now due to Chicago’s cold winter approaching, the project will be put on hold until this Spring.
“They needed four to five consecutive days of weather that was 55 degrees or higher…we are putting it on hold until April 15,” said 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman. “We wanted it sooner, and I’m disappointed. But…a special type of paint that they put on the street…has a plastic component to it, and if you paint the road using this paint and the temperature gets below 55, it won’t last as long. So to assure that it will have a much longer life span, they are going to wait.”
I knew it. A city project getting done so quickly was just too good to be true. But who can blame them? Yes, the Chicago Department of Transportation should not have waited until November to begin the project, as any person with common sense knows winter is approaching, but we wouldn’t want the budget go to waste. “An estimated cost of $200,000 of which the 46th Ward spent $150,000 and the remaining $50,000 came from the Alderman up north,” said Bradley Topol, CDOT Bicycle Program Consultant.
The project focuses on decreasing crashes, calming traffic and increasing cycling and walking, claimed CDOT, whose statistics reveal 62.5% of residents in and around the 46th Ward do not drive to work. Thus, the new bike lanes will have a huge impact on transportation choices.
But placing the lanes on Broadway might not be the smartest idea. “Broadway has a lot of traffic, but taking space away and narrowing lanes will not make it safer,” said Peter Porr, Uptown resident. “I’ve seen a lot of accidents when driving north bound in the last 32 years I’ve lived here.”
Of course this comes as no surprise, as the CDOT Bicycle Program conducted a crash analysis of North Broadway from Montrose Ave. to Foster Ave. for the years 2006 to 2010, revealing 62% of fatal, incapacitating and non-incapacitating (but still serious) injuries that bicyclists and pedestrians were involved. There are also many cases where pedestrians and bicyclists were not injured, but incidents with cars still cause quite a fright.
“I was lucky with one,” said Cara Taylor, an Uptown resident recalling an incident she had with a taxi driver. “I didn’t get hurt, but he broke my wheelchair. … It was an inconvenience because I had to wait to go through all the changes to get a new set of wheels.”
But are the drivers the only ones at fault? Come on, we are not all saints. Bicyclists also tend to break the rules and the most obvious one at times: wearing a helmet. Walking to class, I see almost every student biking to campus not wearing a helmet! Why? Because it’s uncool. Well, being uncool might just save your life, right? A helmet would have probably saved me from banging my head against the road and a bleeding forehead. Did I learn my lesson? Yes, sir.
“Uptown residents have so far supported the project and been having positive reactions,” said Topol, referring to opinions voiced at the Bike Lane Open House held at the 46th Ward office on Oct 30. “We hope this project will encourage people to accept more bike lanes in the area.”
Uptown will certainly go through a change. “This is a community that is very car-centric. We make it easy for the car,” said Cappleman. “Instead of being a community for the cars it should be a community for cars, bicyclists, people in wheelchairs, walkers and just people who walk and strollers.”
Now will protected bike lanes make a difference? I hope so, but I still wonder if a flex pole will stop drivers from causing accidents. Yes, they are supposed to respect lanes just like you are supposed to brush your teeth three times a day.
According to Topol, once the project is completed CDOT will also be looking into adding more bike lanes on Montrose Ave., Lawrence Ave. and Sheridan Rd. But before expanding, I hope it’s CDOT’s New Year’s resolution to have the Broadway project finally completed. Mighty protected bike lanes, we hope to see you next year!