Pedal Pushers: Chicago to Become Bike Commuters' Fantasy Land
Copenhagen leads the way internationally as a cyclists' wonderland with its growing network of dedicated paths and "bike super highway," but the Windy City just announced big plans to outdo the biking infrastructure of local competitors like Minneapolis or Portland.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to seriously beef up Chicago's already generous 115 miles of bike lanes, reports Reuters:
In four years, he wants to create 100 miles of protected bike paths—not just painted lines on the street but paths separated from car traffic by posts or other dividers. By next summer, he wants the city's first large-scale bike-sharing program, starting with 3,000 bikes.
Overall, only 2 percent of Chicagoans commute during rush hour (Portland's rate is roughly four times that) by pedal power (the city's Transportation Commissioner among them), but in Wicker Park and Logan Square, that percentage leaps to 22 percent. Reuters notes that these are "hipster neighborhoods" and raises the question of backlash against the cycling hordes and the types of lawsuits that have threatened bike lane progress in New York City.
"It's a symbol of gentrification," Rob Sadowsky, former head of Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Chicago told Reuters. "It's not why are you putting a bike lane in, but why are you spending money on bike lanes when I don't have a job?"
Emanuel sees a robust bike infrastructure as a way to hang on to the local creative class and to attract more.
It will help us recruit the type of people that have been leaving for the coast. They will now come to the city of Chicago. The type of companies that have been leaving for the coast will stay in the city of Chicago.
If any U.S. city has a hope of even approaching Copenhagen's astonishing 38 percent bike ridership, the key is expanding the necessary infrastructure to make cycling safe and convenient. After all, studies show that more bike lanes make for more bike commuters.