After Cyclist Deaths, How To Make Biking Safer in Chicago

ghost bike
ProfDEH/Creative Commons
ghost bike
ProfDEH/Creative Commons

After Cyclist Deaths, How To Make Biking Safer in Chicago

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Last week, two cyclists in Chicago were struck and killed, one by a truck on Milwaukee Avenue and another by a van in West Garfield Park. The deaths were the latest in a string during a summer when a both experienced and inexperienced cyclists lost their lives.

“We’re heartbroken,” Yasmeen Schuller, owner of said on the Morning Shift, “People are worried: Is it a priority? Is our safety a priority?”

Chicago’s roads don’t feel like they’re built for bikes, many of you said in our Facebook discussion.

“We’re never going to reach the cyclist utopian of Amsterdam and other European cities, though, because we fundamentally differ,”  wrote Nathan Chamberlain. “The roads in this country are designed for cars.”

So what can Chicago do to make our roads safer for cyclists?

A few of you had some specific ideas, outside of the classic protected bike lane:

  • “Crazy idea: bike superhighway running the whole length of Milwaukee avenue above the street! Sort of like the 606, but in the different direction, and without runners/walkers/rollerbladers.” Tiffany Trinco, Facebook

  • “I oddly found that having a crossing guard present helps alleviate that tension. Knowing that there’s someone there who can direct bike and car traffic when jams occur means that you always feel like there’s 1. someone looking out for you in case a car or cyclist decides to do something risky, and 2. a person who can interrupt the usual frustration to make sure traffic moves smoothly, that no one blocks intersections, and that peds with the right of way are honored as such.” Anjulie Rao, Facebook

  • Teach bike laws the same way that young drivers are taught the rules of the road in driver’s ed. “Even bicycle commuters have no clue what bike laws are. Bike laws aren’t even written on Divvy stations. Even on the promoted bikeshare program for our city. Jong Pak, Facebook

But ultimately, there needs to be buy in from all members of the community, said Streetsblog Chicago Editor John Greenfield on the Morning Shift.

He pointed to a failed project near Jefferson Park Transit Center that illustrates why cars win out over bikes in city planning. There was an effort to change a four lane road to a two lane road with protected bike lanes, but residents of nearby neighborhoods protested and the project was killed.

“We need to get more political support going for the kind of road overhauls we need to create safety for everybody,” he said.

Schuller added that it’s that lack of “commitment from everybody” that’s holding Chicago back from becoming a bike “utopia,” like some European cities.

Dig Deeper:

Hear our full discussion with Schuller and Greenfield by clicking play above and click through some of these resources for drivers and cyclists looking to brush up on traffic safety:

  • What to do after a crash: The Active Transportation Alliance has a step by step guide for what to do if you’re involved in a crash. Active Trans also offers a crash support hotline at 312-869-HELP.
  • Tips for motorists: The City of Chicago has a handout that walks through how to share the road safely, including how what to do when bike lines are obstructed.
  • Bike law 101: Cars aren’t the only vehicles subject to traffic laws. There are a number of laws that bicyclists have to adhere to (you have to bike in a single file line, for example, unless riding next to another cyclist doesn’t impede traffic).Curious City recently reported that ticketing is becoming more frequent. The Curious City team also put together highlights from Chicago’s municipal codes to keep cyclists ticket-free. Find all of Chicago’s bicycle and pedestrian safety laws here.
  • Bike routes: Here’s a map of all the bike routes throughout the city. It also differentiates between the kinds of bike lanes you’ll encounter.

This post misstated Chicago’s laws about biking single file. If two cyclists aren’t impeding traffic by traveling next to each other, they may bike two abreast.