CHICAGO — City officials hope a new bike lane on Dearborn Street will make travel safer for bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein officially opened the bike lane, which spans Dearborn between Polk Street and Wacker Drive, a stretch of road Klein said felt more like a highway than a city street.
"Frankly, Dearborn had too much capacity for a relatively low amount of vehicle traffic," said Klein. "With all of those travel lanes, there was capacity for about 40,000 vehicles each day. But in reality, there were only about 13,000. Too much space and not enough cars caused it to feel more like a highway, rather than an urban street – which led to speeding and accidents."
The one-way, northbound road had three lanes of traffic, in addition to parking lanes on either side. The bike lanes replace the west side parking lane.
"It used to be crazy," said Terry Guen, of Oak Park, referring to the drivers turning onto Dearborn from Polk. "People weaved in and out of traffic. It doesn't look like it's more crowded. It (the third traffic lane) wasn't necessary."
More than 100 cyclists gathered for the ceremony.
Financial consultant Christina Ochs, who rides to work, was excited by the new lanes.
"I ride my bike down Dearborn nearly every day, even in winter," Ochs said. "I hedge risk for a living, so therefore I'm in support of protected bike lanes."
But Steve Vance, local biking activist and co-publisher of the Grid Chicago blog had a mild critique of the new bike lanes.
"I think it's a little narrow, although I recognize there wasn't any more room to make it wider, but it does meet width standards," said Vance. "I think the pavement quality sucks in a lot of parts, but I recognize they did build it in just three weeks."
Emanuel said the city recently moved from 10th to fifth in a survey of bike-friendly cities.
"No city has moved that far, that fast and that quickly," said Emanuel, who hopes Chicago becomes the world’s most bike-friendly city. "You cannot be pro-startup business and not be pro-bike."
Emanuel has proposed building 100 miles of protected bike lanes; the Dearborn project marks the 30th miles of protected lanes, he said.
Klein said CDOT figures estimate there were close to 1,000 crashes on that stretch of Dearborn between 2006 and 2010, with nearly two-thirds of the crashes involving serious injuries to pedestrians and bike riders.
"By reducing the number of travel lanes, we will slow down vehicles to the speed limit, and we will make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street." said Klein. "Congestion is not always a bad thing if it causes people to slow down and go the speed limit."