By John Byrne
8:17 PM CST, December 10, 2011
It wasn’t hard to spot the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Saturday event for people to submit ideas for a long-term citywide plan to promote bicycling.
With the temperature hovering around 20 degrees and a stiff breeze blowing off the lake, the bikes racks were filled to capacity in front of the Loop building where the open house was held.
Inside, cyclists attending the meeting peeled off layer after layer of coats, caps and gloves, blew their noses with the tissue provided at the sign-in table and crowded around maps depicting street-by-street grids of nine regions of the city.
They were there to provide insight into bicycling conditions in particular neighborhoods that officials hope will help them figure out where to put bike lanes and make other street improvements so it’s safer for bicycles to travel alongside cars on Chicago streets.
Wielding magic markers and stickers, the bike enthusiasts colored in dangerous intersections on the maps and left directions for planners about changes they hope to see to the streetscape.
“18th St. Bridge is v. scary! Also – large metal chunks stick out from viaduct,” read a note on a map showing an area that included the Pilsen neighborhood.
Other missives veered from infrastructure into politics. One plea for safer biking conditions near Toyota Park noted that the home of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire is in suburban Bridgeview. But, the message added, “stupid ex-mayor Daley wouldn’t build a soccer field in the city (& the Chicago Fire fell for it).”
Transportation Commissioner Gabe KleinÖ, an avowed backer of bicycles who has installed Chicago’s first protected bike lanes in the months since Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him, was there to absorb all suggestions.
While he presses ahead with a plan to introduce a bike sharing program by mid- 2012Ö centered around public transportation hubs, Klein hopes to use the maps and input from city bikers as a guide to a longer term program to make Chicago safer for biking, dubbed the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020Ö.
“We may think we know (about the intricacies of bicycling in Chicago,) but they actually know,” Klein said.
Klein has drawn raves from Loop-bound bikers happy about a recently installed protected bike lane on Kinzie Street from Milwaukee Avenue east to Wells Street, perhaps his highest-profile pro-biking move so far.
But some car drivers aren’t happy with it. They cherished that stretch of road as a “secret route” among busy downtown streets and complain the bike lane on Kinzie is too wide, causing back-ups as cars stack up at stop signs because they can no longer pull around each other.
Klein acknowledged those complaints, but said data shows the bike lane hasn’t significantly lengthened the time of the trip from Milwaukee to Wells.
He has met with people who live around Kinzie to make his case that the city will be a better place to get around if bikes supplant cars for short trips.
“What we want to do is bump it up to: `This is your primary mode (of transportation) for trips under three miles,’” Klein said.
The ever-growing collection of cycling wisdom presented to Klein and his staff during the Saturday event suggested there is some passionate support for that effort.
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