Chicago Most Bike Friendly City; Accidents Still on the Rise
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For the first time, Chicago has surpassed New York as the best city for biking in the country. This title comes as Mayor Emanuel has pushed an ambitious plan costing millions of dollars to make Chicago even more bike-friendly. But accidents involving bikers are also on the rise and responsible for the deaths of 11 cyclists in Cook County this year.
Accidents involving bikers in Chicago have jumped 28 percent since 2005. On average, six bikers are killed and 1,500 are injured every year in Chicago.
Maalik Gardner knows well the promise and the peril of biking in Chicago. The 23-year old rides for about 20 miles a day to and from his job at a bike shop in Woodlawn. He also worked as a bike messenger, a job that led to a biking accident that nearly killed him when he was hit by a truck the west loop in 2015.
“I got hit by something and I woke up in hospital and I couldn’t walk,” says Gardner I couldn’t move from the waist down, my pelvis was fractured.”
Chicago’s efforts to make the city more bike-friendly for riders like Gardner are also aimed making it safer.
“These protected bike lanes with actual physical separation have been proven in Chicago and elsewhere to really improve the safety of folks on bicycles,” says Jim Merrell of the Active Transport Alliance, a group that advocates for bikers in Chicago.
Merrell says Chicago is doing more than the other city in terms of promoting biking and has now built more than 100 miles of bike lanes costing about $13 million dollars. Nearly 90 miles have some kind of buffer between bikers and traffic, and about 20 miles are protected by solid roadway barriers.
The City says these barriers are making a difference. On 55th Street in Hyde Park, bicycle accidents have decreased by 30% since barriers were built in 2012. But the bike lanes have also lead to a backlash from drivers. They mean less room for cars and trucks.
“We are just grabbing a vehicle lane, painting it green, putting some rubber hose barrier between it and the cars and calling it a bike lane,” says columnist John McCarron who has covered issues surrounding bicycling for the Chicago Tribune. “But what about the 98 percent who are still commuting in their cars and just lost a lane?”
About 18,000 Chicagoans now commute to work on bikes. That’s only about two percent of all commuters, up from around 6,000 of bikers in 2000.
Monica Mitchell, a Chicagoan, says people need to be more mindful.
“We all walk around with earbuds in and that’s very dangerous so you just have to pay attention”.
From 2006-2015, Chicago Police issued only 410 citations for bikers running red lights, or 43 tickets a year on average.
“I think that cyclist should be educated and trained and have to meet certain standards, sort of the rules on the road tests” says McCarron.
In Chicago, bikers don’t need to pass an elementary rules of the road test apply for a license or register their bikes. Cycling advocates oppose licensing or registration saying they are very costly and it’s better to focus on educational programming in schools, enforcement of traffic laws and build a safer infrastructure that is easy to use everyone.
“We think it is better to focus on things that are proven to work,” says Merrell.
City planners agree that the benefits of cycling reducing congestion, improving air quality and encouraging exercise far outweigh the cost of building a bike-friendly city.