Bikeable Big Cities: How Chicago Ranks

The past few years have seen a remarkable surge in the number of cyclists on Chicago streets. The introduction of bike-sharing programs and the building of protected bike lanes and other cyclist-friendly infrastructures have put Chicago on the road to becoming a bikers’ city. Nevertheless, how does Chicago fare in terms of being a bikeable city compared to other bigger towns in the United States?

City Rankings

Based on the 2021 PeopleForBikes City Rating, Chicago is placed at 35th out of the top 50 large cities of the USA for cycling. At first this might not seem impressive but given that the city was ranked 43rd in 2019 it seems that Chicago has made great strides in becoming a more bike friendly place. The PeopleForBikes City Rating evaluates cities based on five key indicators: ridership, safety, coverage, acceleration, and reach. Although Chicago has stayed in the middle of the pack by ridership and acceleration, it has moved up rankings within safety and network criteria—two of the most important assessments for being a bike friendly city.

Regarding safety, the city of Chicago has been taking steps towards enhancing cycling infrastructure. By 2018, Chicago registered an increase of 58% in the number of protected bike lanes reaching a total of 100 miles. Protected bike lanes separate the cyclists from the traffic using some physical barrier and in this way, it is safe for the cyclists to ride through the city with all the busy streets. Moreover, in 2020, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) initiated a “Vision Zero” plan aimed at eradicating deaths and serious injuries from traffic crashes by 2026. The plan involves the improvement of street design, increased enforcement of traffic laws, and public education campaigns aimed at safety for all road users, including cyclists. Sadly in 2022, there 1,258 reported bike collisions in the city, resulting in 6 deaths. There is much more work to be done to achieve the Vision Zero goal.

On the other hand, a recent report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) finds that Chicago lags behind other cities in terms of implementing safety measures for cyclists. Titled “Designing for All Ages and Abilities,” the report reviewed 10 North American cities and showed that Chicago had the smallest percentage of protected bike lane miles when compared to the other cities, with only 21 miles out of 100 being protected. This points to the need for more improvement in the process of providing cyclists with the safe environment to ride on Chicago streets.

Building a Connected City for Cycling

With regards to the city’s network, Chicago has also been advancing. The city enjoys over 1150 miles of comprehensive bike network with over 350 miles of on-street bike lanes, 60 miles of off-street trails, and almost 30 miles of separated and protected bike lanes. Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 focuses on establishing a network of bike lanes, a key to safer riding, will cover Chicago connecting the major destinations so people can safely and comfortably bike all over. Nevertheless, the NACTO report provided that Chicago can also do better in terms of ensuring equal access to bike infrastructure in every neighborhood. The report discovered that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have less protected bike lanes, leading to cycling safety inequities.

In addition, a report by the League of American Bicyclists assigned Chicago to the silver category for its bike community efforts. Cities are judged by the League in five areas which include infrastructure, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation/planning. More improvement has been made in all aspects of Chicago however; education and promotion have been recorded as the highest. The city provides free bike classes and safety workshops and other events and initiatives such as Bike to Work Week and Divvy For All, which offers discounted bike sharing memberships for low-income residents. Nevertheless, the implementation performance is not so impressive since the city is said to be inferior to others in traffic law enforcement aimed to help cyclists.

Ridership-wise, Chicago is quite far. As reported by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, bike is the mode for only 1% of daily trips in the city, which is far behind other major cities like Portland or Seattle with commuting rates growing up to 6%. Nevertheless, there is a constant rise of cyclists who increased by 150% from 2000 to 2019. The city has also registered an increase in the number of users of the bike-sharing program, Divvy, with 10 million trips made in 2019.

Challenges for Chicago

One of Chicago’s major challenges as a bikeable city is its weather. The city’s cold and snow-covered winters pose a challenge to year-round cycle commuting. Nevertheless, CDOT has launched a winter biking campaign that entails snow plowing of bike lanes as well as winter cycling workshops and resources to incentivize residents to bike all year long. This initiative is a proof of the city’s willingness to support cycling in all seasons and increase the general ridership.

Overall, Chicago is moving towards making its riding environment more friendly. The city has put money into developing bike infrastructure and safety measures, and there is evidence of cyclers community growing up in Chicago. Nevertheless, safety issues to be addressed and equal access to bike infrastructure among all the neighborhoods needs further improvement. Ridership rates improvement should also be considered by the city, problems connected with this aspect can be solved by additional investments and encouragement programs. Chicago when continues the good work and does improvement has the change to be one of the top bike-friendly cities in the United States.

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Bikeable Big Cities: How Chicago Ranks — Bike Hacks