Mixed feelings about Chicago’s first Loop bike lane

Last Tuesday evening when I first pedaled down the new Madison Street bike lane, crisp white lines on fresh, smooth asphalt, my initial emotion was exhilaration. Just like the first time I rode the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, I was experiencing something that had never been done before in Chicago, and it was a liberating sensation.

For years I’ve wished the city would stripe bike lanes within the central Loop, defined by the Chicago River, Michigan Avenue and the Congress Parkway, but until now this seemed verboten. The taboo against downtown lanes has always struck me as typical of the conservative way the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) did bike improvements under Mayor Daley. The attitude seemed to be that the Central Business District (CBD) was too congested to have bike lanes, when in reality the Loop is too congested NOT to have lanes encouraging people to bicycle instead of driving.

So I was thrilled last week when Steven forwarded a newsletter from 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly announcing that CDOT was striping lanes on Madison from Michigan to Wells. But I confess that a couple blocks into my maiden voyage down the new lane I became a little disappointed. I realized that many cyclists will not feel comfortable riding in the lane because it is marked to the left of a bus-only lane. This means cyclists will be pedaling between two lanes of moving traffic with no protection except paint on the road.