Chicago is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country, according to Bicycling Magazine. Photos courtesy Active Transportation Alliance.
In its October issue, Bicycling Magazine named Chicago No. 2 in its biennial ranking, “Top 50 Bike-friendly Cities,” up from No. 5 in 2012 (New York is No. 1). That’s exciting news for a city that’s made cycling a priority in recent years. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see commuters biking to work, even on the coldest of cold winter days.
There are a number of advantages to cycling, and in Chicago, one of the biggest pros of riding a bike is it’s often faster to get from point A to B by pedaling than it is by driving or taking public transportation. Plus, it’s a great way to take in all there is to see in the Windy City.
Bike Lanes are Everywhere
Chicago has more than 200 miles of bike lanes, 36 miles of trails and more than 13,000 bike racks—that’s more than any other city in the U.S.
Since taking office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made bike-friendliness it a focal point and, with his guidance, the city is on target to complete 100 more miles of bike lanes by 2015.
“Chicago is a national leader in building new and improved cycling facilities, and we are setting a new standard for other cities to follow,” said Emanuel in a recent statement, following the second-place designation. “This new ranking by Bicycling Magazine demonstrates that Chicago is on the right path to becoming the best cycling city in America.”
To further pave the way, the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 calls for 645 miles of bike paths by the year 2020. Plus, the launch of the Divvy bike share program in 2013 has brought 3,000 bikes and 300 bike stations throughout Chicago. By spring of 2015, the city’s goal is to have the largest bike-share network in the country, and it’s in the process of adding an additional 175 stations and 1,750 bikes. Since the bike-share program launched, riders have logged more than 5 million miles on the powder-blue bikes.
Biking in Chicago is Relatively Safe
Cycling in high-density areas along with heavy traffic can seem intimidating, but it’s actually fairly safe. In 2014, the Alliance for Biking & Walking, which is a coalition of 200-plus biking/walking advocacy groups across the country, released a report on the safety of cycling and walking in different cities in the United States. The report found that cities that had higher levels of cycling generally had lower cycling fatality rates. Chicago received a safety score of 3.9 for cycling, which translates to 3.9 fatalities per 10,000 commuters.
While fatalities are rare, accidents do happen. Cyclists should always wear a helmet when biking in the city, and be aware of cars in motion as well as parked cars. In Chicago, “dooring” incidents—when a parked car opens a door in a cyclist’s path and the cyclist isn’t able to avoid it—are quite dangerous. According the Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group for cycling, walking and public transit, one in five cycling accidents in Chicago involve car doors. The organization advises cyclists to ride on the far left side of the bike lane when it’s safe—closer to moving traffic—to best avoid the potential dangers associated with parked vehicles.
Chicago Hosts a Social Cycling Scene
Cycling can be a solo sport or a social one, and many cyclists opt to ride together in Chicago. The Active Transportation Alliance sponsors a number of group rides throughout the year, including Chicago’s most famous ride: MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive. Every May, Lake Shore Drive is shut down to motorized traffic and opened to cyclists, who wake up early to see the sun rise over Lake Michigan as they ride towards Chicago’s skyline.
Cyclists looking for social bike groups can check out options such as the Chicago Cycling Club, Windy City Cycling Club, and various suburban cycling clubs and racing teams. And the annual Bike Commuter Challenge encourages area businesses to rally together and inspire employees to ride to work over one week in June. Last year, the challenge drew more than 7,000 participants. In addition, the last Friday evening of every month, thousands of cyclists gather in Daley Plaza for an event called Critical Mass, where they embark on an enormous group ride across the city.
To connect with other cyclists and learn about cycling events around Chicago, register with The Chainlink, an incredibly active site for cyclists (of all levels of skill and commitment) that has more than 10,000 members.
Where to Ride
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey (ACS), bike commuters in Chicago have increased from .5 percent in 2000 to 1.3 percent in 2012 (out of a total of 1.2 million commuters in 2012). That’s a higher number than New York and Los Angeles.
Some of the popular commuter bike routes in Chicago include Elston Avenue (protected by buffers and barriers in certain spots), Lincoln Avenue (a diagonal that travels efficiently from the city’s north side toward downtown) Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park (which feels like Chicago’s own little Copenhagen, it’s so heavily trafficked with bicycles), Dearborn Avenue downtown (a two-way bike lane was recently installed) and the Chicago Lakefront Trail, a gorgeous 18-milk walking/cycling trail along the shores of Lake Michigan. Another popular leisure trail is the North Branch Trail, which travels through the Forest Preserves of Cook County 20 miles to the Chicago Botanic Garden.
For more detailed data on the most popular routes, check out the Strava Heat Map, which hones in on high traffic areas in Chicago and across the country. The City of Chicago also produces a bike map, which is available online or through the mail. And Google maps is a popular tool, guiding cyclists on bike-friendly routes throughout Chicago.
Chicago is home to all kinds of fantastic neighborhood bike shops. Here are 10 that get glowing reviews, organized by neighborhood.
Blue City Cycles
3201 S Halsted
Chicago, IL 60608
3001 N Broadway St.
Chicago, IL 60657
Roscoe Village Bikes
2016 W Roscoe St.
Chicago, IL 60618
West Town Bikes
2459 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60622
4710 N Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
1908 W Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
The Bike Lane
2130 N Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
JC Lind Bike Co.
1311 N Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60610
4653 N Broadway St.
Chicago, IL 60640
Note: I put a bunch of photos in to give you some choices. All are courtesy Active Transportation Alliance.
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