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UPDATED 07/25/11 2:21 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago is boosting its bike-friendly reputation by giving riders more protection.
As CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl reports, the first protected bicycle lane was dedicated officially Monday, on Kinzie Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s John Cody reports
“Protected” means that the bicycle lane is along the curb, separated out by a buffer area, and then farther into the street is there area where cars can park. Parked cars will block bikers from traffic.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the protected bike lane absolutely separates the bikes from the cars.
“From the curb out, you’ve got about 3 1/2 to 4 feet of bike lane, then you have buffered striping and parking storage, so the parking that would normally be along the curb has been moved out 4 feet into the street, and then you have vehicular traffic next to that,” Reilly said.
But old habits die hard. Some people who are already using the bike lane point out that it is in space that was formerly used for parking, and some drivers are still popping into the lanes to pick up or drop off people at nearby buildings. One cyclist reported having a close encounter with a limousine.
The special type of bike lane, also called a cycle track, is being tested on a half-mile, well-bicycled stretch of Kinzie Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street in the Fulton River District neighborhood in West Town on the Near Northwest Side. The cost of the Kinzie project is estimated at about $140,000, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele said.
Cycle tracks typically separate bike riders from traffic with dividers such as planter boxes or construction barriers. In this pilot project, flexible posts are being used.
CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein showed off the half mile bike lane on Kinzie, where bikes get the green curb lane, then come flexible plastic posts, then the parking lane, then in the middle is the lanes for traffic — all to be open all year around.
“There are people who will ride in this three months a year — including myself — but the other thing is then you’re talking about … 80 percent of the time, it is being used heavily,” Klein said.
The next protected bike lane opens later on a stretch of Jackson Boulevard from Damen Avenue east to Halsted Street.
CDOT earlier said it also plans to install a cycle track on Stony Island Avenue on the South Side between 69th and 77th streets. CDOT received a $3.2 million federal grant to build and test the track.
“Those who followed me during the campaign know I am a bike enthusiast, as somebody who likes biking myself,” Mayor Emanuel said in June. “But my principal enthusiasm beyond an individual one, on a professional basis, is I want Chicago to be the bike-friendliest city in the country.”
Reilly said Monday that the half-mile stretch of Kinzie Street with the protected bike lane has already seen a 60 percent increase in the number of riders compared with last year.