By DAVID LEPESKA
Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to spend nearly $150 million to make Chicago “the bike-friendliest city” in the United States. That challenge is considerable, given Chicago’s slow start compared with Portland, Ore., and other bike-centered cities, and Mr. Emanuel’s initial plan is drawing complaints about an inequitable distribution of the investment.
The Chicago Department of Transportation’s $18 million bike-share program is expected to begin next summer with 3,000 bicycles and 300 rental stations, to be located in areas with dense employment, residential development and retail. The Bloomingdale Trail, to be built in an unused two-and-a-half-mile rail line that runs from Wicker Park to Humboldt Park on the North Side, is expected to cost around $50 million over several years. The city planning commission recently approved designs for a $50 million flyover bridge at Navy Pier, the busiest section of the 15-mile lakefront trail.
But so far, the city’s lower-income areas include just one project: a protected bike lane on 18th Street in the 25th Ward, though more such lanes could be added in the spring as part of a four-year, $28 million construction plan. The alderman for the 25th Ward, Daniel Solis, is also the chairman of the City Council’s zoning committee, and he is traveling to Amsterdam this month at the expense of Bikes Belong, an advocacy group based in Boulder, Colo.
Oboi Reed, a lifelong Chatham resident and founder of the Pioneers Bicycle Club, said Mr. Emanuel is pursuing a good objective, but is on the wrong path.
“I definitely support getting more people on bikes because a lot of the common health problems African-Americans face are a result of not getting enough exercise,” Mr. Reed said. “My concern is that the lion’s share of the resources are going to go downtown and to the North Side — the South and West will only see a sprinkling.”
With the city facing a budget deficit of nearly $640 million and a double-digit unemployment rate, Mr. Emanuel may find it difficult to justify spending large amounts on bike facilities.
“It probably isn’t going to help many low-income and out-of-work folks,” said Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who analyzes poverty and inequality. “You can’t spend all your money on a single priority, ignoring transportation or anything else. Given the situation in Chicago, this much spending seems a bit out of whack.”
From 2000 to 2009, the percentage of Chicagoans commuting by bike increased from about 0.5 percent to 1.1 percent. The growth is similar to that seen in other industrial cities like Milwaukee, Detroit and Oakland, Calif., but still lags behind Portland, which tops the United States with 6 percent commuting by bike.
Mr. Emanuel has set a goal of installing 100 miles of protected bike lanes — at a cost of $28 million — by the end of his term in 2015. Protected bike lanes are separated from car traffic by cones, curbs or other impediments. Chicago’s first protected bike lane opened in July on Kinzie Street. The second lane is to be installed this month, on Jackson Street, with another 20 to be built in the spring — all in locations chosen by the city.
Sam Schwartz Engineering, a firm based in New York that was hired by Chicago to design a 150- to 250-mile bike lane network, will hold a series of meetings over the next eight months to help determine the best locations for all future bike lanes.
“There’s been zero public outreach on where the bike lanes should go,” said Steven Vance, a former transportation department consultant on bike planning issues and co-founder of GridChicago.com. Mr. Vance said he approved of the city’s efforts to increase ridership but questioned the first few bike lane locations.
The lack of outreach could be a concern, according to Alan Berube, research director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “If it’s done without public education and public input, there could be some real resistance,” he said.
Ben Gomberg, the Transportation Department’s bike program coordinator, said the city chooses wide streets that either see a lot of bike traffic or connect main arteries. To save money, the department also tries to piggyback on current roadway projects. The city has applied for state support and for federal clean-air financing that could total $50 million.
Mr. Berube said the bike initiatives could help in a city where the unemployment rate is more than 10 percent and nearly one in four residents live in poverty. “It can connect people to services, to work, and improve their health,” he said. “We need more jobs, but we need accessible jobs, too.”
ran in Oct 16, 2011, NYTimes, www.nytimes.com