Drivers often complain that bicyclists play by their own rules. Yet a Chicago bike sign project is suggesting that, if given their own signage, cyclists do follow the rules of the road.
Back in December, Chicago introduced a two-way bike lane on a major street (for Chicagoans and those in the know: it is located on Dearborn Street, running through The Loop). The bike lane was installed with signs and signals aimed at bikers, as well as with a special pavement outfitted with micro-radar sensors that, according to Forbes, “can detect bicyclists and differentiate them from cars.”
The pay-off of targeted bicycle signs? According to Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, compliance with the traffic signals jumped from 31 percent prior to the new project, to 81 percent after its installation.
Commissioner Klein reported on the results at the Complete Streets Symposium, held in Chicago July 25 – 26. ““If you actually give a cyclist their own space and you give them their own signal, it’s remarkable how their behavior changes.”
Additionally, he explained, “Before the installation, very few people were actually paying attention to lights, people were running them. It went from 31 percent before the installation, so only one third, to 81 percent afterwards. Just overnight. Just by giving them a space and a signal. Big, big difference.”
As The Chicago Tribune explains it, “The bicycle-specific traffic signals on Dearborn are part of a federally funded experiment involving the two-way bike lanes, which are protected from moving vehicle traffic by plastic posts and a parking lane over much of the 1.15-mile route between Kinzie and Polk streets.”
Costing approximately $450,000, the project removed a northbound lane that an average of 13,100 vehicles use each weekday. Between 2006 and 2011, 1,140 crashes were reported in this particular stretch, with pedestrians and bicyclists involved in over half of the accidents that included injuries.
A plus that non-bikers can appreciate: Chicago upgraded signals for vehicles and pedestrians at the same time as the biker lane updates, which has since resulted in improved traffic along the street. Pedestrians have had their own issues with the bike lane, however. In the spring, a nearby restaurant added stop signs in the bicycle lane as a reminder to stop for pedestrians; the bicycle signs were removed by the city. The city painted signs directly on the pavement to warn pedestrians of oncoming bike traffic.
The takeaway is that, if you signal it, bikers will obey. “Enforcement hasn’t been necessary because people for the most part are obeying the laws,” Cmdr. Al Nagode of the Chicago Police Department told The Chicago Tribune. “We’ve had a handful of citations that we’ve written both to drivers of vehicles and to some bikes when we see something egregious.”
The Chicago Department of Transportation clearly outlined its priorities earlier this year: “All transportation projects and programs, from scoping to maintenance, will favor pedestrians first, then transit riders, cyclists, and automobiles.” Bicycling’s growing popularity in the city is related to improved safety. As Lee Crandell of the Active Transportation Alliance told The Tribune,
“People are no longer fearing for their safety riding bikes into downtown.”