While 2016 was in the process of becoming one of the deadliest summers in recent memory for bicyclists in Chicago, the increased attention given to bicycle safety has drawn focus to a prevalent yet largely unaddressed danger that bicyclists face in the city every day: bike lanes blocked by construction equipment and materials. If you've biked at all in the city, you are all too familiar with this problem. And you're not alone if you thought it was worse than usual. Jim Merrell, advocacy director of the Active Transportation Alliance, told the Chicago Reader, "Things have really come to a head this summer with the obstruction of high-profile bike routes."
Whether the situation involves construction zones that slowly creep into the bike lane or an all-out illegal blockage of a designated bike path, these obstructions add to the already high levels of danger that bicyclists in Chicago face.
Danger On The 'Hipster Highway'
Milwaukee Avenue is a perfect storm in terms of danger to bicyclists. It's a popular bike route, surrounded by popular bike-friendly neighborhoods and offering easy connections to many parts of the city. But it's also home to a tremendous number of construction projects, as developers and business owners look to renovate the area to make the most of the avenue's popularity. While bicyclists should always be on the lookout for obstructions and drivers who do not give bicyclists the right of way that they are entitled to, be extra cautious if you bike on Milwaukee.
What Should You Do If You See An Obstruction?
It may seem like there is no hope of fighting these obstructions, and the pace at which the city and the police department force construction companies to move their equipment can seem glacial. So how can you fight back against obstructed bike lanes? Will it actually make a difference?
You can speak up, and it will make a difference. It may not change things overnight, but the dangers that bicyclists face are being given more and more attention these days, and persistence will be key to showing that the law needs to be followed and bicyclists' rights must be protected.
- When you first see an obstruction, move to a safe location before taking any of the next steps.
- Call 311 to report the obstruction.
- Tweet about the situation suing the #bikeCHI hashtag. This has worked to shut down illegal construction and to spread the word about dangerous obstructions.
- Email the Active Transportation Alliance at email@example.com.
When using any of these methods to spread the news about an obstruction, be sure to provide as much detail as possible and to include photos whenever possible. This is a situation where pictures definitely speak louder than words, as even those who are not as supportive of bicyclists' rights cannot (effectively or honestly) argue with a picture showing a clear violation of the law.
Working As A Team To Make Chicago Safer For Bicyclists
Advocates, coalitions and other cyclists experiencing the same thing you are have been standing up against this issue.
Want to learn more or join some of those efforts? We recommend you start with the Clear the Way project, which is aiming to compile as much evidence of this issue as it can by Sept. 30. That evidence will then be hand-delivered to city leaders. They've even put together this helpful graphic as a reminder (all rights for this graphic are the property of the Active Transportation Alliance):