Dec 15, 2021 - News

Decoding Chicago's bike signs

A photo of a bike lane.

This street marking in the middle of School Street in Lakeview, a sharrow, means bikes share the road with cars but don't have space dedicated solely to bikers. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

When it's 60s degrees in December, Chicagoans break out the cargo shorts, flip-flops and the bikes.

The breakdown: Bike advocate and Streetsblog Chicago co-editor John Greenfield shares his hierarchy of bike infrastructure in Chicago from least to most safe:

  1. Sharrow: Indicates that cyclists may share the street but "don't provide dedicated space for cycling."
  2. Dashed bike lanes: "Basically deluxe sharrows; drivers of wide vehicles like buses and trucks are allowed to cross into the lane if necessary." Used on streets where there’s not enough road width to install standard bike lanes.
  3. Standard bike lanes: Two striped lines with bike symbols and arrows.
  4. Buffered bike lanes: "Striped lines with a band of dead space to distance cyclists from moving traffic and/or car doors."
  5. Plastic bollard-protected bike lanes: The flexible plastic posts are, "easily flattened by drivers."
  6. Physically protected or separated bike lanes: "These use sturdy metal bollards, concrete curbs and parked cars that motorists can’t drive around."
  7. Bike path: Separated from moving traffic, "like the Lakefront Trail or North Branch Trail."

The bottom line: Greenfield regularly pushes the city for better bike infrastructure by pointing to surveys that show that the further down the list cities go with these types of paths, the more people say they would bike.

The other side: Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson Mike Claffey tells Axios that the city "installed 8.5 miles of protected lanes in 2021 and now has 35 miles total."

  • He notes the city also installed 9 miles of "neighborhood greenways," or sections of streets where bikes and pedestrians get priority, in 2021.
  • CDOT has also recently installed contraflow lanes (where bikes go the opposite way of cars) on Wrightwood, Kilbourn and Roscoe.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that separate lanes for bikes are called bike paths, not bikeways. Additionally, John Greenfield co-edits Streetsblog Chicago, not Chicago Streets Blog.


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