Chicago is currently installing some of the last miles of new bike lanes the city has planned for 2012: A two-way cycle track on N Dearborn Street through the incredibly dense and busy downtown Loop.
The downtown project is part of a protected bike lane push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was elected in early 2011.
When Emanuel took office, Seattle was working on the Dexter bike lanes. Talk of a downtown cycle track was sparse, but gaining wind. By fall of 2011, Seattle opened the Dexter buffered bike lanes to almost unanimous support. Seattle announced plans to fund an update to the Bicycle Master Plan.
Just weeks after the City Council approved the budget that included the plan update, Chicago installed its first protected bike lane on Kinzie Street. For the next year, Chicago would install about 20 miles of protected bike lanes. While Seattle is getting its first glimpses at the first draft of the Bicycle Master Plan Update, Chicago is laying down the paint for the first protected bike lane through the most active part of their downtown.
Meanwhile, Seattle has funded yet another transportation plan that will look in part at downtown cycle tracks. That funding was secured a couple weeks ago.
It does not need to take this long. It sounds doubtful there will be a cycle track downtown before 2014. Why? The Bike Master Plan will soon have clear recommendations for which streets are good candidates. Do we really need to wait until the Center City Mobility Plan is complete before we even talk about planning a cycle track downtown?
The city is also predicting that cycle tracks will cost $4-5 million per mile. This cost, based on the cost of Vancouver’s Hornby cycle track, is much higher than Chicago’s, as we reported previously:
Using an estimate from SDOT that cycle tracks could cost $4-5 million per mile, Council estimated that they could build 0.25 miles of cycle track with the included funding. However, this is by far the highest cost estimate for cycle tracks we have seen compared to other cities (Chicago has built cheapo cycle tracks for $170,000 per mile and Long Beach recently spent about $300,000 per mile, though Vancouver’s downtown cycle track on Hornby cost about 3 million Canadian dollars for a mile).
Cycle tracks are certainly more complicated than the bike lanes the city has been installing for the past several years. For example, they require bike-specific traffic signals and intersection redesigns. However, other costs relate to materials used for separation, much of which can be saved by simply using parked cars instead of curbs or planters. This would also make the streets significantly safer for people on foot, which is desperately needed downtown.
And, of course, there are Seattle’s seemingly never-ending planning and consultant costs (Chicago’s work is largely done in-house).
Seattle can’t wait longer. We’re suddenly in a place where we’re envious of Chicago‘s bike lanes. That’s crazy. We are falling behind because we are not making bold and smart investments in cycling infrastructure where we need it most. There won’t be a huge increase in the number of people cycling until we make significant improvements to the streets people need to use the most.