I commute downtown by bike most days, year-round. I take Lake Street through Oak Park, Austin, Garfield Park, and into the Loop. The most dangerous part of the ride? Lake Street in Oak Park.
The city of Chicago makes Oak Park look like a piker when it comes to bike-friendliness. In 2016, Bicycling Magazine named Chicago the most bike-friendly city in America. How did that happen?
The city worked with bikers to create over 100 miles of protected bike lanes, with more on the way. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's goal is that no resident of the city is more than a half mile away from a bike lane. Talk about transformative.
Oak Park is talking the bike-friendly talk more than walking (or pedaling) the walk. The village has built some bike lanes, but in Oak Park we want it all. So we jam bike lanes in with pedestrian cut-outs that push the biker into traffic at every intersection, as on Jackson Boulevard.
Most bikers want to reach home alive. The result is that I rarely see anyone biking on Jackson.
Lake Street has the same problem, only it's worse. The city made Lake Street its main biking route from the western suburbs to downtown, the biking equivalent of the Eisenhower Expressway.
This industrial corridor provides a protected bike lane all the way. The lane is not perfect — watch out for broken glass — but it is far safer than what cyclists find on Lake Street in Oak Park. Here, it is a free for all of cars, cyclists and pedestrians, plus the occasional median with trees hogging space.
So far, the debate over redoing Lake Street is focused on whether to use blue pavers. (Don't do it. They're expensive and don't age well — see Marion Street).
The conversation should turn to making Lake Street accessible for all, including bikers.
The village has made one excellent improvement to bike safety in the last year. It installed yellow flashing lights that blink at the cars on Chicago Avenue whenever a bike or pedestrian is crossing at Harvey.
It used to be that crossing this intersection on bike required cautiously inching the front wheel into the intersection, hoping that a Good Samaritan in a car would slow down and not run over the bike. The new flashing lights have made it the safest way for bikers to pedal between north and south Oak Park.
Making Lake Street more bike-friendly will do one more thing. Some people complain about increased density in downtown Oak Park. (For the record, I like the new high-rises and the improved liveliness and increased tax dollars they bring.) By getting more folks to traverse the town by bike, we make our village a cooler place to live.
Just ask any cyclist in Chicago.