Bike-friendly? Try Chicago, not Oak Park

Opinion: Columns

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By Jack Crowe

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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.

Reader Comments

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Andy Moss  

Posted: February 18th, 2017 8:05 PM

I too ride downtown each day and agree with Jack's piece 100% (I avoid Lake by using South Blvd, but it's only two way east of OP Ave.). Although OP should be a very bikeable town because of its size and scale, I have far more close calls in OP than in Chicago, due to a combination of half-*ssed cycling infrastructure (see Jack's comments on Jackson), traffic speeding down side streets to avoid traffic lights, and inattentive drivers.

Bethany Joy  

Posted: February 17th, 2017 1:44 PM

I got off the topic of biking and mentioned walking only because the excess of cars is what creates the issue for bike riders in the first place. I have never taken that Lake Street route into the Loop. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Bethany Joy  

Posted: February 17th, 2017 1:42 PM

We need to flip the script. Oak Park is a very walk-able town. Why are people driving their big SUVs to Whole Foods in the first place? You want exercise: WALK!!! No need for fancy gym memberships. Carrying your groceries home a couple of miles will put some hair on your chest and if you're a women, nice pecs. We need to walk the walk, pun intended. If you wanna be crunchy-granola, WALK or bike and do not clog the streets with cars. Be liberal towards bike riders. What a concept, eh?

Pete Moonman  

Posted: February 16th, 2017 9:17 PM

Going east From Harlem I prefer Pleasant Avenue or Washington then head up to Lake on the last block before Austin. Going West I have no Issues. I take South Blvd to Harlem.

Kelly Clissold  

Posted: February 16th, 2017 2:31 PM

Lake Street through the city hasn't technically been protected since they removed the pylons in late 2015, though it's still a good route. But it's harrowing as soon as you hit Austin in Oak Park: the medians squeeze everything together. It does seem like that, or some combination with North and South Boulevard, could make for a viable bike lane/route.

Kelly Clissold  

Posted: February 16th, 2017 12:38 PM

Zach: I'm in south Oak Park. In the morning, I take the path through Columbus Park, bordering the Ike, then east on Harrison, north on Laramie, and east on Washington. Those stretches of Harrison and Laramie are wide, with not many parked cars. Washington has a bike lane from Laramie all the way to the Loop. (Madison has a bike lane, too, but there's more traffic, and the lane ends abruptly two blocks west of Garfield Park.) You can reverse that for the home-bound route, though Laramie is a bit more trafficked in the evening. I take Lake street home, but stay south of the tracks past Central, picking up South blvd through Oak Park.

Zach Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2017 11:45 AM

Anyone from South Oak Park ever commute by bike to/from downtown? I hear Lake St is the preferred route, but I'm by Van Buren/OP Ave, so looking for a southern route

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