02/08/2012 03:36 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2012

Chicago's Bikeway Future: Streets for Cycling 2020

On Feb. 1st about 100 people, myself included, along with alderperson representatives from the 43rd, 47th, and 39th wards, gathered at the Sulzer Library in Lincoln Square to discuss Streets for Cycling 2020, an infrastructure plan that "will guide the development of a citywide network of 150-250 miles of innovative bikeways," at the third of Chicago Department of Transportation's (CDOT) public meetings. Here the plan was reviewed, project managers answered questions, and input was gathered from citizens, the majority of whom cycled there in the February weather.

Developing the plan through June 2012, the anticipated date of completion, CDOT is reviewing the existing bicycle conditions in Chicago neighborhoods and gathering input from communities to identify the gaps and barriers in the current Chicago bike network. From here, a "new network of family-friendly bicycle facilities will be developed." The challenge will be to get those interested in bicycling but concerned about safety onto "streets that allow children and families to ride bikes without fearing for safety." Made clear from the rhetoric of the presentation -- the plan is focused on safety and equity.

Along the walls of Sulzer's meeting room were tripods holding close-up maps of the city's existing bicycle conditions divided by the plan's nine sections; South Side, Southeast Side, Far South Side, Southwest Side, Mid-southwest Side, West Side, Northwest Side, North Side, and Central Area. Attendees were encouraged to post and write suggestions on disconnects in the current network and hazardous areas using orange exclamation stickers but also encouraged to identify places of interest, favorite routes, and other neighborhood destinations such as parks, transit, shopping, schools, and job sites with green bicycle symbols. Looking over the maps there was clearly a higher occurrence of orange indicating areas for improvement than green designating destinations of importance. Planners said this entire process is to take advantage of Chicago bicyclist's knowledge in connecting existing infrastructure and planning for new.

For my own contribution to the north side maps I put two stickers at the Elston/Fullerton/Damen intersection and one at the Lincoln/Belmont/Ashland intersection, and another at the area around Clark/Fullerton to the lake. I placed green stickers along Ravenswood to indicate a good path for a future greenway and at the start of the northwest side forest preserve entrance.

During the presentation several clarifications were made about the plan; Streets for Cycling is not a supplement of Chicago's Bike 2015 Plan, but will complement that existing plan; Streets for Cycling is an infrastructure plan and not a policy or enforcement plan like Bike 2015. The presentation went over designations of different bicycle infrastructures; bike lanes, buffered lanes, protected lanes, greenways, with examples of existing cities with these enhancements: NYC, Berkley, Montreal, Portland, Seattle, and Mexico City.

The presentation continued on, reviewing the city's current bicycle infrastructure built over the past year. Mainly the Kinzie, Jackson, and 18th Street protected and buffered lanes. Planners then moved into discussing CDOTs new projects.

These new projects include a .9-mile Berteau St. greenway between Clark and Lincoln to be completed in 2012 and a West Side Boulevards Project with 4.3 miles protected and buffered bikeways. It was announced that by 2015 the Bloomingdale Trail will be added to Chicago's bicycle network with federal funding to support the project. Also by 2015, CDOT's team plans to have the 100 miles of protected bike lanes promised by Emanuel and 10 miles of neighborhood greenways.

There will be two more CDOT meetings in the spring to present the Streets for Cycling network. The decided upon network will be turned into an informational facility guide for use by different groups in Chicago to guide development of future bikeways. As the planners proclaimed in the meeting, this will be a bikeway network "created by the people of Chicago."