Chicago Bike Lane Basics
With bike lanes over many of Chicago's major streets, many motorists have become considerate about their use. Sadly, this does not include everyone. As a cyclist, it is important to remember that while the bike lanes are a convenience, they do not guarantee you safety. There are a number of different types of bike lanes, each offering a different level of separation from motorized traffic:
Marked Shared Lanes are not striped but show the bicycle symbol and a chevron; they are typically installed when there is not enough width for a full bike lane. Also known as “sharrows” (combination of the words "share" and "arrow”) such lanes are intended to serve as a visual reminder that space on the road is meant to be shared by bikes and cars. Shared lanes don't provide for dedicated space on the street for people biking. Shared lanes simply indicate a general area on the road in which it should be safe for people to bike.
Marked Bike Lanes are striped, on-street lanes with a bicycle symbol and an arrow. Striped bike lanes aim to provide a clearer sense of where cyclists should be on the road by creating a lane specifically and only for bikes. Typically, these lanes are striped with white paint and are often located on far right side of the road. They may be painted a separate color, usually green, to draw more attention. Drivers are not permitted to drive or park in bike lanes of any kind, the caveat being that many drivers seem unaware of this restriction, and there’s little enforcement.
Buffer Protected Bike Lanes create a dedicated lane for bikes, with the extra space between cyclists and passing cars, usually with a painted safeguard area of one to two feet. Drivers must stay on the left side of the buffer while driving and can only cross the bike lane when making a turn or entering an adjacent property - after properly signalling, and checking to be sure there are no people biking in the lane, of course.
Barrier-Protected Bike Lanes use physical barriers between cyclists and moving cars to help people of all ages feel more comfortable on the street. The lane is usually located next to the curb. Cars park between the bike lane and car travel lane, and the bike lane is sometimes further protected with plastic bollards. While they cost more money than other bike lanes and street markings, protected bike lanes clearly delineate space on the road for bikes and prevent cars from infringing on that space. Unfortunately at this time in Chicago protected bike lanes are few and far between and lack the continuity needed to offer safety for the most timid or vulnerable riders.
Bike lane violations (such as drivers using bikes lanes as passing lanes, or delivery vehicles parked in bike lanes) are a common occurrence and a source of deep frustration among cyclists. To report bike lane violations, visit Bike Lane Uprising, an organization that seeks to crowdsource bike lane obstructions in one central database, visualize problem spots with mapping and data analysis, and provide insights and advocacy for changes needed to increase bike lane safety.
Follow some basic guidelines when cycling along on-street bike lanes:
Pay attention to markings on the road. Stay inside the solid while line and avoid weaving in and out of traffic Signal if you need to swerve to avoid an obstacle. Use caution where the solid line turns into a dashed line. This indicates that vehicles may merge into the bike lane for bus stops and turns.
Use extreme caution at major intersections, where bike lanes disappear entirely. Since bike lanes are retro-fitted into many existing roads, there simply isn't enough room for them at intersections where turn lanes, through lanes and bus lanes take up the width of the street. City officials have chosen to discontinue the bike lanes before such intersections, and install signs to remind drivers to yield to cyclists.
When the bike lane stripe ends, continue riding straight ahead, preferably in the middle or to the left side of the right hand lane, which should clearly indicate to other road users that you are going straight through the intersection. Don't ride to far to the right, which implies you may be turning, and can cause right-turning vehicles to cut you off. Where cars are allowed a right turn at a red light, and you intend to go straight, move left far enough to allow any cars behind you to make a turn.
To execute a left turn from a bike lane, give yourself plenty of room, look behind you, signal, and merge left when it's safe, until you get to the left turn lane. Or, you can follow the green light to across the intersection, stop, turn at the corner, wait for the light to change and proceed on the cross street.