May is National Bike Month and a harbinger for ‘two wheelers’ in Chicago!

by Jeffery J. Kroll

Did you know that May is National Bike month? And yes, the timing couldn’t be better…the weather in Chicago is finally warming up and the city is beginning to reopen its businesses, not only for the people of Chicago, but scores of tourists. With the rebirth of prominent Chicago sights like the Willis Tower, North Avenue Beach, Millennium park and Lincoln Park Zoo, it will only mean one thing; people and traffic congestion will be out and about once more enjoying all of what the Mecca of the Midwest has to offer. However, with warm weather and the city’s revival, comes concerns with the peaceful coexistence between drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, while the nation has experienced a 16.5% reduction in vehicle miles traveled during the pandemic, sadly, nearly 3,000 pedestrians were killed on U.S. roads during the first six months of Covid – a staggering 20% increase from 2019. Here at home, pedestrian deaths in Illinois also increased 7% from 2019. How can that be possible?

With a Chicago metro area population of 8.8 million people representing a substantial portion of the state’s 12.63 million people, it is easily explainable how Illinois ranks #9 in pedestrian traffic fatalities by state between the months of January-June in 2020. According to the City of Chicago Bicycle Crash Analysis, nationally, .6% of workers commuted to work by bike in 2010. In Chicago, it was 1.3%, or 15,000 cyclists daily. Since the shared bike program, those numbers have surely increased in Chicago. Of the city’s 77 community areas, six of them – north and northwest of the loop – accounted for more than 1/3 of all bicycle miles traveled and 1/3 of bicycle crashes. Half of all those crashes occurred during the summer months of June, July and August during midday in nice weather.

As offices, restaurants and stores continue to open up in the coming months, Chicago is bound to see an influx of pedestrians and bicyclists on the roads. Looking at Seattle, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Milwaukee, Chicago ranked #3 in bicycle commuters, only behind Seattle and Philadelphia. Out of the 12 largest cities, Chicago ranked #2 in bicyclists as a percentage of all daily commuters.

In fact, over the last five years, bicycling in Chicago has increased at a rate higher than almost every other major city. According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, the city recently came out with its 2020 Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan. This plan includes a 645-mile network of on-street bikeways, nearly a 500-mile increase from its current 200 miles of on-street bikeways. All Chicagoans must be prepared for this conversion and the risks associated with the increase in bicycle traffic.

Whether it be walking to work, biking along Lake Shore Drive, or operating a motor vehicle on our city streets, all need to be vigilant of our surroundings, so that pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles can peacefully coexist on our city streets.