Every morning, when DePaul senior James Weir goes outside and embraces the cold, he puts on his face mask, hat and gloves. Then, with only his eyes showing, he gets on his black winter cyclo-cross bike and begins to ride from Logan Square to Lincoln Park.
As the icy, winter wind blows in his face, he knows that the fastest way to get to DePaul is to bike down Fullerton Avenue. Yet because there is no bike route west on Ashland Avenue, Weir goes out of his way to take a street that has a bike route. But if Weir were going to the DePaul Loop campus, he would not only have the option to ride on almost any street, but he could also choose a street that has bike traffic signals.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially opened Chicago’s first two-way bike route with bicycle traffic signals Dec. 14. The protected bike route runs on Dearborn Street through the Loop and, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, is the first of hundreds of new bike routes that the city plans to create as part of the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.
Students and professors at DePaul are excited about the Dearborn bike route and the changes to come.
“I think the new bike route is awesome,” said Weir. “It is one step forward in biking for our city. Chicago is trying to get to the place where it won’t be uncommon to see whole families riding on bikes together.”
Weir and DePaul senior Robb Hawkinson, 22, founded Cycle Collective two years ago. Hawkinson, who is the president of the group, said the point of the group is to show people the social aspect of biking by creating a community of bikers that go on rides together. In addition, he said that the group advocates an education of biking by showing people the benefits of biking when it comes to health and the environment.
“The Dearborn bike route is exactly what Chicago needs,” said Hawkinson. “People feel unsafe when biking in the city. There’s a tiny of amount of bikers in the city who will bike anywhere, and they only make up a small fraction of the Chicago’s biking population. Protected bike routes are going to bring more bikers into the city and in contact with one another.”
Hawkinson said that some bikers enjoy the thrill of weaving in and out of cars when riding in the city, but he is not one of them.
“When I’m biking on a protected bike route it’s a more laidback experience than constantly having to be hyper aware of speeding cars, opening doors and constant movement around me,” said Hawkinson.
Weir also prefers biking on protected bike routes. He said that seven out of 10 of his friends have been hit, clipped or doored while biking.
“When there is no bike lane on a street, there is no guideline for where cars and bicyclists should stay and this causes ruckus,” said Weir. “A bike lane is so innovative because it’s just two lines that establish order and create a sense of unison between bikers and drivers.”
Hawkinson and Weir said that they plan on incorporating the Dearborn route in the next monthly ride they have with Cycle Collective. The idea of new bike routes that can connect bikers from multiple neighborhoods is something that the group strongly supports. Hawkinson said they are trying to do the same thing, but on a smaller scale through a bike swap that they will have at DePaul during earth week in the spring.
Harry Wray, a recently retired professor from DePaul who used to teach a class on biking and politics, also supports the new bike routes.
“I think the increase in bike routes is great and will have a big impact on the city,” said Wray. “When I would tell students that we were going to go on a bike ride in the South Side or through a neighborhood that they weren’t familiar with, they would get nervous. But then they would end up enjoying themselves.”
Wray said that bike riding is a solution to life’s everyday problems, such as transportation, staying in good health and living in an environment-friendly way. Over the years he has developed bike routes throughout the city, and he continues to take neighborhood groups and faculty at DePaul with him.
“Advanced European cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Paris know how significant the bicycle is for creating a sense of the city,” said Wray. “The city feels different on a bicycle. Cities that are bike friendly are more civil.”