Altering Roadway Use and Redirecting Traffic: Is this a Realistic Solution to Improving Safety?

The Chicago Bicycle Accident Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. stand behind the city’s efforts to improve cycling safety, by creating more bike routes that provide a safe and accessible means to destinations. both within the city and to neighboring communities. However, we are also drawn to the consideration that full realization of the safety benefits offered by increased infrastructure, requires a simultaneous adaptation by the persons that actually use our roadway-in particular, bicyclists and motorists. Although the implementation of bike routes throughout Chicago is still in its early stages, given that plan completion is at least a half-decade away, we wonder if the city has relied too heavily on the expectancy that bike planning will automatically increase safety, by shifting roadway use.

A key component of Chicago’s 2020 Bike Plan is the incorporation of more neighborhood bike routes, “to create slow, safe streets that will turn into less stress bikeways.” Modeled in part, upon approaches implemented in other large cities, such as Portland’s ‘neighborhood greenways,’ the intent behind such routes is to discourage cut through traffic and reduce motor vehicle speeds in residential areas. In contrast to neighborhood routes, crosstown and spoke routes serve the purpose of providing cyclists a safer means of sharing roadways with motorists in areas with higher volumes of motor vehicle traffic, by incorporating: (1) Barrier protected bike lanes; (2) Two-way barrier protected bike lanes; (3) Buffer protected bike lanes; (4) Bike lanes or marked shared lanes.

Aside from an attempt to improve safety, what do neighborhood bike routes share in common with crosstown and spoke routes? The answer-much of the city’s bike planning efforts seems to be premised upon the notion that bicyclists and motorists will alter the manner in which they previously used our roadways. Stated differently, bike routes, regardless of type, are essentially a means of redirecting traffic. For bicyclists, the expectation is that they will adjust their travel routes, in accordance with existing infrastructure or as new routes are constructed. For motorists, the expectation is that drivers will discontinue using residential neighborhoods as a means of cutting through, and perhaps even avoid roadways where the construction of designated bike lanes have decreased the number of traveling lanes for vehicles.

However, regardless as to where bike routes are constructed, many will continue to utilize the same routes they have been accustomed to-whether motorist or bicyclist. In example, if cutting through a residential neighborhood allows for access to a destination in the manner most efficient to a motorist, then many will continue to use short-cuts. While reduced speeds in such areas may discourage some drivers, law enforcement certainly cannot monitor each and every residential neighborhood. Yet, with bike planning efforts, there may be more bicyclists using neighborhood routes, many of whom may be riding under the misconception that a particular route is safe. Likewise, parents might feel that bike infastructure has increased the safety for children in residential neighborhoods, when in reality, the same dangers remain.

In addition, consider the dangers that remain for bicyclists, even if motorists do alter their routes. Drivers traveling upon roadways with protected bike lanes might feel that the risk of a collision with a cyclist has been reduced, and therefore may be more inclined to travel at a higher speed, or be less observant of their surroundings. And where a parking lane has been used as a barrier, the risk of a dooring accident not only remains, but has perhaps even been increased. Further, motorists that redirect their routes to reduce the number of cyclists they may encounter by avoiding roadways incorporated into bike infrastructure, may be less likely to reduce speed or remain observant. Yet, many bicyclists will still continue to use these routes, regardless as to whether they are protected.

From the bicyclist perspective, certainly safety can be increased by bicyclists who use these routes, but again, this is highly dependent, not only whether cyclists choose to use such routes, but also the manners in which infrastructure impacts the travel routes and driving habits of motorists. The irony in Chicago’s bike planning and infrastructure efforts, is that, we are left with the same problems that existed well before the commencement of bike planning-we still must learn to share our roadways. Despite our concerns, we are hopeful to see the improvements that might occur in over the next few years. In the meantime, the attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. hope that we all can take a moment to realize the dangers that bicyclists face, and each do our part to improve safety and reduce accidents.