CHICAGO — Chicago’s Department of Transportation is expanding its network of protected bike lanes with the goal of making travel safer for not just bicyclists but also pedestrians and drivers. But a WGN News analysis of early data from one project in West Town shows there is no shortage of growing pains as neighbors navigate the changes.
On Augusta Boulevard between Milwaukee and Western avenues, CDOT swapped the existing bike lanes and street parking, and added concrete curbs, to create new bike lanes protected from traffic by a line of parked cars.
Ask people who use that mile-stretch of road how they feel about it, and you’ll get opposite reactions.
“It’s fantastic. It’s so much safer than before,” bicyclist Stephanie Reid said.
“It’s way too dangerous,” driver Erin Rubio said.
The city completed the project in early August, also lowering the speed limit from 30 to 20 miles per hour.
“We’ve noticed a big difference in how people are driving on the street and the behavior of motorists has improved greatly,” CDOT’s Complete Streets Director David Smith said.
The Augusta project is a small part of 150 miles of bike lane expansion the city has planned over the next few years. The West Town community is a priority because it sees twice as many pedestrian crashes and five times as many cyclist crashes as an average city community and it’s seen two fatalities since 2018.
Bike advocate Reid rides the stretch every day and says the changes are improvements.
“I remember the first time I rode on it with my 12-year-old daughter, she said, ‘I feel so much safer now that we’re not next to cars and we don’t have to dodge cars parked in the bike lane constantly. Because that’s how it was before,’” she said.
But for mom Rubio, who parks on the street outside her home, it’s a different story. She’s now dodging car traffic on one side and bike traffic on the other as she tries to get her small children out of the car.
“Of course we want bike safety, but more importantly, I’m worried about my kids. It’s like we sacrificed my kids’ safety getting out of the car now,” Rubio said.
Others we’ve talked to complain of blind spots. The cars parked farther off the curb make it harder to see for drivers turning onto the street.
“You think being a biker I would be fan because it was made for biker safety. Certainly appreciate that, but I think it actually makes it more dangerous,” bicyclist George Kohl said. “I’ve seen more damage done at least right here in this set-up than the old set-up.”
WGN News dug into city crash data and found he’s right.
As of Nov. 1, on Augusta between Milwaukee and Western, there had already been 77 crashes this year. That’s more than in each of the previous three years.
Taking a closer look at only the period during which the new bike lanes have been in place, the difference is even more stark. There were 36 crashes between Aug. 1, and Nov. 1, that’s a nearly 90% increase over the same time in 2022, which recorded 19 crashes. In fact, this year’s crashes are higher than every Aug. 1 through Nov. 1 since 2018, the earliest year for which the city has complete public data.
Most of the crashes from Aug. 1 to Nov. 1 this year involve side-swipes and parked cars, but a pedestrian and bicyclist were involved in one crash each, according to the data.
“We typically wait many months up to a year to really let the changes settle in. There’s always an adjustment period,” CDOT’s David Smith said.
CDOT reports that similar bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square reduced crashes by more than half and eliminated crashes involving pedestrians in the first full year after the project was installed.
But some neighbors on Augusta feel forgotten in the name of progress.
“I think when they decided to do this, we were thinking very one minded. This is what’s going to help bikes. But you didn’t think about any of the other steps,” Rubio said.
The Augusta bike lanes travel through the 1st and 36th wards. 1st Ward Alderman Daniel La Spata supports them; 36th Ward Alderman Gilbert Villegas has formed a working group with CDOT and other stakeholders, including bikers and non-bikers, to provide input on how to better support public safety.
Some neighbors noted the new design of Augusta Boulevard causes major traffic back-ups because there’s no wiggle room for drivers, and they’ve seen emergency vehicles stuck in traffic with nowhere to go.
WGN News took their concerns to the Chicago Fire Department, whose spokesmen had not heard of any issues for firefighters. Chicago police did not respond to our request for comment.
Similar projects completed this year or nearing completion.
- Kedzie Avenue from Diversey to Elston
- Belmont Avenue between Kimball and Clybourn
- Central Park Avenue between Madison and Franklin