Chicago has more than 72,000 on-street vehicle parking spaces occupying a total area of more than 3.6 square miles, about twice the size of Hyde Park. This summer, the city will help even the score for bicyclists by dedicating 140 square feet of roadway in Wicker Park for Chicago’s first on-street bike corral.
The Chicago Department of Transportation plans to install six “inverted U” bike racks protected by curb stops in a 20-by-7-foot swath of street next to a Bank of America branch at 1585 North Milwaukee Avenue, just south of North Avenue. The Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce is donating the racks, curbs and installation at a cost below $5,000, says the chamber’s Eleanor Mayer.
“On-street bike parking offers an opportunity to provide a lot of bike parking at locations attractive to bicyclists, while keeping sidewalks clear for pedestrians,” explains CDOT bicycle program coordinator Ben Gomberg.
Replacing automobile parking spaces with on-street bike racks is already common in cycling-friendly West Coast towns like San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Since 2008, Portland has removed 107 car spaces and put in 64 on-street bike corrals at a cost of about $2,500 each, accommodating 1,140 bikes. The Wicker Park racks will park 12 bikes in the same amount of space required for just one automobile. However, the corral will not actually displace any car parking since the space is currently a loading zone, which will be relocated 30 feet north to what is now a no-parking zone.
Cyclists are sure to dig it, but what about motorists? “When we propose a corral, sometimes there’s a little bit of pushback from neighbors,” says Sarah Figliozzi, who manages Portland’s on-street bike rack program. “Our response is, let’s see how it works for six months.” She says her city hasn’t removed a single corral and there are roughly 70 businesses on a waiting list to get one.
The cycling initiatives have 1st Ward Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno dropping the F-bomb in support. In March, Moreno, whose ward includes Wicker Park, visited Seville, Spain, for the Velo-city bicycle conference. Joining him were fellow bike-friendly, Spanish-speaking Northwest Side politicians, 30th Ward Ald. Ariel Reboyras and 35th Ward Ald. Rey Colon.
“Six years ago Chicago was ahead of Seville in terms of biking,” says Moreno. “Now Seville has physically separated bike lanes and a bike-sharing system, and they’ve closed down their center city to cars. It’s so easy to bike there, everybody’s doing it: old people on adult tricycles, young men in suits and women in heels.”
The aldermen presented their findings last month during a forum at Logan Square’s Boiler Room pizzeria. Moreno discussed the Wicker Park bike corral and other innovative ideas to push pedaling in the neighborhood. Since recent CDOT counts show bikes make up 22 percent of daytime traffic on parts of Milwaukee Avenue, Moreno is exploring the possibility of removing one lane of car parking on the street from California to Division to make room for a Seville-style separated bike lane. Asked how meter lessee LAZ Parking would react to the loss of revenue if car spaces were removed, Moreno responded, “Fuck ’em.” The crowd of cyclists went wild.
“What I meant was, this is 2011. I’ve talked to Rahm Emanuel and he’s on board with moving forward in a bold direction, so I’m not going to stop,” Moreno told me. The alderman says he might be willing to swap LAZ’s lost parking spaces for a high-density garage on Milwaukee. “I say to them, if you want to be part of the solution, great. If not, feel free to sue the city.”