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Things to know about riding in Chicago's bike lanes

Written by
Brendan Kevenides

Bike lanes are awesome and the City of Chicago is installing more of them all the time. However, they do not come with instructions. Here are a few tips for riding in city bike lanes.

Watch out for doors: Most bike lanes in Chicago consist of painted white lines about six feet apart, separating cyclists from parked cars on the right and moving traffic to the left. The right way to ride in this type of bike lane is to position yourself as close to the outer line as possible. You want as much separation from the parked cars as possible while remaining in the bike lane. A lot of bikers get this wrong and hug the inner lane, fearing moving traffic. But when riding in the city the threat of getting doored by someone exiting a parked car is far greater than the threat of being struck by a moving car entering the bike lane.

Mind "protected" bike lanes: With this design, cars parked to the left of the bike lane provide a barrier of protection from moving traffic. The risk of getting doored while riding in a protected bike lane is less. However, the risk of getting struck by a turning vehicle at an intersection increases. A driver's view of a bicyclist in one of these lanes may be obscured by parked cars. Remember to slow or stop at intersections, making sure the coast is clear before riding through.

Take the main lane if necessary: It is important to remember that Chicago bicyclists are not required to ride in bike lanes.  There are several reasons why a cyclist may choose not to. It may be full of potholes, ruts or broken glass. Leaving the bike lane may be the safe thing to do. It is common in Chicago for the lanes to be occupied illegally by cars, delivery trucks or other vehicles. Also, buses are permitted to share bicycle lanes. In the winter months, bike lanes may be rendered impassable due to the accumulation of snow and ice. There are even times when cycling on a path or in a bike lane clear of obstructions just does not make sense. For example, a roadie on a training ride may be advised to avoid a bike lane crowded with cyclists traveling at a more leisurely pace.  

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