I read an article with interest in the Chicago Tribune:
Cyclists dream of open road in the big city
Published June 18, 2003
Let's make every summer Sunday morning a Bike the Something Sunday.
Other busy cities manage to routinely shut down important roads to make way for bikes, so why not Chicago?
On Sunday 17,000 people rolled their bicycles onto Lake Shore Drive and breezed up and down the car-free road.
There were Spandex-sleek riders with helmets more high-tech than spaceships and bikes as fancy as some cars. There were kids and grandpas on rickety old one-speeds. There were city types and suburbanites, and everybody came for the liberating thrill of biking without cars barking up their tails.
But if you happened to sleep late or had something else to do that morning, you blew your chance. Bike the Drive is as rare as Christmas.
It doesn't have to be.
Chicago likes to think of itself as the best bicycling big city in America, and maybe it is. But for the average pedaler with merely ordinary courage, bicycling is too often a contest with belching buses and killer cars and potholes that could swallow a Trek 820 whole. I say this as a bicycling advocate and someone who has biked the city streets for years--always aware that my bones and brains are a sorry match for the forces of steel and concrete.
We're lucky in Chicago to have miles of bike path along our famous lakefront, but on summer weekends, when most people are free to bicycle, long stretches of the path are as snarled as the Kennedy at rush hour. Even when the path is passable, most of it runs right next to the drive, so there's little escape from the nerve-racking roar of motors whizzing past.
"But you can't kick cars off the roads regularly," say the naysayers.
Really? San Francisco has managed to close a major road through Golden Gate Park on Sundays. A few years ago I lived in Cambridge, Mass., where Memorial Drive, a busy highway along the Charles River, closed on Sundays from spring through fall to make way for motor-free mobility.
I confess that on those Sundays when I was in my car, I cursed the lollygagging pleasure seekers: If God wanted cyclists to own the roads, he wouldn't have invented Henry Ford, etc.
But I also believed that whatever inconvenience the blockades caused was for the higher cause of communal exercise, relaxation and camaraderie in the great outdoors. In other words, for the cause of civilization in the city.
"But Lake Shore Drive isn't like those other roads," say the naysayers. Among other problems, the drive runs past museums and beaches and connects to a highway. Those are reasonable concerns, which is why Randy Neufeld's idea is particularly appealing.
Neufeld runs the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. He's inspired by Bogota, a traffic-jammed city of 7 million that every Sunday closes a 93-mile network of streets to cars for its "Ciclovia." One key to the Ciclovia's 25-year success is that stoplight intersections stay open, and bikes as well as cars obey the lights.
"The density of cyclists is similar to Bike the Drive," Neufeld says, "but even more than Bike the Drive, it's absolutely everyone. The funniest are the pot-bellied 50-year-old guys in full racing gear meandering up and down the streets."
Chicago wouldn't have to start as big as Bogota, he says. Some suburban roads could close for bikes or maybe some West Side streets between Garfield Park and Humboldt Park.
There are loads of reasons that a weekly car-free ride on the roads would be difficult to arrange. As Brian Steele at City Hall puts it diplomatically: "A concept like this would have pros and cons. We'd have to assess all of those."
So let's assess. Sunday's turnout at Bike the Drive is a measure of how many people here want to bike something--the drive, the boulevards, the streets--in freedom, if only once a week. And all radical ideas seem impossible at first.
A public hearing on the city's Bike 2010 Plan will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Chicago Cultural Center. Call 312-427-3325, ext. 35, or go to www.biketraffic.org/2010.