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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel making big push for bike paths

Sep 24, 2011, 10:40 a.m.
Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel answers a question during his first news conference after winning the election in Chicago February 23, 2011. Emanuel takes office May 16. REUTERS/Frank Polich

Klein sees a shift in the way people live and commute. After World War Two, workers left cities for the suburbs and shifted from streetcars and walking to cars.

But in the last 15 years, young people and empty nesters have moved back into cities and are less invested in car ownership, especially considering today's higher gas prices, Klein said.

But he said bikes, cars and pedestrians needed to learn to safely co-exist, traffic laws had to be enforced, and roads could be engineered to be safer for all users.

"You're going to see a shift in the way the city feels and the way it feels to walk and bike and drive," Klein said.

Jim Freeman, a bike-riding attorney in Chicago who represents pedestrians and cyclists in personal injury cases, sees enforcement as the biggest factor that will make biking safe, to keep cyclists from ignoring traffic laws while keeping cars out of bike lanes.

To alleviate the tension between bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers in Chicago, the Chicago Police Department needs to get aggressive with traffic enforcement, Freeman said. He'd like to see in Chicago what he has seen in Milwaukee -- cyclists getting pulled over for running a red light.

Adolfo Hernandez, director of outreach and advocacy for Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance, said he believed experience with protected bike paths and other bike-friendly street designs would win people over as the streets become safer and for everyone.

Hernandez visited Seville, Spain, which added 120 kilometers of protected bike lanes and saw a jump in bike commuting from 1 percent to 7 percent. He saw a different kind of rider -- not just young adults, but children and seniors dressed in street clothes instead of bike gear, and slower riding. He thinks this will happen in Chicago, too.

"If you build it, that's what people will use," Hernandez said. "If you build more bicycle infrastructure and a safer walking environment, you'll get more people walking and biking."

(Writing and reporting by Mary Wisniewski, Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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