#45 – Bicycling Ambassadors and Bike Lane Education

Chicago, Illinois

Dave Glowacz, Director of Education, Chicagoland Bicycle Federation
Christine Ranieri, Bicycle Ambassador, Chicagoland Bicycle Federation


Mayor Daley’s Bicycling Ambassadors spent the summer of 2002 teaching safe cycling in Chicago in several different venues, including Chicago Park District day camps, after school programs, neighborhood festivals, block parties, sporting events and large city festivals like the Taste of Chicago and Jazz Fest. The program, based on a similar program in Toronto, Canada, is part of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Bike Program and was initiated the previous summer to educate Chicagoans about safe cycling, as well as to encourage both children and adults to cycle more. One of the Ambassadors campaigns focused on educating motorists on the proper use of bike lanes on Chicago streets.

Chicago has installed 70 miles of new bike lanes on city streets, a majority of those within the past few years. Because these are new facilities, many cyclists and motorists have misconceptions about how bike lanes will affect the safety, capacity, and access of streets. These misconceptions could lead to community disapproval of new bike lanes.

Many cyclists also complained that they did not feel safe using bike lanes because motorists often drive in them, use them as a passing lane and double-park in them, which forces cyclists to swerve into the travel lane. Since bike lanes are on streets that are highly trafficked by both motorists and cyclists, motorists’ practices reduced the feeling of safety the bike lanes were meant to engender.




The Bicycling Ambassadors canvassed 11 streets where bike lanes had been installed in the last few years. On each stretch, they visited every business and talked to employees about the bike lanes, asking them to encourage their customers not to drive or double-park in the bike lanes at the risk of a $100 fine. At businesses that agreed, Ambassadors left literature for customers about bike lanes, including “Bike Lanes: Frequently Asked Questions” and a flier titled “This is Not a Parking Spot: Bike Lanes are for Bikes” which explained the $100 fine and why it is dangerous for cyclists when motorists drive in bike lanes. Several businesses also agreed to tape the flyers in their storefront windows.

Evaluation and Results

The Bicycling Ambassadors recorded: 1) each business visited; 2) the opinion expressed by the store’s employee(s); 3) whether or not they took the literature; 4) whether or not they agreed to distribute it or post it; and 5) any comments the employees may have made about the bike lanes or literature.

Of the canvassed businesses, 48 percent expressed a favorable opinion towards bike lanes and the task of encouraging their customers not to park or drive in them. Twenty-eight percent had no opinion, eight percent had a negative opinion and 19 percent made no comment. Seventy-five percent of the businesses agreed to take the literature, and of that 75 percent, 71 percent agreed to distribute it by either putting it out near their cash registers, in literature racks or by posting fliers. Several businesses were interested in putting bike racks on the sidewalk in front of their shops (the City of Chicago installs racks on city property free of charge) and obtaining loading zones to help eliminate double parking. Negative comments centered on bicyclists’ refusal to follow traffic laws. Positive comments centered around: 1) the hope that bike lanes would reduce the number of people cycling on the sidewalk 2) general enthusiasm for safer cycling in the city and 3) the desire to be regarded as a bicycle-friendly establishment.

Conclusions and Recommendations

These results suggest that the business canvassing project should be continued by the Bicycling Ambassadors next summer. It is effective for several reasons. First, the campaign directly educates one or more individuals working in each business. Second, since most bike lanes are on well-trafficked streets with a large number of businesses, customers could see the flyers in every shop they frequent on the block, and realize that respecting bike lanes is a concern for business owners in the area. This impresses cyclists, educates motorists and can only work in the business’ favor. Finally, personal contact allows business owners to air concerns and ask important questions about issues such as: loading zone permits, lifts on rush hour parking restrictions, laws concerning cyclists, and how to get a bike rack installed in front of their business. The campaign might be more effective if literature was regularly replenished in the businesses that were amenable to accepting and displaying it. Finally, the campaign would be most effective if the “Bike Lanes: Frequently Asked Questions” leaflet consistently was placed on cars parked along bike lane streets, reinforcing the information seen in the shops.

An obstacle that often came up in this project was not being able to communicate with non-English speakers. While one of the Bicycling Ambassadors spoke Spanish and the two fliers were printed in Spanish, it still was difficult to communicate if the Spanish-speaking ambassador was not present or if another language was spoken. It would be more effective if those who speak the languages of the particular street or neighborhood were hired to conduct the canvassing, and if literature was printed in several languages commonly spoken in the city.

Costs and Funding

Funding for the Bicycling Ambassador program predominantly came through a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation, Division of Traffic Safety and matching funds from the Chicago Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic. Office space, training and support came from the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. Kryptonite Locks, Bob Trailers, American Automobile Association-Chicago Motor Club, and Planet Bike also sponsored the program.


Mayor Daley’s Bicycling Ambassadors 2001 Report


Ben Gomberg
Bicycle Program Coordinator
Chicago Department of Transportation
(312) 744-8093

Dave Glowacz
Director of Education
Chicagoland Bicycle Federation
(312) 427-3325 ext. 29