Bicycle sales in the U.S. skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers avoided public transit and indoor gyms. Cycling, however, can be risky in urban settings. Despite Chicago being ranked No. 3 among the nation’s most bike-friendly cities, at least 439 cyclists have been hit by cars in Chicago since 2020, according to city data.
A close call for Christina Whitehouse made this issue personal. As a student in the master of product design and development management program at Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute, she was nearly run over by a commercial truck that veered into the bike lane. The incident inspired her to found Bike Lane Uprising, an app that allows users to report bike lane obstructions to a global database. Whitehouse hopes to make cycling less dangerous by collecting data that spurs lawmakers to action. Although she is focused on Chicago, Whitehouse hopes the app, which is used internationally, will become a trusted source of information that will encourage advocates in other cities.
Bike lane obstructions occur when a vehicle, pedestrian or construction site occupies a bike lane, forcing cyclists to maneuver into car traffic. Though illegal in Chicago, obstructions occur often in the city. Whitehouse’s team uses the data from the app to identify obstruction hotspots and companies whose drivers are repeat lane obstructors. The team contacts the companies directly with requests to educate their drivers on the dangers of obstructing bike lanes. Whitehouse also presents the data to local leaders to persuade them to build more infrastructure that is cyclist friendly.
In 2020 Whitehouse reported bike lane obstruction data to Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General, prompting the office to include bike lane maintenance and enforcement in its 2021 Annual Plan. She has continued to work with the office since then.
As the cycling community grows, Whitehouse has one simple request: “Don’t park in bike lanes!”