Another side of biking safety

Chicago is a big city, which presents some unique challenges when bike commuting. Usually, heavy traffic is the biggest problem, but sometimes – rarely – the problem is dangerous people.

Greg (Mr. Dottie) is working in the far suburbs this week, so yesterday morning he rode his bike to Union Station, took the train and on the other end rode his bike to the worksite. While still in Chicago, almost to Union Station, he was stopped at a red light behind a cab when a goth-looking street guy with a big cart walked into the road to his left. The guy asked him if he was an undercover cop and then started ranting that no one was going to stop him from getting to Detroit.

Greg was boxed in on three sides by the guy, the cab and the curb. The light turned green, but the cab did not move, probably watching what was going on behind him. The guy was still more than an arm-length’s away and before he could get closer, Greg started backing up to turn his bike around. Just then the guy pulled out a knife, the cab finally moved forward and Greg rode off, informing the police of the guy when he got to Union Station.

Downtown Chicago is rarely dangerous, but there is crime. Although my initial reaction is “never ride in that area early in the morning again,” Greg’s reaction is, “never stop for a red light behind a car in that area again.” Also, be aware of your surroundings, don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt, and don’t let anyone get near you. Although someone on a bike is less protected than someone in a car, at least it’s usually easier for a bicyclist to get away.

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36 thoughts on “Another side of biking safety

  1. maureen says:

    Oh My Goodness! Glad Mr. Dottie is okay though I’m sure you are both quite shaken! I think one of the best things about riding bicycles is how approachable we are to others, but I guess with that there is a very ugly side as well. I’m sorry this happened.

  2. Wow. This is pretty crazy.

  3. dukiebiddle says:

    Yeeesh. We had a stabby schizophrenic in my neighborhood not six months ago. I hope the Chicago police followed up and searched for the guy. Ours, disturbingly, stabbed a senior citizen walking home from the grocery.

    Like you said, don’t let anyone get near you. I’m sorry Greg found himself in that situation, but I’m glad he was on a bike and not walking on the sidewalk when this happened.

  4. neighbourtease says:

    Yikes! I’m so glad he’s ok. Being boxed in like that makes me really jumpy in the best of circumstances. I concur — don’t let anyone get near you.

    The scariest thing that’s happened to me on a bike is was when I was followed in a creepy way by a cop. He followed me at low speed for about a 1/2 mile on a major street that was relatively empty in the early morning and then kind of pulled me over — not technically but began to drive into the bike lane and roll down his window when I was stopped at a light. My intuition told me to run the light but: cop!!

    He asked me where I was from (WTF?) and I said “I’m from here?” And then he said he “oh, I thought I might be from Sweden” (blonde) and I said “oh my god, are you hitting on me?” and he gunned it so fast that I couldn’t get his plate number. It was scary because he had real authority and I felt I had to answer his questions and that I was in some kind of trouble but I didn’t understand what it was and it turned out that he was just a pig. It did scare the hell out of me, though.

  5. evan says:

    Glad he’s ok too!
    What a strange and unique situation.
    Maybe the point is, when you’re biking in the city, you’re exposed to the public in a more tangible way than when driving the car and so must be more fully aware of where you are and who’s around you.
    Good thing bikers are generally more aware to begin with…

  6. Dave says:

    I’m really glad Greg is ok, and I totally understand your concern and both of your reactions – about a year ago, one of my wife’s co-workers was hit by a car and killed while walking, and for a while, it was really difficult for my wife to let me go out on a bike.

    While I understand the sort of stress response to danger, and it’s natural and probably healthy to some degree, when you think about things in the big picture, the world really isn’t as dangerous as we sometimes think it is.

    We have a tendency to focus on and remember the few catastrophic events (the one time we have a close brush with a car, rather than the thousands of times we don’t), and it can kind of overshadow our view of safety, especially when the media and everything is so doomsday (the only thing in the media is tragedy, it seems).

    This isn’t to make light of your experience or to say that your reaction isn’t valid, or to comment on your processing of the experience (since I don’t really know anything about it).

    It’s just simply to say that to me it seems like a lot of people continue with that initial fear reaction without moving on to think about “you know, it’s probably not as bad as it felt right then.” And really, that even if something bad did happen, while it would undoubtedly be tragic and it would take time to get over it, it still doesn’t necessarily mean that the world is a horrific, dangerous place where everything is out to get you.

    It is good to be aware of your surroundings, good to be aware of what’s going on around you, and good to behave as much as you can in ways that don’t put yourself and others in danger, but I also think it’s important to not get so caught up with safety that you get twitchy and paranoid.

  7. Cameron says:

    Glad to hear you’re unscathed, Greg. Once a violent, paranoid, schizophrenic did graze me with his knife, but luck prevented worse from happening. In another event, I had to run three blocks from one who had fixated upon me. Even entering a crowded tavern didn’t deter him, and these encounters occured in “nice” neighborhoods. Thanks for sharing a reality check with us.

  8. tim says:

    It will happen again, but next time make sure your bike is between you and the wuss holding the knife. If action is required your bike is bigger than his little knife. Put brute force behind it and he is on the ground. A person in that situation using a weapon has no confidence in his self to do the cowerdly thing he is trying to do….cause it can be done with out a weapon…

    • dukiebiddle says:

      ?! I think it is a bit alarmist to presume that a single individual will once again find themselves in a conflict with a knife wielding schizophrenic; not to mention flight is always preferable to fight when dealing any potential assault, especially when dealing with individuals lacking all of their mental facilities. Cowardly doesn’t really come into it when they are literally convinced you are Satan or a demon.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        Oops: “faculties” Sometimes I’m just crazy stupid. :D

      • cb says:

        oh gosh! i am glad mr. dottie got away safe but how scary!! my hubby was attacked once on his way home from work a month ago…poor thing was just riding his bike and a car was driving along side him and maced his face! it was so horrible! i can’t believe what people do to each other. hope everyone has a safe ride home today and every other day!!!

        xo,
        cb

      • tim says:

        Greg probably was’t presuming he would ever find himself in that situation. Just have to think if it would ever happen again you will be ready for it. But I am a person who stands. Cause that guy still has the same intentions when you leave, he is just going to go to the next person. Rather it would be me than a women with a child or so.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          We’re talking about schizophrenia. Standing up and showing courage is not going to make the next person safer. They’re not cowards, they’re chemically imbalanced.

          • cycler says:

            And you might be badly surprised by how strong someone who is either naturally or artificially (drugged) wacked out can be.
            I wouldn’t ever try to use my bike as a weapon- it would only escalate the situation, and it’s not like this person is able to listen to reason.

        • Tinker says:

          Gram Bev, (I hope you don’t mind me calling you Gram Bev?) they make knife resistant sweaters and vests already, they are just sort of ugly, and they work mostly for slashes not stabbings, for the most part. Kevlar vests are what you need, you can get Kevlar lined gloves (for police to do body searches), Kevlar body armor for motorcyclists (to prevent road rash sliding along asphalt) and Kevlar Jeans, Kevlar sleeves for fish filleting, and Kevlar gloves to protect you from knives (accidental cuts mostly). Stabbing, pointy attacks are more difficult to protect against. If there is a use, they make it.

        • Swell says:

          ” I am a person who stands.”

          Do you mean you would offer yourself as a victim, simply stand there or that you would fight back? If you propose fighting back, tell us what you would do against a guy with a knife.

  9. Wow! I’m glad Mr. Dottie is OK!

  10. Simply Bike says:

    Yikes! I’m happy Greg is ok!

  11. Oh my God, I am so glad he is okay. This is frightening and certainly gives us something to think about.

  12. Michael says:

    Glad all turned out okay. The areas in which we live and work are full of surprises including unwelcome ones. I used to work, and thus commute, in an area of Los Angeles known for a lot of gang troubles. But in all the 13 years I was there I never had any problem. You just never know, so we take precautions, remind ourselves that incidents like this are rare, and get on with things. Best.

  13. Scott says:

    Holy crap! Glad to hear Mr Dottie is still with us. Nothing like this has ever happened to me in Chicago!

  14. Crumbs! I’m glad that Mr Dottie got away safely – what a sad sign of the times that the cab driver or any other passers by didn’t try to help him. Rare indeed though these situations are it just goes to show it pays to be alert at all times. My advice would be never be afraid to cycle away as fast as you can, or if you are blocked in make sure you put your bike between yourself and the perpetrator; they make a surprisingly effective shield for warding off unwanted attention!

    Glad we still have Greg in one piece for future cycling adventures!

  15. LC says:

    scary stuff! Sometimes I feel unsafe in certain locations of the city and perhaps is more in my head than in reality, but I prefer to take no chances. Being aware and looking around your surroundings all the time while cycling (but also when walking) is definitely a great advice! So glad to hear Greg was ok! L x

  16. Dr Paul Martin says:

    I’m glad Greg’s OK.

    I also feel sorry for the other guy. He sounds like needs some psychiatric help which, if the US is anything like Australia, is badly underfunded and lacking in good community level care.

    The mind is a wonderful thing but it doesn’t take much to tip it over the edge…

    Dr Paul Martin
    Brisbane, Australia

  17. Jeanette says:

    How terrible — for Greg, and then also for you. I am glad you are both ok, and that Greg (from the sounds of it) is very level-headed. It never crossed my mind to be concerned about being behind a car at a light. You are absolutely right about the need to be aware of everything at all times; thank you for the reminder.

  18. cycler says:

    How scary- I’m glad Greg is OK, and I hope that that guy doesn’t hurt anyone else. I don’t know that I can go so far as not to stop behind cars, but I will definitely be a bit more aware of pedestrians entering my space. I’d definitely like to start getting out of range of a crazy before they pull out a knife.

    As scary as psycho pedestrians are psycho drivers- we’ve had two road rage incidents in Boston in the last couple of weeks where a driver was arrested for trying to run down a biker. There are people who are not rational out there, and being on a bike does make me feel more exposed than being in a car. It is however about the same exposure as being on public transit, and that’s my other option, so all things considered, I’ll take the bike.

  19. Gram Bev says:

    This is horrifying. Dangerous situations can happen unexpectedly.

  20. Gram Bev says:

    I’ve toyed with the idea of putting together a knife resistant vest. I don’t think it’s too crazy an idea but how to do it ??? I always walk or take buses and every once in a while encounter people acting out. One bus driver had to put on the “call police” sign.

  21. tim says:

    Greg did the right thing go to the nearest cop. On the other hand if that was me and I had no out ITS ON anything becomes a weapon no matter how crazy or druged they are. They might be scary, but the ones you really have to worry about are the ones that are not druged and are calm. they know what they are doing. The crazy druged up ones are impared. They might not feel anything, but if you keep a level head you have the advantage.

  22. ridon says:

    how scary for greg. good thing he got away fast enough. i saw a piece in chicago magazine a while back where these teens knocked the reporter off his bike and robbed him. a friend of a friend had the same thing happen to him recently. i’ve had a racial slur screamed at me (from someone waiting a bus stop). it’s a good reminder that you should watch out for dangerous pedestrians, not just drivers.

  23. Cherilyn says:

    Sooo glad Mr. Dottie is OK! I hate those instances of random, unprovoked trouble.

  24. Kara says:

    Holy smokes! So glad Greg is ok.

  25. Traci says:

    That’s very scary! Glad the situation had a good outcome and your husband was able to get away from the guy!

    Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I don’t like people approaching me whether I’m walking or on the bike, especially in certain areas. We have a lot of panhandlers in some areas and they will often approach on the guise of asking you a question, then ask for money and some are very insistent and demanding. They will even follow you down the street at times.

    I know that the whole purpose of walking or riding a bike is to have more interaction than in a car, but you just never know and I figure it’s better to not take chances in iffy situations.

    I agree with your husband about not stopping behind a car at a red light. There’s one specific street in my area that I don’t even like to stop at a light when I’m driving and I’d never go down that street on a bike – or if I absolutely had to, I’d be going very fast and wouldn’t be stopping at red lights unless I was about to be hit by a car!

  26. Dan says:

    So glad to hear that Greg is OK!

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