This is a guest post by Steve Vance of Steven Can Plan.
Last Monday someone on the sidewalk yelled “Happy birthday” to me while I was riding to Bridgeport through University Village (UIC’s south campus). It was my birthday. I turned around to identify the shouting person. Joe was a classmate and now I most often see him at a local bike shop or playing bike polo. We went inside the store and chatted for awhile.
The bicycle is an extremely social tool. While it helps me get to the places I need to go, it does so in such a way that fosters community and interaction. As I ride, I’m exposed to the whims of the street: the noises, the chatter, the honks, the people, and the people I know. But it also helps me get to know new people.
I participated in another bike light distribution with Active Transportation Alliance on November 17, 2010. I photographed a previous distribution in Wicker Park a week earlier. This time around, at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt at the UIC campus, I took a more direct role by flagging people riding bikes without lights to pull over and stop. I would then attach a brand new headlight to their bicycle, courtesy of customers of Groupon and the law office of Jim Freeman. During the two minutes I had their undivided attention, I told them about the state law requiring a front light and the role of Active Transportation Alliance in the city and suburbs.
This time I wanted to record more information about all the people I helped and talked to. I kept a little note card in my pocket and recorded the revealed reasons why the person didn’t have a headlight, how many men and women I helped (I only recorded two categories), and some select quotes.
I think six people refused my offer for a free headlight – this is because they couldn’t hear me (several wore headphones), didn’t understand our intentions, or both. Also confused, a man driving a car said, “You little bastard with your bikes,” but I won’t let anyone distract me.
Genaro installs a headlight to someone riding on Halsted Street in University Village.
Of all the people I stopped, I identified 21 men and 11 women (32 total). Four people said they lost their lights or had them stolen and hadn’t yet replaced the lights. One person forgot their lights. 27 of the 32 people riding bikes didn’t know it was state law to ride a bike with a headlight on at night. Here’s what some riders had to say:
“No one told me that!” I suspect this is an extremely common explanation. This is definitely an opportunity for local bike shops to educate their customers, but there are other places people can get this information, like resident advisers at dorms, churches, and workplaces. The Active Transportation Alliance fights tirelessly to instill basic information into the minds of people riding bikes around town.
One person I was talking to hadn’t heard of the Active Transportation Alliance and after I explained to him what the organization does, he said, “My friends and I want to start our own group.”
Someone on foot asked me, “How long are you going to be here? I want my friend to get one.” This guy came back with his friend and they both got free headlights.
Speaking of the bicycling leading me to meetings with people I know, three friends were walking by and said hello. I had met one of them, Andrew, at the same spot, in front of the UIC Skyspace as we both raced in an October 2006 scavenger hunt.
Walk under the Skyspace to get a direct and undistracted view of the sky and space.
Great story! Read more from Steve at his excellent blog about urban planning, cities and transportation, Steven Can Plan.