Category Archives: safety

The Dick Van Dyke Effect

Today we are pleased to present a guest post from writer/reporter John Greenfield, who co-writes Streetsblog Chicago, the region’s best transportation blog, among many other things.  

[This article also runs in Checkerboard City, John's transportation column
in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

I first heard about the “Mary Poppins Effect” back in March 2011 from local bike blogger Dottie, also known as The Martha Stewart of Chicago Cycling. “This is basically the idea that drivers are nicer to women bicyclists riding upright bikes with dresses and flowing hair,” she wrote on her site Let’s Go Ride a Bike. “Who could be mean to Mary Poppins?”

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Mary Poppins’ commute

On the other hand, it’s believed that motorists are less likely to operate safely around people wearing bike-specific clothing, bent over drop handlebars on a racing bike. “A cyclist dressed ‘normally’ looks more human to the driver,” wrote Dottie’s Massachusetts counterpart Constance, who coined the term for the phenomenon on her blog Lovely Bicycle two months earlier. “The more ‘I am human! I am you!’ signals we give off when cycling, the more empathy a driver will feel towards us. Dehumanization, on the other hand, makes it easier to cause harm to another human being.”

Dottie speculated that nattily dressed men on upright city bikes might enjoy the same benefits, known as the “Dick Van Dyke Effect,” after the debonair actor who played Mary Poppins’ gentleman friend Bert in the beloved 1964 Disney film. Van Dyke, who grew up in Danville, Illinois, also starred in classic musicals like “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” as well as the 1960s sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

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Dick Van Dyke on a bike!

I was interested in testing out the theory by my having one of my male bike buddies pedal downtown in a suit, then in Spandex, while I followed behind taking notes on motorists’ behavior. There were no takers at the time, so I added the idea to my potential story list and promptly forgot about it.

Fast-forward two-and-a-half years to Tuesday of last week, when I was scanning the headlines over my morning coffee. Lo and behold, a Tribune story described how Van Dyke miraculously escaped unscathed after his Jaguar caught fire on a Los Angeles freeway the previous afternoon.

“Somebody’s looking after me,” he told a TV reporter from local station KTLA5, looking chipper as ever. “At first I thought I had a flat. Then it started smoking, then it burned to a crisp.” Later that day he tweeted, “Used Jag for sale REAL CHEAP!!” How many eighty-seven-year-olds do you know who use Twitter?

Inspired by Van Dyke’s obvious joie de vivre, I resolved to test out his eponymous effect, even if I had to serve as my own guinea pig. My blogging partner Steven Vance agreed to follow behind me with a camera as I rode downtown and observe how closely drivers passed me.

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John Greenfield tests the “Dick Van Dyke Effect” (photo by Steven Vance)

That afternoon I put on the pinstripe suit I bought in Bangkok and a straw fedora and began riding my Dutch-inspired cruiser down Milwaukee Avenue from Logan Square at 2:50pm, feeling like William S. Burroughs, the well-dressed author of “Naked Lunch.” When we come to a stoplight, Steven tells me that some drivers are crossing the yellow line to give me plenty of room as they pass me. As I roll past a bus stop at Oakley Avenue, a young man on the bench gets a load of my get-up, grins and nods his head in approval.

We turn east onto Chicago Avenue and roll into River North. Around Wells Street, Steven reports that a cabbie switched lanes in order to pass me. We continue south on Clark Street, where motorists are generally driving in the other travel lane rather than sharing lanes with me. When we arrive at Daley Plaza, we remark that no one had honked or catcalled at me the entire time.

The following afternoon I squeeze myself into some Spandex, which I never wear in real life, strap on a helmet and wraparound shades, and mount my skinny-tired road bike. As Steven and I depart at 2:50pm again, I feel less a distinguished Beat writer and more like a space alien, and more than a little self-conscious. We take the same route and, despite my garish apparel and insect-like posture, I seem to get a fairly similar reception from drivers.

When we reach the plaza I ask Steven for his conclusions. “I think whether a driver passes a cyclist with more or less space is based ninety-nine percent on how much open space the driver has to the left of his or her car,” he says. “There didn’t seem to be a Dick Van Dyke Effect.”

“However, I did hear about a guy who bicycled wearing men’s clothing, and then made the same trip wearing a dress and a wig,” Steven added. “He found he got better treatment when dressed as a woman. That would be the next thing to try.” But that’s an experiment for another day. Oh, the things I do for science!

Thanks for the research, John!  I was surprised that there was no discernible difference in driver behavior, but happy to hear that drivers treat different bicyclists equally well (or equally poorly?).  We’d love to hear the experiences of others out there, especially men in relation to the possible existence of the Dick Van Dyke Effect.  

Also, some have astutely commented in the past that part of the effect may be based on race, class and conformity to societal norms.  I am working on a follow-up to address those issues, so please share below if you have thoughts on this.

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Bike-a-bee founder attacked while bicycling

Jana of Bike-a-bee, who I wrote about last year,  was attacked this week while riding her bike in Logan Square.  A passenger in an SUV leaned out the window and grabbed Jana by her backpack, dragging her on her bike for several seconds.  When she crashed into a parked car and hit the ground,  she could hear the men laughing as they drove away.  They have not been caught, but the police have upgraded the incident from hit-and-run to aggravated battery.

This incident is horrifying, a sad reminder of how awful some people can be and how vulnerable we are on the roads.

You can donate to help Jana with her medical and physical therapy bills and lost income.

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U.S. cycling from a Dutch perspective

This week I came upon a video on Facebook by Bicycle Dutch called “U.S. Cycling from a Dutch Perspective.”  The video may have already made the rounds, but I’m posting it here because the (lack of) infrastructure and driver behavior in the U.S. and Chicago in particular have been on my mind lately, with several people I know being hit by drivers in the past year (including, of course, myself).

As the video says, “This situation makes clear why you are 30 times more likely to get injured as a cyclist in the  U.S. than in the Netherlands.”  This is a outrage and needs to change.

A few more choice quotes from the video:

“It almost looks as if these people are riding a race, rather than going home after work.  They’re trying to outrun other traffic.  It really seems like a chase.”

“There’s a lot of cycling here despite the infra[structure], rather than because of it.”

“There could be a good future for cycling in the U.S.”

I hope so.

 

 

DIVVY: Chicago Bike Share!

Chicago announced its plan for a large scale bike share system almost two years ago.  After a long wait, the system – now called Divvy – went live on Friday!

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Only a fraction of the stations are open during the first phase – none near my home – but many others are scheduled to open soon.  A total of 4000 bikes at 400 stations is planned for the first two years.

Even though I have my own bikes, I became a member.  I anticipate Divvy being useful when:

  • I want to bike to a bar and cab or transit home.
  • I take the L in the morning due to rain but the sun is shining by the end of the day.
  • I don’t want to leave my bike locked outside for an extended period of time.
  • I need to get to court or a meeting during the middle of the day and taking my bike out of my office and down the elevator would be too much trouble.
  • I want to travel with a friend who does not have her own bike.

The annual membership is only $75 and includes unlimited, free 30 minute rides.  Daily passes are available for only $7.

While Divvy will be useful to me personally, I’m most excited about the system because I believe it will radically change the culture of Chicago for the better. I was skeptical of bike share until I saw how Velib is used by everyone in Paris.  Now I am anxious to see the same happen in Chicago.  The more people ride bikes, the more people will understand what it’s like to ride a bike.  Empathy from Chicago drivers – imagine that!

Here’s a quick video I made of the process to join Divvy with an overview of the website.  I will make a video of using the system soon.

Joining DIVVY Bike Share from LGRAB on Vimeo.

Anyone else already a Divvy member?  (No?  Join now!)

{P.S. Stay up-to-date on Divvy through Streetsblog Chicago’s excellent reporting.  Read Trisha’s report of Nashville’s bike-share and my Denver B-Cycle story.}

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Indy’s Impressive Protected Bike Infrastructure

On LGRAB’s Facebook page, I shared a photo of the recently-completed separated bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago’s busiest bikeway.

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Photo from Chicago Bike Program

I’ll write more about this new infrastructure after I bike it myself next week.

In response, Facebook Friend Matt shared an article about the separated bike infrastructure in Indianapolis, Indiana, via an article from Treehugger, The biggest bicycling infrastructure achievement in North America that you’ve never heard about.

Trisha biked around Indy four years ago and was impressed with the trails and bike lanes, so I knew that the city has some bike infrastructure, but I had no idea it was so sophisticated and extensive.  After watching the video below by Streetsfilm and reading more about the infrastructure in their article, The Next-Gen in U.S. Protected Bike Lanes, I am in awe of what the city has accomplished.

Other mid-size cities should try to replicate this type of project, which must be great for quality of life, health and tourism.  I know that Indy is now on my list of places to visit.

I’m curious: do any of you live in Indy?  If so, are these protected paths useful for biking to work and errands – that is, actually getting around the city?

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In Honor of Bobby Cann

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The death of cyclist Bobby Cann last week is an awful tragedy felt by the entire Chicago bike community.  Streetsblog and other media have covered the story in detail, including the driver’s arrest for reckless homicide.  I just want to draw attention to a Groupon in his honor (he worked for Groupon), which raises money for the Active Transportation Alliance’s Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign.

Death can come to us at any time. A meteor can come dashing in from a whirling asteroid belt. The very universe could blink off, just as it once blinked on. In a moment, in a breath, it is over. But living under the stars—a miracle and a wonder that Bobby cherished close in his heart—is not inherently dangerous. So it should be with cycling.

— Catherine Bullard

Please donate if you can.

Bike With Me: Elston Separated Lane

Yesterday afternoon I had a meeting across town, which led me to a different route for the commute home.  I was able to take advantage of the newish separated bike lane on Elston Avenue.  I first wrote about this lane in the fall, but have not had occasion to bike it since.

Riding in this lane is like butter.  The separation from cars makes all the difference, of course. Other benefits are not being placed in the door zone and the relatively small number of cross streets, alleys and parking lot exits.  I would love a set-up like this on the busy streets that connect my neighborhood to downtown, where I often feel like a hunted animal during open season.

You can see previous videos of me biking along Chicago’s protected bike lanes here:

Dearborn protected lane  – two-way bike lane in the Loop

18th Street protected lane – the most similar to Elston’s bike lane

Kinzie protected lane – Chicago’s first separated bike lane

 

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Chicago Loop’s First Protected Bike Lane

GOOD NEWS!

Chicago now has a protected bike lane going through one of the busiest areas of downtown, the first of its kind in the central Loop district.  The lane is on Dearborn, a one-way street that formerly had three travel lanes and two parking lanes.  My experience bicycling on this street was always pretty scary: drivers exceeded the speed limit and constantly changed lanes with no warning and there were often conflicts with turning vehicles.

With the new protected bike lane, everything is different.  Dearborn feels miraculously safe.

Dearborn now has two main travel lanes, two parking lanes, and a two-way protected bike lane.  The protected bike lane is directly next to the curb, separated from car traffic by the parking lane and bollards.  The two-way bike lane allows bicyclists to use Dearborn to go both north and south, while cars can go only north.  Bicycle-specific stoplights are included at every intersection, next to the regular stop lights.  Conflict with turning cars is now eliminated, as cars may turn left only on a green arrow.  When the bicycle light is green, the car turning arrow is red and vise versa.  The turning arrow is activated only when a sensor picks up the presence of a waiting car.  Brilliant!

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Two-way protected bike lane on Dearborn

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Stop light for bicyclists and dedicated left turn arrows for drivers

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Lots of bicyclists enjoying the lane

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Martha of Bike Fancy approves

The Dearborn protected bike lane opened for use on Friday. Here is a video I made of the inaugural ride.  I cut out the time waiting for stop lights and increased the speed twofold.  If you pay attention, you’ll see a clueless SUV driver ride in the lane for a block.  The final part of the video shows the crappy bike lane after the protected bike lane ends.  I hope the city extends the protected lane further in the spring.

Prior to the inaugural ride, there was a press conference.  The speakers included our kick ass CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and Mayor Emanuel.  For those really interested in the wonky side, here is a video of their speeches (and you can sometimes see me in the background looking very serious).

Here is an illuminating video that Active Trans put together, showing the before and after conditions.

Hat tip to the always-excellent Grid Chicago for making me aware of these videos and for their top-notch reporting on the Dearborn lane and other Chicago developments.

I am so, so, so hopeful about all of this! All I want to do is get to work and back safely, efficiently and happily on my bicycle – finally, those in power are investing in this as a worthy goal. I look forward to more serious improvements in the spring when construction season restarts in Chicago.

PLEASE say thank you to the politicians for the Dearborn protected bike lane.

Related:

My ride on the Elston Avenue protected bike lane
My ride down the Kinzie Street protected bike lane
The importance of protected bike lanes

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Returning to the bike after a crash

I got back on my bike last Friday.  The morning was beautiful.

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I felt great during the whole ride, including the bits on the street.  Thank goodness for the Lakefront Trail, where I don’t have to worry about cars.  I’ll be taking this route much more from now on, since my peaceful side-street route turned out to be not so peaceful.

Last night I took city streets home – a similar route as usual but avoiding the intersection – but it was too soon.  I was fearful and started crying a bit for no reason as I went along.  Typing that out is embarrassing, but there you have it.  I’ve always been super defensive and cautious, but now I feel like I cannot trust any intersection situation no matter what.  Plus, I think the night and everything felt too similar.  I’m back on the Lakefront Trail today.

For anyone who’s gone through something like this, how did you feel getting back on the bike?

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Cheers to Community

Thanks so much to everyone for your support this week!  Every comment and email means a great deal to me.

I have not told anyone outside of my bicycling circle about the hit and run.  I want to avoid hearing – from now until the end of time – “I can’t believe you’re still riding your bike” and “OMG be careful!!!”  This would come from a place of kindness and concern, but I just don’t want to hear it.  So I am very grateful for all of you and for my women-who-bike group: people who really get it.

Here are some photos from Decembers Women-Who-Bike Brunch a couple of weeks ago.  Strong, fabulous women who are leading the charge and having fun doing it.

If you are in Chicago and would like to join our Women-Who-Bike brunches, please email me at LGRAB@letsgorideabike.com.  If you’re not in Chicago, I encourage you to join – or start! – a local social bike group.  The benefits of community cannot be understated.

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Hit and Run

To begin: I’M OKAY.  But on the way home from work Friday, I was hit by a car.  The driver ran a stop sign and struck me with the front left of his car.  The force crumpled the front of my bike, slammed me counter-clockwise into the side of the car and then onto the pavement.  The driver kept going.  There were a lot of witnesses and some extremely nice people came over to help me. They called 911 and provided statements to the police that I was doing everything right.  An ambulance came and brought me to the ER.  I have some pain and bruises, but am otherwise okay.  Coco the bike is in pretty bad shape.

Apparently, the driver of a silver/white car had swerved to the right (illegally – only one lane each direction) around another car waiting at the stop sign, barreled through the intersection, and sped even faster to escape as soon as he hit me.  There was no way for me to anticipate or avoid such recklessness.  That was after I stopped completely for my stop sign (four-way stop), waited for two other cars to go before proceeding, and almost made it through to the other side.  Unfortunately, no one got the license plate number.

My view – car came from my right:

Driver’s view:

The police officer who took my statement at the ER said this would be passed to the major crash unit.  They can check video surveillance from a city camera a block away, but I’m not expecting anything.  Although this person should be thrown in jail and never drive again and I wish I could get some money for Coco, I’m really not worked up about the driver.  I don’t have the energy for that kind of anger.  The extreme kindness of everyone else involved – the witnesses, police, fire department EMTs, doctors, my friend who drove me to pick up my bike later – was much more powerful than one driver’s cruelty.

Of course, I will continue to bike, once I’m feeling better, although I’m sure I’ll be more anxious and I will never bike through this intersection again.  Sadly, no amount of caution can protect you from a reckless driver with no regard for human life, whether you’re in a car or on a bike, but life must go on.

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Lite (not) Brite

Early nightfall claimed another victim last week.

I had planned to ride to the Walk/Bike Nashville social last Wednesday night after work. Though in a part of town I don’t visit often, the venue was only 4.5 miles away from my office, the night was relatively mild, and I had prepared by wearing the right clothes.

I considered taking the Bat, with its generator light in front, but it starts feeling heavy if I ride more than 10 miles or so. I decided to take Kermit Allegra, since the Mini Monkey Light is impossible to miss and I also have a great fender taillight that I installed over the summer. And I’d just replaced the batteries on my headlamp, which had been burnt out for a while.


Unfortunately, my headlamp was not up to snuff on the dark side streets I’d mapped out (to avoid busy roads at rush hour). At worst it was as above; at best it was as below, when the inadequate streetlight was broken by individual house lights.

 

I rode this bike most of last winter without an issue, but I think this was the first time I’ve ridden it in the dark, alone, on side streets that I was not familiar with. On my route home, and on the routes I use for most places I go regularly, there might be a few dim blocks, but I am so familiar with them that I know whether a shadow is a pothole or a branch or a crack in the concrete. In those circumstances, light that functions mostly to let me be seen is workable, if not ideal. Not so on these roads. When I realized I had passed two miles braking for obstacles (imagined or real), I decided it was time to turn around, go home and get my car.

West End traffic on the horizon

 

Lights that illuminate the street well have been elusive for me. I find that handlebar lights don’t have a wide enough beam, and front fork lights are often diffused by the fender, as displayed above. Again, these issues are workable if I keep to familiar and/or busier routes, but it’s frustrating to have my rides limited in this way. What front light do you use that allows you to both see and be seen? I’m thinking of trying a side wheel mount light like the one on Dottie’s Oma, which works on the dark sections of the Lakefront Path.  If anyone can recommend an aftermarket front light worth considering, I’m all ears. Money is…well, it’s an object, but I’d rather spend $50 on a light that works than get five crappy ones that don’t end up helping the situation.

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Sad News from Chicago

Yesterday morning, 32-year-old attorney Neill Townsend was biking to work when a man in a Nissan Altima opened his car door into the bike lane and Neill’s path, causing him to swerve suddenly and fall under a flatbed semi truck passing to his left.  He died on the scene.  The man who opened the car door was cited for a traffic violation.  You can read more about Neill’s life and a vigil held in his memory in this Chicago Tribune story.

I mourn for Neill and his family and friends.  This sad news has shaken me, as I bike past the exact spot every day.  The bike lane lines are faded to almost nothing.  There are severe pot holes through the bike lane that force bicyclists either to swerve far out into the main traffic lane or inch closer to parked cars than is comfortable.  There is a high school where parents park in the bike lane to drop off their kids.

This exact type of collision occurred only one block over in 2008, when Clinton Miceli was doored and struck by passing traffic.  The city needs to build protected bike lanes to the right of parked cars, which would avoid collisions like this.  At the very least, it needs to keep existing and heavily used bike lanes well-striped, buffered, and free of dangerous potholes.  Drivers and passengers need to take a second to look for coming bicyclists before swinging their car doors open.   The city must do more to educate and remind drivers of this.  Bicyclist should try to avoid the door zone, but I well know that is not always possible in Chicago.  The entire bike lane where the incident occurred basically is the door zone.  Grid Chicago wrote a more detailed examination of this infrastructure problem.

Biking home from work yesterday with this tragedy fresh on my mind, I took care to bike extra far from parked cars.  Almost immediately, a driver in an SUV honked at me.  I assume he wanted me to move over to the right.  We have a long way to go in Chicago.

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Unsolicited “Advice”

Occasionally when bicycling, a random guy gives me unsolicited advice.  For illustration, here are two scenes from the past month.

Warning: Competent Woman on the Loose

Scene 1:  I am bicycling home at night, equipped with a helmet, blinking lights and reflectors.  I stop behind a city bus at a red light.  A motorcyclist pulls up very close to me in the same lane.

Motorcyclist Guy:  [lecturing tone] You gotta be safe out here.

Me:  [unsure, attempting friendliness] Yeah, we all have to.

MG:  But be careful, you don’t want to be knocked over.  You just need to be safe out here.

Me:  I am safe.  I do not need your advice.

MG: [revs engine and jets off]

Me: [???]

Scene 2:  I’m bicycling to work in the morning, stopping at a stop sign to allow a pedestrian to cross.  The temp is 90 degrees, so I take my helmet off and hang it on my handlebars.  To compensate, I bicycle extra slowly and cautiously.  Bicyclist guy squeezes between me and the SUV on my left.

Bicyclist Guy: You need to wear a helmet.  Your helmet is not going to protect your handlebars. [passing me at twice my speed]

Me: I do not need to hear this from you.

BG: [in a singsong tone] Just some friendly advice!

Me: I’m a big girl.

BG: [yelling over his shoulder] We all are!

Me: Ha! [wondering how long until he realizes what he said and goes, "Doh!"]

In both situations, the guys seemed to assume that I would benefit from their “advice.”  In fact, I act deliberately and do not need to hear the opinion of a random man on the street, whether it’s about my “safety,” my helmet, or my looks (that’s a different topic).

If anyone is tempted to offer this kind of advice, please think twice, and unless someone’s actions directly affect you, hold back.

Ladies and gentlemen, do random people give you unsolicited “advice” while bicycling?  If so, does it make you want to inform the advice-giver where to shove it?

:)

{Photo above by Martha Williams of Bike Fancy}

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A Separated Bike Lane Commute

Big bicycling improvements are happening in Chicago!  I heard that the city recently installed a separated bike lane on Elston Avenue, so I went a little out of my way yesterday morning to check it out.

The  city calls the Elston bike lane “protected,” but as you can see below, plastic bollards do not provide any real protection from dump trucks.

But I am not knocking the lane at all.  I love it!  Biking down this wide industrial road with fast traffic is now easy as pie.  Bikes have their own area and cars seem to respect it.

Intersections and parking lot entrances are marked with green paint to remind drivers to watch for bicyclists.  Some stretches of the lane have car parking to the left, providing real protection from moving traffic.

Look at that wide open lane with the Sears Tower beckoning – beautiful!

After a while, the separated lane ends and turns into a buffered lane, which is also new.  Although this design forces bicyclists to watch out for opening car doors and cars pulling out of parking spaces, there is a lot of breathing room that helps bicyclists feel more comfortable.

After Elson I turned onto Kinzie Street, which has the city’s very first separated bike lane installed in the spring.  I wrote about this beautifully designed and implemented lane earlier this year.

Finally, I turned on a side street for the last few blocks to my office.  This is the only street on the route that does not have a bike lane, but it does boast the beauty that is the underside of the L train tracks.

Biking my entire commute on mostly separated bike lanes was awesome.  I’m excited for the city to create more of these safer lanes.  Mayor Emanuel recently said, “By next year I believe the city of Chicago will lead the country in protected bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes and it will be the bike friendliest city in the country.”  Sounds good to me!  (That is how a big city mayor should talk, in contrast to Toronto’s horrible mayor.)

I think an abundance of separated lanes in a city would result in a massive increase of everyday cycling – don’t you?

If you agree, PLEASE sign this petition supporting protected bike lanes!  Right now there are 2,000 something signatures; we can double that number if we spread the word!

Extras:

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Interview: why Sheena does not bike

I met Sheena last fall and was interested to learn that she is an LGRAB reader but does not ride a bike.  While she was an avid bicyclist as a teen, she transitioned to driving – like most teens – once she got her license.  Now practical considerations (safety, storage, commuting distance) keep her off the bike.

I think Sheena is a great example of the type of person planners and advocates should keep mind: she would like to ride a bike and is attracted to the idea of transportation cycling, at least for short trips, but will only do so if she views it as safe, convenient, and practical.  I am interested in exploring this more, so I asked Sheena if she would answer some questions and she graciously agreed.

First, tell us a little about yourself and your commute.

Hi!  My name is Sheena.  I recently received my MA in advertising and now work as an Interactive Project Manager .  I live in the Western Suburbs, about 10 miles outside of Chicago.  I currently work downtown and I commute via Metra train on most days.

What is your history with bicycling?

Biking was my main mode of transportation when I was a teen.  I grew up a bit further out and lived near quite a few biking trails, so that was a popular activity when I was younger.  We’d compete with one another by racing up steep hills without trying to fall.   We’d also set records for each other to see who could bike the furthest in a day—without getting in trouble for leaving town.

When did you stop bicycling  and why?

Pretty much the moment I got my first car at 16.  I was the first in my group of friends to get a car, but everyone else did soon after.  Biking to the local mall was less attractive when you had a car and we were able to go further distances.  Basically, biking was no longer convenient for us anymore and unfortunately we did not retain biking as a hobby.

What keeps you from bicycling now?

I’d say the lack of being able to use it as a commuting vehicle.  I think that if I lived in the city, it’d be much easier for me to bicycle and get around.  Biking into the city from the suburbs would obviously be difficult.  When I’m not taking the train to work, I mostly drive if I’m around in the suburbs or walk around my own neighborhood.   Couple the lack of opportunities to ride a bike with lack of place to store a bike, and it’s been hard for me to justify buying a bike.

When I do have the inkling to ride, I always look into renting a bike for a daytrip along the lakefront, which makes me nostalgic for my earlier biking days.  It’s still an activity that I enjoy and it brings me to a different place.

What are the top two things the city could do to help make bicycling more viable to you?

1.    I’d say safety.  Yes, I understand the city has come a long way, but I’ve seen more bike riders hit by cars than I’d care to.  I look to blogs (like Let’s Go Ride a Bike) for tips and to learn more about advocacy, but I think the city can do a bit more to ensure safety for bikers.

2.    More advocacy.   This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the safety issue, but this is a huge driving city or public transportation city.  While both of those options are fine, I think the city could do more to encourage the more reluctant population to bike to work by naming incentives and the benefits of doing so.

Earlier you mentioned that lack of bicycle storage is a hurdle for you.  Could you talk about that?

Yes, lack of storage for my bicycle is a huge issue.  I live on the top floor of a smaller apartment with no basement storage.  Since my apartment is smaller inside, there really is very little room for me to place a bike and it’s looked down upon for us to hang anything if I wanted to.  I’d consider a bike to be an important investment, so I’d want to make sure I could store it in a safe place.

How did you come upon Let’s Go Ride a Bike and what do you get from reading it?  

I love reading blogs, especially Chicago-based blogs.  This is pretty much my go-to blog to read about cycling, biking tips and learning about the bicycling community.  While I’ve seen people cycling in regular clothes, I had not previously found any tips that cover the topic like this blog.  Plus, I love the idea of seeing a community of passionate bicyclers who share their stories and view biking as much more than a hobby.

{Thanks so much to Sheena for answering our questions!  I might have to start grilling everyone I know who does not bike.}

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Neighborhood Buffered Bike Lane

Another new buffered bike lane has been installed in Chicago, this one in my neighborhood along the business district.  Notice that with this lane the buffer zone is next to parked cars, while with the lane heading into downtown, the buffer zone is next to moving traffic.  Even with the buffer, cyclists still need to bike in the outer portion of the bike lane to avoid opening car doors.

There is a buffered lane on the other side of the street, too, and visually the bike lanes make up a big portion of the roadway.  This street has always been very bike-friendly with slow and light traffic, but the new buffered bike lanes make it even more so.  I consider this low-hanging fruit for CDOT, so while I am happy to see the improvement, I anxiously await improvements where they are most needed – on major routes.

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Summer 2012 Jerk Season

The good side of biking Chicago

Welcome to Jerk Season aka summer!

On Saturday, I set off on my bike, in a great mood, to the theater to watch Moonrise Kingdom.  I was biking on a busy but reasonable two-lane street, outside of the door zone, three feet from parked cars.  Suddenly, from far behind me I heard a honk, then two more as the car came closer.  HONK!  HOOONK!  HOOOOOOONK!  The car passed me extremely closely, as the driver screeched out the open window, “MOVE OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY, BITCH!!!”

I maintained my line and did not react at all.  About 30 yards later, I passed her and the many cars stopped in traffic in front of her, soon arriving at my destination.

The experience was unpleasant – obviously, like any sane person, I would prefer not to be assaulted while traveling – but I have to remember that there are always awful people in the world, whether I am driving or bicycling.  I had to deal with her for only a few seconds, while she is trapped in her own anger always.  It would have been nice if a police officer had magically been around to pull her over, but such is life.

Now I can add “bitch” to the list, along with “retard,” “asshole,”  and “moron,” drivers have yelled at me for no reason.  Not too bad, in four years of daily Chicago bicycling, but I prefer bicycling in the winter, when drivers keep their windows closed and I cannot hear their crazed screeching.

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Comparing Routes on Bike to Work Day

Chicago’s Bike to Work Week took place last week, with Friday as the grand finale “Bike to Work Day” and a big rally downtown.  I had an early meeting and could not attend.  I simply celebrated by … biking to work.  Imagine that.

Biking to work

The day was a little special, incidentally, because I met up with my friend Elizabeth for the morning ride to work.  We took the most direct, major route, which is not so bad in the morning.  There was plenty of opportunity for chatting.

Elizabeth in the morning

In the evening, Mr. Dottie happened to be leaving work the same time as me, a rare occurrence, so we met up for bike home together.

Mr. Dottie in the evening

I made him take my quiet side street route and he thought it was more stressful than the busy-but-direct route.  He reasoned that all he had to do on the busy route was stay straight and stop for stoplights, while on the twisty side street route, there was a lot of turning, plus potential car conflicts at every block in the form of four-way-stop intersections.  I can see where he’s coming from – cars have a tendency to “not see” bikes at those intersections – but I am more stressed by what I cannot control on the busy route: cars barreling behind me at a fast speed and parked car doors flinging open.

Interesting to consider the choices through someone else’s perspective.  What kind of situation do you think is more stressful?

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Reporting Dangerous Cab Drivers

Last night, riding down a quiet neighborhood street at the end of a lovely bike ride home at dusk, I watched in horror as a cab driver right-hooked the bicyclist in front of me.  That is, the cab driver passed me and the other bicyclist and then – with no signal or other warning – turned right in front of the bicyclist, striking him with the car and knocking him to the ground.  I do not want to say too much at this time, in case there is a hearing or other legal action, but I clearly saw it happen, screamed, and rushed over.  The driver stopped, poked his head out, saw that the bicyclist stood up, and drove off – but not before I memorized his cab number.  The guy on the bike seemed basically okay, but you never know with shock and adrenaline.  I made sure he took my information, in case he discovers injuries or decides to file a complaint and needs a witness.  Another bicyclist also gave his information and a car driver offered.

This reminded me of the story Steve Vance recently shared on Grid Chicago about his hearing against a cab driver who threatened and endangered him.  Steve was meticulous in documenting the incident and following through, resulting in a $500 fine, $40 court costs, and 8 hours of training for the driver.  (I encourage you to read the whole story – fascinating.)  Reporting cab drivers for dangerous driving is easier than reporting other drivers, because there is a mechanism set up to respond to complaints.

After a collision, shock and adrenaline and even embarrassment may push someone to hurry off and put the incident behind him or her, but gathering as much information as possible is so important, just in case someone later needs or wants to use the information.

The Active Transportation Alliance has information on what to do after a crash, including a crash hotline and a crash support group.  Also, here is some past advice for reporting dangerous drivers.  If you see a collision, I encourage you to try to gather information and make sure the victim has a way to contact you as a witness.

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