Archive of ‘safety’ category

Black Ice Weekend

After mentioning that I have not put my studded tires on Oma yet, I missed them this weekend.  Some mild precipitation on Friday night caused patches of black ice to form all around the city.

I had to walk Oma over black ice several times while getting around on Saturday – biking to Logan Square to try on vintage outfits from Holly’s Lucite Box for the upcoming Bike Winter Fashion Show (found a gorgeous blue velvet dress), back to Lakeview for Heritage Bicycles’ grand opening party (crowded!), and to Wicker Park with a bikey group to see circus-punk marching band Mucca Pazza (pure fun). On Sunday, I decided simply to take the L to the Loop to see Mamet’s Race at Goodman Theatre (excellent).

Not simply a wet road, but a sheet of thin black ice

Based on this experience, I decided to put the studded tires on Oma, but today’s forecasted high of 44 F has me delaying the studs again. But I’m extra cautious while biking, especially at night.

I’ll leave you with a Mucca Pazza song to brighten your Monday morning. :)

Video: a busy Chicago bike commute

Earlier this week, I posted a video of my commute along quiet side streets.  To show how different the ride is along a busy route, on Friday morning I took Lincoln Avenue, a popular street for both bikes and motor vehicles.  I considered this taking one for the team, because I hate this route during rush hour.

A few notes before moving on to the video:

  • Lincoln Avenue is a major bikeway, with either bike lanes or sharrows along the length of it. As I discussed previously, it’s a pathetic set-up for such a popular bike route. Nevertheless, most bicyclists would take this street from my neighborhood to downtown.
  • This route takes about 25 minutes to my work, while the side streets route takes about 40 minutes.  Lincoln is faster because it is diagonal, a straight shot to downtown.
  • The bicyclist who happens to be in front of me for most of the video is carrying a child on the back, very cool.  I position myself a little further in the street and away from the parked cars than she, to avoid the door zone.
  • There’s a lot of traffic during rush hour and I generally filter on the right to get in front at stop lights.  This is the safest place to wait, but it’s important to position yourself in front of cars and trucks, not next to them.  Also, I know the light cycles well and go ahead only when I have enough time to do so safely.
  • The video is sped up by 250% and shows only 1/3 of the ride.  My memory card got full right before I passed three solid blocks of traffic-jammed cars.  That’s always smugly fun.
Without further ado, I present another low-budget LGRAB production:


The song is Beat Culture by Midori and I found it on Free Music Archive (thanks to Vee for the tip!).

Can you see why I prefer the side streets?  Which route would you take?

Unsafe cyclists: what do you say?

I can’t stand it when other bicyclists pass me on the right. It’s unsafe. Unfortunately, it happens often because there are so many bicyclists and cars in Chicago. I spend a lot of energy trying to ride outside of the door zone (not always successfully); the last thing I need is for a bicyclist to pop up next to me in that dangerous space and take me down with her.

My fancy door zone collage

Yesterday as a woman did this, I said, “please don’t pass me on the right.” She said, “sorry,” and continued on. I have made the same statement to several bicyclists in the past and she was the first to respond. I kinda felt like a jerk. Irrational?

Generally, I feel like I should speak up when someone’s action directly affects my safety. Now I am wondering: should I bother saying anything at all when someone passes me on the right? I don’t want to be overly pedantic or annoying and I don’t want to tarnish anyone’s bike ride. Plus, my speaking up probably has little practical effect, except to raise my stress level. (Do people really not know this is dangerous?)

I’d love to hear what others think on this matter. Do you ever speak up? If so, has anyone ever responded to you? Do you think it does any good?

p.s. For a full discussion on why bicyclists should not pass other bicyclists on the right (or the left for Brits), check out Adrienne’s excellent post on Change Your Life. Ride a Bike!

Who is the A-hole? Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…

This is a post where I get to use our “a-holes” tag.

Yesterday morning, during the portion of my commute where I have to use a busy road, I approached an intersection (Wells & Division) with the green light and I kept a sharp eye on opposite traffic to make sure no one turned left in my path. That is a common occurrence because drivers either don’t pay attention or think they are fast enough to dart through, so I’m always looking out for it.

I entered the intersection and the opposite driver, who had a clear view of me, began to turn left at the same time without warning. I started breaking, but I wasn’t sure if I could stop in time, so I called out, “Don’t go! Don’t go!” I’m loud and his window was open, so he stopped and as I went by a split second later, he yelled out his window, “Then hurry up, Asshole!”

Can you believe that? Crazy times!

But I will continue to use my outside voice when necessary to ensure my safety. By the time I arrived at work, I was mostly zen about it, telling myself that he must be a miserable person, whereas I only had to deal with him for a few seconds.

I did stop at the store afterward to buy this amazing Icelandic chocolate bar before going to work. Chocolate is my friend.

And it helped that I had the witty banter of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me whispering in my right ear.

You may have noticed that I was a bit bundled up. With temps in the low 40′s, biking in a suit sans sweat is no problem, and now I have to add earmuffs, a scarf, wool tights and gloves. Not just any gloves – my fingers get very cold, so I had to break out these huge Thinsulate reindeer gloves. They’re so silly looking, they make me laugh.

Mean drivers, cold weather, whatever.

I will still be out there, enjoying my bike rides. :)

Video: Biking in a Protected Lane

A couple of weeks ago, I shared photos of my bike ride through Chicago’s first protected lane on Kinzie Avenue. I love this lane, so now I’m sharing the experience with all of you. Sorry for the jumpy video – the ride is more peaceful than it looks, but Chicago’s streets are bumpy and I was holding the camera in my hand.

Enjoy!

The Mary Poppins Effect and Happy Helmets

I left work yesterday evening, unlocked my bike and prepared to set off when I realized that I forgot my helmet in my office. It was one of those days when the idea of locking my bike again, removing my bag, going upstairs and unlocking my office was unbearable, so I decided to continue on helmetless. If I had a busy route, I would have retrieved my helmet, but my route is a series of calm side-streets.

Me and Betty on yesterday's evening commute

This was one of my first times riding Betty Foy without a helmet. I have done it more often riding Oma, but Betty is faster and has more aggressive positioning.

My ride home was perfectly fine and I felt comfortable on the road. In fact, drivers were extremely nice to me. No one passed too closely or cut me off, and many drivers gave me an extra wide berth or slowed behind me until they could pass safely. I wonder if this behavior had something to do with the Mary Poppins Effect, as several people commented previously that when they don’t wear helmets, drivers are kinder. But my usual Nutcase helmet is so sweet and happy, I don’t see why wearing it would make drivers treat me any differently. I think a helmet covered with pink and red hearts would contribute to the Mary Poppins Effect.

Maybe the kindness was caused by the perfect fall weather, which put everyone in a really good mood. Or maybe it was partly in my head, since I was already wondering if drivers would treat me differently. Regardless, I’m more worried about drivers who never see me at all, so I will continue to wear my helmet most of the time. Maybe when Chicago gets those 100 miles of protected bike lanes, I’ll feel more comfortable going without. :)

{This post is not meant to be all “yay helmets” or “boo helmets” – simply a bit about my day.}

The Loop’s First Bike Lane

The Loop is the very center of downtown Chicago, filled with courthouses, office buildings, theaters and shopping. Unfortunately, biking in the Loop anytime between 7:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. is very stressful. Bicyclists have to take the lane and haul ass. The wide, one-way streets are a free-for-all of buses, speeding cabs, personal vehicles of those with enough money to pay for parking, police SUVs, and pedestrians. I dislike biking in the Loop so much, When I have to go to court, I park my bike at my office and then walk the last mile into the Loop.

The complete lack of safe infrastructure is the reason biking in the Loop is so awful. No bike lanes at all, let alone protected bike lanes.

That is, until this month, when the city finally installed the first bike lane in the Loop on Madison.

I biked the lane on my way to an evening meeting and it’s a big improvement, in my opinion. Although cars passed closely, they did not drive in the bike lane, unless crossing over into the right turn lane, and they seemed more aware of the possible presence of bikes. The bike lane is to the left of the turning lane, which I liked, because the turning lane is usually jammed with waiting cabs and buses – I would not want to ride to the right of that mess.

Another improvement is that this lane extends into the intersection with dotted lines, which was never done in the past. Since the beginning of the summer, I have noticed several more areas where existing bike lanes have been extended into intersections like this whenever a street is repaved.

Overall, I am happy about this lane as a very small but hopeful start. But this really could have been a fully protected bike lane, if installed on the other side of the street. I want the city to install some of those protected lanes on at least four Loop streets: north, south, east, and west. I hope that this is part of their long-term plan.

Check out The Grid Chicago for a detailed analysis of the lane and a great conversation in the comments section.

Do any Chicago readers out there bike in the Loop? What do you think about this lane and what do you want to see next?

A Sorry Excuse for a Bike Route

One of the most popular and vital bike routes from downtown Chicago to neighborhoods on the north side is Lincoln Avenue. I’ve read that 25-40% of the rush hour traffic on Lincoln is people on bikes. I certainly see lots of bicyclists along the way.

One day last week I decided to take this route to work, since I was on a tight schedule and Lincoln Avenue is by far the most direct and quickest route. Perhaps I have been spoiled by my super long and winding but super calm route of side-streets, but I was appalled by the situation on Lincoln Avenue. The cars sped from red light to red light, the huge intersections were like gladiator trials for bicyclists and pedestrians, car doors flung open left and right, buses heaved, and large trucks blocked the bike lanes on every block.

At one point, I was going straight through an intersection with a green light and a driver turned left riiiight in front of me. I looked at him in horror and saw that he was holding a document up in front of his face, reading it. What the what?!? And last Friday, my husband was side-swiped by a driver who veered into the bike lane. His pannier bore the brunt of the impact (with a big mark to show for it) and he was able to keep his bike upright. The driver had the decency to stop, apologize, and ask if he was alright, but maybe drivers could LOOK FIRST?? Pretty simple.

I don't *think* I'm invisible

Greg is definitely visible

All this on a popular marked bike route, which is a joke (on us bicyclists). Despite the fact that people on bikes make up a substantial amount of the traffic, all we get is a strip of paint dangerously close to parked cars and some sharrows.

Door zone

Our beautiful bike lanes

If Chicago is going to be anything near a world-class bicycling city, this key route from the northside to downtown must be improved. While a buffered or protected bike lane would be the bees freakin’ knees, I know that will not happen. I would be content with colored bike lanes that extend through intersections, bike boxes at stop lights, fewer potholes, red light cameras, enforcement of cars parked in bike lanes, and attention-getting signage*. Such improvements should not be an afterthought. If a street is not safely servicing up to 40% of its daily users, the street is a failure.

Until then, I’ll be on the side streets, getting to work 15 minutes later but in a much better mood. And here, hoping that loud complaints will somehow beget real change.


*Something like, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO FLING OPEN YOUR CAR DOOR WHEN YOU HAVE NOT LOOKED TO SEE IF THAT ACTION WILL KILL ANYONE??????? I’m just brainstorming here, but you get the idea.

More Chicago News

Mayor Emanuel and I have something in common: we both took the Brown Line to work yesterday. I took it because threatening thunderstorms kept me off my bike and the Mayor took it to demonstrate how great Chicago’s public transportation system is.

“Got on the train and got to work in 30 minutes, short order. That is a competitive advantage for the city,” he said.

Next he should ride his bike to work. Would that be something? I think so! His people should call my people and we can work it out. (News story here)

Unfortunately, there was also tragic news yesterday.

A 30-year-old man, Fredrick Kobrick, was killed in a hit-and-run crash while riding his bike in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood Sunday night. Based on a photo of the scene, it appears he was riding in a bike lane. The man driving the car was apprehended and has been charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI, and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. (News story here)

Yesterday, an 86-year-old woman, Coral Kier, was killed in my neighborhood while crossing the street in a crosswalk by a left-turning cab driver. No word yet on charges against the driver. (News story here)

My thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims.

I chose to highlight these stories because I believe it’s important to recognize the good and the bad relevant news, and to recognize the victims, not to make bicycling or walking in the city seem especially dangerous. (Nearly every day, it seems, there are news stories about car drivers and passengers being killed in crashes.) I hope there will be justice for these senseless deaths, what little justice there can be, and further examination by the City of how it can make its residents safer.

Chicago’s “culture of speeding and reckless driving”

From an article in the Trib today:

About 80 percent of vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Chicago occur at intersections and commonly involve people crossing the street with the walk signal, according to a new city study.

As a frequent pedestrian in Chicago, these statistics are not surprising. What’s noteworthy is that the city commissioned a special study on pedestrian safety and plans to do something about it.

The exceptionally high rate of pedestrians being struck, predominantly by turning vehicles, while they are inside the presumed safe haven of crosswalks was an unexpected finding that will prompt increased police enforcement of the No. 1 cause of pedestrian accidents — drivers failing to yield, officials said. More traffic safety technology is coming too, they said.

The hit-and-run rate in Chicago is double the national average, with 33% of drivers leaving the scene of a pedestrian crash (44% for crashes that result in death).

“It’s unbelievable, and it’s a real crime,” Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said. “I think we have this culture of speeding and reckless driving.”

I agree that there is a culture of speeding and reckless driving. I rarely see drivers slow down or stop for pedestrians even in school zones.

Improving the safety of pedestrians by working to change the culture of speeding and recklessness will naturally improve the safety of bicyclists. Bicyclists also must make sure to yield to pedestrians (which does not mean simply swerving around them in the crosswalk).

Read the rest at the Chicago Tribune.

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