Tag Archives: bike commuting in Chicago

Public Transit Makes the Bike Heart Grow Fonder

I have not left my house since Monday due to a dreadful illness.  Today I’m venturing to the outside world again, but sadly not on my bicycle because 1) Chicago is a slushy, icy, snowy mess and 2) no energy.

Here’s a quick trip down recent-memory lane.  When I walked out my front door on Monday morning, the ground looked like this…

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And the streets looked like this…

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So I walked myself to the L train and got to work that way.

In Chicago, all neighborhoods have a direct public transit route to downtown.  While I prefer to ride my bike, taking the L train from my home to my office is quick and easy.  Unfortunately, the situation gets trickier when I want to go somewhere other than downtown.  At least one transfer is involved, which adds a lot of wasted time to the trip.  Times like those are when I really appreciate the freedom that my bike provides.

A perfect example is my Monday evening outing.  After work, I met up with my friends in the Logan Square neighborhood, which is a few miles west of my neighborhood.  This involved taking a bus and transferring to the L train – basically, a lot of standing around waiting in the cold, then gripping a pole while trying not to fall or touch any other passengers inappropriately.   No way would I want to do that every day as my regular commute.  I reeeeeeeally missed my bike.

But it was nice to get off my usual beaten path.  Here is Logan Square after sunset:

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Here is my friend Ash, ridiculously awesome woman.  If you look closely, you’ll see her one-month-old daughter tucked warmly in a special “car seat” in the bakfiets.  Read how she rigged it up and how she biked with her baby eight miles roundtrip to our brunch on Sunday.  Meanwhile, I was on the bus.  I know.  Lame.

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And here is my friend Megan, also looking very winter cycle chic and being cooler than me with her bicycle.

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Back to the public transit story.

After saying goodnight to my friends, I planned to take two buses to get home, but when the CTA tracker informed me of a 25 minute wait for the first bus, I realized that traveling the few miles home would end up taking well over an hour.  I hailed a cab instead – definitely not a financially viable way to get around the city on a regular basis, but at least I was home in ten minutes.  Bonus, I got to sit uncomfortably while the cabbie talked to himself and yelled at other drivers during the whole ride.

But again I reeeeeeeeally missed my bike.

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So as you keep on keeping on, winter cycling friends, remember to thank your bicycle for being awesome.

Anyone else forced to take public transit and appreciating your bike even more as a result?

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Winter Bicycling: Rational and Enjoyable

Happy February!

This morning, my friend Elizabeth posted a response on Bike Commuters to a dumb op-ed stating that winter bicyclists are “insane” and “suicidal.”  I love how her response is so reasonable.  Unfortunately, this particular poorly written op-ed is only a drop in the bucket of ridiculous stuff written and said about winter bicyclists.

My own personal response is: calm down and stop being so lame!  You sound silly.  Winter bicycling is perfectly rational and enjoyable.

So when I returned home from work this evening after bicycling 6 miles in 10 degree temps (-12 C), I made a quick video demonstrating how simple and normal the whole thing is.  Pretty dorky, but I’m embracing my inner Liz Lemon in remembrance of 30 Rock.

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My bike ride this evening could not have been better.  As I cycled along the lakefront, the setting sun turned the sky soft shades of blue and pink over the placid, icy blue lake.  Salt covered the trail, rendering the danger of ice moot.  I was not cold; I was happy. And here is what I wore.

What would you say to those anti-winter-bike goofballs?

{See also; video of cycling the lakefronthow to dress for winter cycling, and the LGRAB Winter Guide}

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Snow, Sun and Sleet

The past three days have been warmer than earlier this week, but presented challenges related to precipitation, rather than temperature.

Snow fell heavily on Friday morning and I took the L train to work.  I never bike when the streets look like this:

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One day later, the skies were clear and blue…

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…and the snow was reduced to mucky slush on the side of the road.

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My friend Janet and I were able to ride our matching Omas to ballet burn class with no problem.  (Except for ballet-burn-related soreness!)

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Sleet and freezing rain have been falling all day Sunday, which I took as a sign to stay inside and read Wide Sargasso Sea (and hate  Mr. Rochester so much).  The world outside my window looks pretty nasty, so I’ll probably be on the L train again Monday.

This mix of snow, sun and sleet reminds me that the best way to get through winter is to be flexible and not put pressure on myself to bike all the time.

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When I feel comfortable biking, I enjoy it so much more.

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Icicle Bicycle

The morning temperatures this week have varied from 0 degrees to 10 degrees, plus some snow has been falling.  For a good idea of how bitterly cold Chicago is, check out this photo below of a warehouse fire in the city.

Photo by Jose M. Osorio

Photo by Jose M. Osorio

Yeah, that’s cold!

I spent part of the week riding public transportation and part of the week bicycling.  Although I have biked in sub-zero weather before, the convenience of the L train lures me to the easy option when I’m feeling lazy.  Which is often.  A couple friends have been bicycling on days I took the L, so I give my hardcore title up to them.  :-)

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These photos are in an alley.  The streets are much clearer, so biking in snow and ice has not really been an issue.

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When I ride my bike on super cold days, there are some key pieces I rely on, as I’ve mentioned before.

Wool leggings over my tights to allow me to wear skirts and dresses.

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Hand and toe warmers.

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Snow boots that have been serving me well since 2001 (or the brown ones shown above).

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Ta-da!

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I hope everyone is staying warm, whether on the bike or not.

Now how many weeks until spring?  ;-)

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Winter Bicycling Is…

Winter bicycling is more than temperatures and forecasts and wool layers and hand warmers. Winter bicycling is when the world brightens as the wind whips and my mind clears as my cheeks flush.

My fingers and toes may be numb, my nose may be running, my eyes may be watering – but I am the happiest and calmest version of myself, bicycling on a crystal clear winter day.

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Today I experienced a rare winter treat: leaving the office early enough to catch the sun before setting. The late afternoon light painted the sky with an ombre splash of color, inspiring me to record a video that I hope conveys some of the joy of the ride.

The accompanying song is “This Winter I Retire” by Said The Whale.

(Hello, there!)

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What is winter bicycling to you?

 

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Winter Beauty

Winter is my favorite time to ride a bike in Chicago.  The paths are relatively empty and there are many sunny mornings, when the blues and whites and sands shine brilliantly.

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There has been a little ice and snow this winter.  Just enough to add a bit of sparkle to the city, not enough to disrupt my routine or put challenges in my path.

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I cannot imagine Chicago winter without bicycling.  I think life would be pretty grim this time of year, if I did not have a reason to frolic outside with regularity.  And I would miss out on so much beauty!

 

 

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A Freezing Start to 2013

Welcome, 2013!  As I followed my ritual this morning of pouring a cup of coffee and popping open my macbook to check the weather, I was greeted by this sight:

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12 degrees fahrenheit – yeesh.  (That’s -11 celsius.)  Normal for Chicago winter, but by far the coldest day of this season so far.  At least most of last week’s snow has disappeared.

With very little traffic lately due to people being off work for the holidays, I’ve been enjoying my bike commutes along otherwise highly trafficked streets.  I certainly did not want to miss out on cycling today.  Here I am preparing to set off:

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I wore a wool dress with tights.  To this I added the following for non-bulky but highly effective layering: wool leggings and wool leg warmers, wool socks and winter boots with warmers, a light windbreaker and trench coat, cashmere scarf, glove liners and ski mittens with warmers, earmuffs and winter helmet, and sunglasses (safety glasses after dark to protect my eyes from cold wind).  This is very similar to what I wore in my how-to video for winter cycling.

This worked perfectly.  I was like a little moving furnace.  My only problem was forgetting to fill my pockets with tissue to blow my nose, which runs like crazy in the extreme cold.

When I left work in the evening, the weather had warmed up to a relatively toasty 22 degrees and I was sweating under my layers by the time I got home.

How has your 2013 started?

P.S. For more info on dressing for winter bicycling, see The LGRAB Guide to Winter Bicycling, How To: Cycle Sleek Winter Wear, and How To: Dress For Winter Bike Commuting.

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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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Another Friday

One week ago, I began my Friday morning at Heritage Bikes

For a quick breakfast…

With my friend Elizabeth…

Then we biked to work together…

And 10 hours later Elizabeth was picking me up from the ER and ferrying Coco and me home.  (She also happens to be the organizer of Chicago’s Ride of Silence).  Thanks, E!

Today I plan to get back on the bike for the first time.  Circumstances forced me finally to change Betty Foy’s flat tire, so I’ll be riding her.  :)

Happy Friday!

 

 

 

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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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Lost and Found

I’ve had the worst luck losing stuff lately – and the best luck finding it again.  Last Wednesday, I arrived at work and went to lock my bike as usual.  I reached for my u-lock…

…but instead of hanging on the rack as shown above, the lock was simply gone.  Yeesh!  I reasoned that the lock must have popped off the rack at some point during my commute and  wheeled the bike into my office for safe-keeping.  On my way home that evening, I stopped at J.C. Lind Bike Shop for a new lock.  I needed one ASAP, since I was meeting my friend Sara for dinner and a movie, and I’ve been wanting to upgrade to an Abus chain lock.

While at Jon’s shop, I also picked up a new Cat Eye front blinkie light.  My old Cat Eye also popped off my bike a couple of days ago and shattered.

Am I the only one with stuff popping off my bike left and right?  Maybe I need to secure stuff better, but part of the problem is the awful conditions of Chicago’s streets.  Potholes galore.  Well, would this … thing … pictured below even count as a pothole?

This has been there for years and I can never go around it because traffic’s always whizzing by on my left.  Right next to this monstrosity is where I found my u-lock the next morning.  A kind bicyclist, I assume, moved my lock from the street to the sidewalk – or maybe it really popped that far??

So now I am the proud owner of one bike lock too many, but I’m sure it will come in handy one day.

My u-lock is not the only thing that I lost and found that day.  I also forgot my helmet under my chair at the restaurant where I met my friend for dinner.  I didn’t realize I was missing my helmet until hours later, after a movie and drinks.  By 11 p.m., the restaurant was dark.  But as I unlocked my bike, the owner, who was about to drive away, popped out of his car and said, “You forgot your helmet, right?”   He unlocked the restaurant, went in, and appeared a couple of minutes later with my helmet.  Very kind of him!

Now let’s see if I can go a few weeks without losing anything else.  :-)

 

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A Week of Fall Outfits

Here’s an overview of my outfits last week, before setting off to bike to work in temps of 30-40 degrees.  I expect to wear these same outfits over and over again during the upcoming months.

Tuesday: Chloe trench, cashmere sweater, Celine pants, boots.

Wednesday: trench, Chloe dress, tights, boots.

Thursday: trench, cashmere sweater, wool skirt, tights, boots.

Friday: red trench, cashmere sweater, Burberry skirt, tights, flats.

(Most everything I bought used, some on clearance.)

The photos reveal a consistency in my fall dressing: cashmere, wool, tights, and leather boots.  I know I’ve said this many times before, but these materials are excellent for cold-weather cycling.  There is no reason for me to wear technical clothing.

Do you have a cold weather cycling uniform?

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Colorful Fall Beauty

I woke up this morning to a dusting of snow!  Nothing serious, so I’ll bike to work as usual, but only last week I was enjoying the beautiful colors of a fall commute.

Always surprising how quickly fall fades into winter in Chicago.

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Fashion Friday: Wool Boucle Suit for Bicycling

The outfit above is chic – there is no doubt about it in my mind.  But at some point stuff gets ridiculously expensive.  This week, I saw a gorgeous Chanel boucle suit at a consignment store…in my size…for almost $2,000.  Holy mother of god.  That is a lot of money for one second-hand outfit.  The shop lady kindly informed me that they have layaway – ha!  Luckily, the timeless Chanel designs have filtered down to the level where ordinary people like you and me can enjoy clothes that look kinda sorta the same.

The day after I left the consignment store, a friend at work randomly gave me a Chanel-esque wool boucle suit that no longer fits her.  So I ended up with a similar outfit for free!  Sure, it’s no Chanel, but it is a quality suit made in Canada.

Once I got to work, I traded  my winter boots for heels, removed my gloves and scarf, and viola: ready for the office.  Except I realize now that my bow was askew.  :-)

A co-worker said to me, “You biked in that?!”  Really, wool boucle and tweed are excellent for bicycling because the fabric has some give, never wrinkles, and is super cozy for fall and winter.  I’m going on the record now to say that a wool boucle skirt suit – in addition to being timelessly chic – is the best outfit for cold-weather cycling.  Who’s with me?  :-)

 

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Janet’s Black Faux Fur Helmet

On my ride home from work yesterday evening, I ran into my friends Janet and Dan on the Lakefront Trail.  I love unexpectedly seeing friendly faces in Chicago; it always brightens my day and makes the city seem more and more like home.

As you can see, Dan and Janet have WorkCycle Omas, which they bought after visiting Amsterdam a few years ago.

Janet had on a new helmet by Yakkay, called the Luzern Faux, that she bought locally from Heritage Bikes.  The Yakkay helmet can be mixed and matched with different style covers and this is one option (it also comes in white).  So stylish!

At first I thought it was an actual shapka, not a helmet.  These are very on trend right now (and I do love my Anna Karenina).  :-)

Janet’s whole outfit was perfect for a chilly November night: fur hat, tweed coat, scarf, jeans, leather mittens, and high boots.  Perfection.

I want one now, but alas I already own a black winter helmet.

You can see another Yakkay helmet cover modeled by Martha, one of the lovely women-who-brunch, in this post from last year.  Has anyone else given this a try?

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A Great Day

Despite the grey skies, today was a beautiful day in America.  I took my good mood to the Lakefront Trail and enjoyed a leisurely ride to work.

While waiting at a red light downtown, a guy in a truck rolled down his window and said, “I like your bumper sticker.  You go, girl!  Have a great day.”  And I did.  :-)

P.S. Check out my Oma/Obama post from way back in the day.

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Late October Chill

BRRRRR!  The October warm-up is over and real Chicago fall has arrived with morning and evening temps in the 30’s F, which is basically as cold as winter in my native North Carolina.  This is my 6th fall in Chicago, but the reality of the first chill still surprises me.

Yesterday I wore a wool dress, tights, and my new Chloe trench from Paris (love!) for my entire bike commute.  I thought I would get overheated, but nope.

The street lights were on by 5:30 p.m.

I felt kinda like a baby, complaining of my frozen fingers and toes when I arrived home, but even Ted the Cat, with his massive fur coat, has taken to snuggling under blankets.

So here’s to staying warm with the start of cold weather bicycling in Chicago!

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Indian Summer

I continue to enjoy fall the best way possible: by bicycle. These days, the lakefront trail is even more beautiful than usual.

To accompany the beauty of the season, I’ll share with you one of my favorite songs, Indian Summer, instead of a poem this time.

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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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