Tag Archives: bike commuting in Chicago

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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Philip Larkin’s Fall

Mother, Summer, I

by Philip Larkin

My mother, who hates thunder storms,
Holds up each summer day and shakes
It out suspiciously, lest swarms
Of grape-dark clouds are lurking there;
But when the August weather breaks
And rains begin, and brittle frost
Sharpens the bird-abandoned air,
Her worried summer look is lost,

And I her son, though summer-born
And summer-loving, none the less
Am easier when the leaves are gone
Too often summer days appear
Emblems of perfect happiness
I can’t confront: I must await
A time less bold, less rich, less clear:
An autumn more appropriate.

{see also, Emily Dickinson’s fall}

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A Happy October Outfit

Welcome to October!  It’s hard to believe that September is already over and fall is seriously here.  The weather in Chicago is cooling down substantially and in response I pulled out the (sometimes fingerless) gloves, cashmere, and jeans.

This is a typical fall outfit, although for now the sweater comes off at a stop light early in the ride.

I’m happy for the change in seasons – in fact, October is my favorite month!  How are you handling the transition?

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David Byrne + St. Vincent

While some in the bicycling world may think “bike advocate” when they think of David Byrne, he is also a pretty big deal in the music world.  :-)  Last night, David Byrne and St. Vincent, along with a brass band, played a sold out show at the Chicago Theatre to promote their new collaborative album, Love this Giant.  They are the epitome of cool and the show was as energetic and wonderful as their album.

After the show, I biked into the beautiful Chicago night with my friends.  Too bad David Byrne could not join us – I think he would have enjoyed himself!

In Byrne’s 2009 book Bicycle Diaries, he talks of cycling in different cities when he is on tour, so I kept my eyes peeled for him around town all day, to no avail.  But I know someone who ran into him Monday in a bike shop – he was buying a basket!  I like a man who appreciates a good bike basket.

Here is the first single from Love This Giant, Who.  Great song, awesomely weird video.  Makes me want to booty dance like David Byrne and stomp my feet like Annie Clark.

I know Trisha plans to see them play in Nashville.  Anyone else catching the tour?  I highly recommend it!

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Early Fall Fresh Air

I have been feeling road fatigue lately and the best antidote is always the fresh air of Lake Michigan and the open space of the Lakefront trail, which is once again a calm and pleasant place to ride a bike, now that the summer crowds have dispersed.

Can’t you almost feel the sunshine and crisp, early fall air?

The absolute best music for a fun and stress-free bike ride like this is Janelle Monae’s Archandroid.

Here I am, being unprepared for my camera’s self-timer once again.  :-)  I wore a skirt and cardigan over my t-shirt for work, then traded those out for shorts and kicked off my heels for the ride home.

I hope everyone is having a beautiful Monday!

Now try to listen to this song without dancing. Impossible!

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Betty Foy Lately

I’ve been riding my Rivendell Betty Foy almost exclusively all summer long.  She is so light and smooth and fast and happy.

One morning, an SUV slowed next to me and – just as I was giving it the side eye – a woman in the passenger seat called out the window, “I love your bike!”  Complimenting my bike is the quickest way to win me over and I called back with a big smile, “Thanks, it’s a Rivendell!”  Her response: “I know; I’ve never seen one in real life before.”  Viola! my arms motioned and then she was gone.

But not all has been rosy with Betty lately.  My fault, not hers!

Last week, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to pick up a few things.  When I returned to the bike rack ten minutes later, I realized that Betty was not locked.  She was merely sitting next to the rack with the u-lock in her basket.  Yipes!  How horrible to think that she could have been swiped so easily.  (Please tell me I’m not the only one who has done this!)

The next morning, I set out on Betty only to realize quickly that her front tire was totally flat.  This was Betty’s very first flat tire ever, birth date April 2009, and also the first flat on any of my Schwalbe tires.  So sad.  :-(  I do not have a 650B tube and have been too lazy to buy one in the past week, so I have been riding Coco and Oma.  But I miss Betty, so I need to get my shit together.

Sometimes bicycling is so easy breezy and sometimes life throws hurdles in the way or you just do dumb stuff.  As with life in general, amirite?  It all evens out in the end.  :-)

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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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A Happy Morning

Happy: A cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Happier: Biking to an early yoga class.

Happiest: Unexpectedly seeing my good friend Sara while leaving the yoga studio and biking to work together.

Here’s to becoming a morning person!

:)

 

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Winter Biking Memories

I found an old draft post from December 2010 with the working title, “New Pictures…”

Hey, look, winter!

How funny to look at these on a 90 degree day.  I thought you all might get a kick out of this.  Seems unreal.

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A Long Summer Evening

I love how getting home at the end of the day can become extraordinary simply by bicycling with friends.  After this week’s Tuesdays on the Terrace event at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I biked home along the lakefront with my friends Sara and Holly.  At 8:30, the sun was setting, creating beautiful colors in both the sky and water.  Sara had the idea to stop along the way and venture to the edge of a pier for a beautiful view of the city.

Sara with her blue Pashley Poppy:

Holly with her green vintage bike:

Me with my Rivendell Betty Foy:

We took a bunch of photos and engaged in some general silliness:

Sara said she felt like it was one of those long summer nights of childhood, when the streetlights have come on but you’re not ready to go home home and go inside yet.

I totally knew what she was talking about.    Riding bikes with friends on a late summer evening is the best.


Do you ever get that feeling?

{p.s. Have you read about Grant Petersen’s visit to Nashville yet?  I want to read his book for the title alone – Just Ride!}

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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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Class: The Lady and the Bike!

Attention Chicagoans!  This Tuesday, June 5, 6:30-7:30, I will be teaching a class, The Lady and the Bike, at Next Door community center at 659 W. Diversey.  This class is part of the Chainlink Bike Semester and is totally FREE.

There is so much information to share in one hour and I’m sure people will have lots of questions, so I’ll be hitting a nearby bar afterward for anyone who would like to continue the conversation.

Right now I am still working on my presentation.  (Well, not right now, obviously right now I’m procrastinating by blogging.)   I will use photos to illustrate several of my points, which means I’ve been looking through my archives all morning.  I came across a series of photos that shows the challenges I face when taking timed self-portraits.  I have to wind the timer on my old film camera and then run in place before it goes off.  As you can see, I do not always make it.

…and, finally made it!

Looking back at these pictures 1.5 years later is pretty funny.  Thus concludes this exciting behind-the-scenes look at the making of LGRAB.  :)

Hope to see some of you Chicagoans on Tuesday!

The next class in the Chainlink Bike Semester is Racing 101 on June 19 -taught by a woman!

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Lake Breezes and Karma

The cool breezes of Lake Michigan lured me to the lakefront trail yesterday morning.  Freedom from the stifling heat of car exhaust and crazy drivers, I relaxed and enjoyed the beauty around me.

These pictures are from this great old Polaroid Land Camera 250.  Very fun to play with.  :)

In the evening, I took city streets, where I witnessed a scene that first had me flaming mad and then had me cheering.

As I waited at a red light at a crowded intersection, a driver in a fancy SUV was turning left and inching into a crosswalk as a mother with a baby carriage crossed with the walk signal.  The mother was saying something to the driver that I could not hear, probably like, “Excuse me, I have the walk sign and I’m here with my baby.”  The driver responded by HONKING his horn, right in the baby’s face!  The mother did not budge and the driver then stepped on the gas to lurch forward and psych out the mother, who was standing no more than two feet away WITH HER BABY CARRIAGE!  (Who are these horrible people???)  As soon as she moved away, the driver sped down the street…

…for about 3 seconds.  A police SUV, which was two cars behind the offending SUV, immediately went after it with lights and sirens.  As a biked by, the SUV was pulled over and two police officers were exiting their vehicle.  The scene was so beautiful, I could have wept.  KARMA!

I think the driver should have been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, but at the very least I hope he or she received a citation for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.  Drivers need to know that they cannot get away with criminal behavior simply because they are surrounded by a ton of metal!

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The Independence of Bicycling

Boy, was I happy to be riding my bike yesterday evening!  An extra-alarm fire at a furniture store adjacent to the L-tracks shut down the red, brown, and purple lines for several hours spanning the height of rush hour.  (No one was hurt in the fire.)  Mr. Dottie was on the brown line and had to walk the last two miles home, which is not so fun in near 90-degree heat, carrying a heavy work bag and wearing steel-toed boots. I, on the other hand, sailed along home with trusty Oma.

The scene biking past the L station was chaotic, with hundreds of people waiting for shuttle buses and car traffic jammed from road closures.  I may have gotten some envious looks from the poor commuters stuck on the side of the road.  Too bad Chicago’s planned bike share is not up and running yet – I bet lots of people would have tried it for the first time!

Bonus: enjoying the sight and smell of fresh flowers along my route.

While situations like this on public transportation are rare, I prefer to deal with them never.  The ordeal reminded me of the independence that the bicycle provides.  As long as I have my trusty bike and a slim stretch of road, I’m set.  (Just no thunderstorms, please!)

Good work, Oma!

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Bicycling Home

Today was another lovely bike ride home.  A little windy and chilly, but sunny and relaxing.  Refreshing.  I was grateful for the escape after a day at the office.

Nothing helps me unwind and appreciate my place in life like time on the bike.

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Chicago’s Lurie Botanical Gardens

Today was a beautiful day.  One of the most beautiful of the year.  The sunshine and blue skies and flowers and fresh air all made me remember how wonderful living in this world can be, on the right kind of day.

I rode my bike more than usual and I was thankful for the opportunity.  In the morning I had to be far downtown for a seminar, so I took the Lakefront Trail for 45 refreshing minutes.  A few hours later in the early afternoon, I got to enjoy the outdoors again as I biked from there to my office.  While co-workers jumped in a cab,  I couldn’t resist stopping by the Lurie Botanical Gardens in Millennium Park on my bike.

I wore one of the skirts I thrifted this weekend for $2.  I enjoy wearing flowers in the springtime, although I know my fabric cannot compete with nature’s beauty.

The Lurie Garden is an almost miraculous spot in the middle of downtown Chicago.  There is a glorious juxtaposition of nature and city.  The skyscrapers are a sight to behold, hovering over the flower beds.

Getting down to the ground level and smelling the blossoms takes me back to my mom’s garden, growing up in North Carolina.

Then I stand up and see the architectural marvel of the Pritzker Pavilion, backed by the Aon Center and the Watertower antennas.  Ah yes, Chicago!

I lack the green thumb of my mother, so this guide identifying the different flowers in the garden at this time of year was helpful.

This bird in the tree was making a fuss about me taking its picture.  Very loud.  Camera shy.

At the end of the day, I decided to take the Lakefront Trail home.  On one of the most beautiful days of the year, why not end the day with more of the beautiful same?

I managed to feel like I spent a great deal of time outside, when really all I did was get from one place to another, pure transportation.  Yet so much more.  Everyone who rides a bike, you know what I’m talking about, right?  :)

 

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Tulips and a Dutch Bike :)

Spring is such a beautiful time of year for riding a bike!  Oma enjoyed very much spotting so many of her homeland’s flowers during the ride home this evening.

I put her flowered basket back on for now.  I could feel a substantial weight difference with the front rack and basket today, versus strapping my bag to the rear rack, but the basket set-up is worth it for the convenience and aesthetics.

The back street route I traveled was car-free for much of the time.  Such a rarity in Chicago, which is why I’m happy to go 15 minutes out of my way.

Here’s a more representative “gritty” city shot.  I think I need to start adding more spring color to my wardrobe.  The tulips have inspired me!

I hope everyone had a lovely week of bicycling and is ready to begin the second half of April!  :)

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