Tag Archives: car vs. bike

The Oma Lifestyle

As I mentioned last month, I’m back to riding Oma almost daily.  And I’m reminded that Oma is not just a bike style, but a lifestyle.

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I slow way down with her and relax into the ride. I coast up to yellow lights instead of accelerating to beat the red.  I enjoy the city sights from my high perch.

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It’s all about opting out of the commute-as-race by sheer force of will.  Even as SUVs speed past me too closely and I breath in truck exhaust, I think happy thoughts and continue slowly pedaling.  Riding Oma helps me maintain a bit of serenity, as the city buzzes around.

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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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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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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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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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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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Carpooling in a Snow Storm

Six inches of snow fell on Chicago yesterday afternoon and evening.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I had no intention of cycling in that mess.  My plan was to take the L train, but a co-worker mentioned that she and a friend carpool along a route that passes by my L stop.  She offered to pick me up anytime and I gladly accepted the offer.  The car is already on the road anyway.

In the morning, I walked a block to the L station and a couple of minutes later she pulled up.  I sank into the heated passenger seat – yup, heated - and enjoyed friendly conversation during a calm drive downtown.   (I wonder, is there a way to make my Brooks saddle heated?  ‘Cause that would be amazing!)

The car ride was no faster than my bike ride along the same route, about 25 minutes.  (This is the busy route I recently recorded.)  There’s a lot of backed up traffic, so I’m able to keep up with cars most of the way.  Funny, they used to see me on my bike a lot in the mornings, when I took that route daily.

Snow started falling fast and furious around 1:30 pm and my office decided to close early at 3 pm.  I knew that taking the L home would be an easy 25 minutes, much faster than a car in a snow storm, but deserting my co-worker wouldn’t have been very nice.  :)   The car ride home in the snow took one hour, but I didn’t mind at all.  In fact, I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her better.  In my heated seat.

There is no way I would have biked in the snow given the road conditions.  If I were in Copenhagen with protected bike lanes maintained by snow plows, sure, but that was obviously not the case.  (You wouldn’t know, but there’s a snow-covered bike lane in the photo above.)

I saw a couple of intrepid cyclists during the ride and I was stressed out just watching them.  I saw a couple others walking their bikes, like this mom and child below.  I assume they set out on the bakfiets hours earlier, before the snow got out of control.

Does anyone else carpool sometimes?  Seems it was all the rage in the ’90s, but I never hear anything about it now.  I enjoyed the experience and in the future when I need to take the L train, I may text my co-worker first to see if she’s carpooling that day.  I hate standing up on the L, plus it costs $2.25 each way.  And did I mention heated seats?  ;)

Did anyone bike home in the snow??  If so, my hat is off to you.

 

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Video: Chicago’s 18th Street Protected Bike Lane

Yesterday I was in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s southside for the Women-Who-Bike brunch.  I decided to take the Lakefront Path for the 10 mile ride home, which I could reach by taking the new protected bike lane on S. 18th Street from Canal to Clark Streets, connecting the Pilsen and Chinatown areas.  This protected bike lane is one of three in Chicago and exists in part thanks to Alderman Solis (read more about his Ward’s projects and his recent trip to the Netherlands here).

Here is a quick video I made of the entire half mile long lane, sped 250%.

Grid Chicago reported on the construction of this bike lane in November.  Progress has been made since then, but I assume (hope) that the lane is not finished because there is no protection on the grated bridge and not much treatment for the intersections.  The riding experience for new bicyclists could be stressful at those points.  Overall, the protected bike lane was a pleasure to ride and certainly an improvement, although not as thoroughly executed as the Kinzie protected bike lane.

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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. :)

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Introducing LGRAB Podcasts!

Trisha and I have started a cycling-themed podcast series!  We’ll talk to creators of sites and bicycles we like, other bloggers, each other and more.

I encourage you to subscribe to the LGRAB Podcasts for free via iTunes to stay up-to-date on all future podcasts.  Simply click on the link, then “view in iTunes” and “Subscribe.”

Our first podcast is an interview with John Greenfield and Steven Vance, co-creators and writers of Chicago-based sustainable transportation blog Grid Chicago. Both have past insider experience working for the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Active Transportation Alliance, and their mission with Grid is to be a platform for critical analysis and thought on issues related to progressive and sustainable transportation.

  

{L: Steven Vance, R: John Greenfield.  Photos courtesy of Grid Chicago}

In the podcast I chat with Steve and John about writing Grid, how to make your voice heard by those in power, and the future of bicycling infrastructure in Chicago.  We had such a great conversation, I had to edit almost an hour and a half down to a more manageable 27 minutes.

You can listen to the interview below or visit our iTunes page to download the podcast.

Visit Grid Chicago
Visit our iTunes page

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More about skirts and helmets

The past two days, I have worn skirt and blouse outfits similar to what I wore in my last post, with a helmet, and drivers were pretty nice, but not as totally nice as before. Again, maybe it’s in my head, but it’s interesting to ponder.

For anyone who is “meh” about the Mary Poppins Effect talk because they don’t experience it – Mr. Dottie is right there with you and he’s perfectly content to ride a faster bike in construction-site work clothes, thankyouverymuch.

In an unrelated observation, the skirt below came down to my mid-calf, but was nowhere near my back wheel when I sat on the saddle. There are very few skirts that require a skirt guard, so I encourage those apprehensive about biking in mid-length skirts to give it a try. Just make sure your skirt is not touching your back wheel before setting off.

Hey, today’s Friday – happy Friday! I’m excited for the weekend because Trisha, Melissa and Erin, another friend from Nashville, will be in Chicago. I don’t know if Erin will be up for riding in the city, but I know Trisha and Melissa will be. This is when having multiple bikes comes in handy. I’ll be a mini bike share system. :)

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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.}

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A Little Courtesy and Sunshine

Picking up on Trisha’s post yesterday about craziness and courtesy on the road, I have a little courtesy to share from this evening’s commute.

On my way home, an SUV driver stopped for three older gentlemen at a crosswalk.  This is so rare in Chicago, that could be the whole story, but there’s more.  I was biking from the other direction and also stopped. Two of the gentlemen shuffled by and the third saw me waiting and gave a polite bow while motioning for me to go ahead of him. I thanked him with a smile and set off, as another in the group called out, “Hey, want to take me with you?” Ha, cute! (Note to men: do not attempt unless you are in a group of adorable elderly men, otherwise you’ll just be a creepy.)

A few miles later, I heard a little girl say to her mom, “I like that bicycle!” as I passed. Aw, double cute!  Ladies of all ages appreciate the Betty Foy.

Another plus from the day – the weather was glorious. I enjoyed basking in the morning sun as it rose over Lake Michigan.

The sweet little interactions and the beautiful weather made up for the traffic craziness of the day, like the four drivers who opened car doors in my path. Good thing I was not riding a little closer to the parked cars, sheesh.

Anyway, a little courtesy and sunshine go a long way to brighten my day.  :)

 

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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.

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Why I Ride a Bike

The weather is warm and sunny, the flowers are blossoming, and the traffic is calm on my quiet side street route. Riding my bike is so much nicer than squeezing onto the L train or being trapped in a car.




Even if the rest of my day is not so great, at least I know that I will enjoy my commute to and from work. (Even if I cut my head off with my self-timed photos :)) That’s why I ride my bike. Most assume it’s an environmental or health statement, but those factors are secondary to having a happy commute. If it were not enjoyable, I would not do it.

Why do you ride a bike?

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In Search of the Most Peaceful Commute

While I wait for Chicago to be covered in gloriously safe bike infrastructure, I have to work with what I’ve got. As some mentioned in the comments to yesterday’s post, small side streets can provide a calm and safe way to travel through the city – no special bike infrastructure needed. Using such routes to get from one place to another may require practice, familiarity and extra time, but it can be well worth the trouble for those who value peacefulness above efficiency.

Over the past two years, when it no longer made sense to take the car-free Lakefront Trail on a regular basis due to the location of my new office, I have been adjusting my 5-mile commute route from the efficiency side of the scale to the peacefulness side of the scale.

Happy to be cycling on Chicago's peaceful side streets this week

I started with the most obvious and direct bikeable route: a left and a right and I was there (Lincoln to Wells). Most of the ride consisted of a diagonal street with either sharrows or bike lanes the whole way, popular with both bikes and cars. Unfortunately, vehicle traffic moved quickly and there were lots of trucks, buses and giant six-way intersections.  After a while I grew tired of the traffic and aggression, such as drivers shouting at me to get out of the way or just generically being awful. The stress was really getting to me.

Looking for an alternative, it occurred to me last summer to sacrifice some efficiency and try taking slightly calmer streets. The new route amounted to a right, left, right, left and right, instead of a straight diagonal (basically, Southport to Armitage to Wells). I still had to deal with congestion, often riding down the bike lane past grid-locked vehicle traffic, but the cars moved considerably slower, the intersections were smaller, and the bike lanes more consistent.

This route served me well for a year, but lately I have been craving a more peaceful commute. Participating in the super calm Critical Lass rides helped me realize that Chicago has lots of small, tree-lined, neighborhood streets to ride, as long as one is willing to meander: these magically quiet streets have a tendency to end or become one-way suddenly. For the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with different side streets, backtracking and exploring a lot.

As of today, I’ve finally discovered The Calmest Route from My Neighborhood to My Office (patent pending). My route is now: right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left. That is no exaggeration: I typed while visualizing my ride with my eyes closed.

The difference in my stress level from my first commute route to my current commute route is night and day, with my current route being virtually stress-free. Of course, this comes at a cost. First, it takes about 10 minutes longer than more obvious route. Second, the potholes are especially bad on side streets. Third, this route probably won’t be an option during the winter, when side streets are neglected by snow plows. Finally, I have to be extra cautious at each block’s four-way stop sign because drivers in neighborhoods love to roll through stops, unless there’s another ton vehicle staring them down. Despite these costs, the calmness of the route is worth it to me.

I wish I’d thought of adjusting my route like this a long time ago, but I guess such a paradigm shift is obvious only in hindsight.

I know this kind of meandering commuting is not for everyone, but I’m curious: does anyone else seek out the most peaceful routes possible?

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Chicago’s “Crackdown” on Bicyclists

Last week, I logged onto the Chicago Tribune website and the headline proclaimed: Police Crackdown on Bicyclists: 240 Warnings, 1 Ticket.

That got the public’s attention. Readers left 340 comments on the article and recommended it on Facebook 1,000 times. The majority of the comments were ridiculously anti-bicyclist and rejoiced at the comeuppance.

And all of that is good. I’m totally cool with it.

Because the crackdown took place at the very intersection where the city is quickly constructing its first protected bike lane and bike box. NYC is experiencing an absurd “backlash” for its installation of protected bike lanes. Chicago is smartly working from the get-go to prevent that.

By conducting this crackdown, the city effectively countered the #1 instantaneous complaint drivers have about providing a safe place for people to cycle: that people on bikes don’t deserve anything because they do not follow traffic laws.

So maybe 1,000 people are cackling about cyclists on Facebook (probably from their iPhones while driving, but I digress). Awesome. I hope they spread the word far and wide that the police are enforcing traffic laws for bicyclists.

And really the “crackdown” consisted of bike cops and CDOT bike ambassadors thanking cyclists who stopped at the red light and educating cyclists who ran the red light. Another difference between NYC and Chicago is that Chicago’s crackdown may actually succeed in improving bicyclist, pedestrian, and driver safety, a difference that Bike Snob NYC noted. Bicyclists should stop at red lights and I wish more of them would.

I highly recommend watching this 1 minute news clip about the enforcement. Then tell me: crackdown? Not really, but please continue using that word with the masses, news media. Your hyperbolic headlines could only help.

What are your thoughts about bicycle “crackdowns” – are they ever a good thing? Where would you draw the line between educating cyclists and unfairly singling them out? Do you think “crackdowns” help with public opinion in support of safe cycling infrastructure?

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Chicago’s First Protected Bike Lane + Bike Box

Yesterday, while waiting at a red light on my bike, a woman with a baby on the back of her bike rolled up and stopped next to me. I waved and cooed to the baby until he smiled. Then his mother said, “Say hi,” and he did, flapping his chubby little hand, eyes shining under his helmet. The light turned green, she told me to go ahead and I told her to have a good day.

My friend Ash's daughter, whom I photographed last week. Not the baby I saw yesterday, but equally adorable.

In an ideal world, sweet meetings like that would happen all the time. In reality, I very rarely see anyone bicycling on Chicago streets with a child. Even as more and more people, men and women, start bicycling for transportation, the venture still seems risky to most. The only way to get a substantial amount of people to bicycle in the city, especially parents with children, is to provide safe, separated infrastructure. Chicago needs protected bike lanes.

For 3 years I have been bicycling in Chicago on a daily basis. During this time, I have seen how easily and cheaply the city’s streets could be adjusted to accommodate protected bike lanes. (Easy and cheap relative to all the other construction projects going on. I know all of Portland’s bike infrastructure was created for the same cost as one highway interchange). This knowledge left me perpetually frustrated, because no one with power in Chicago seemed to care, despite the fact that bicyclists make up ~1/4 of the traffic along my commute route.

This week, Chicago’s disgraceful apathy has ended. All in the past 3 days, new Mayor Emanuel announced the first protected bike lane, CDOT started construction, and the scheduled complete date is next week. The city’s first protected bike lane will be on Kinzie Avenue where it crosses Milwaukee Avenue, leading into downtown. Currently, bicyclists make up 22% of the traffic along this stretch.

There are a few different ways bike lanes can be “protected.”  For this project, the street pattern will follow this order: sidewalk, curb, bike lane, painted buffer zone, parallel car parking, motor vehicle travel lane. While visiting the construction site, Steven Can Plan noticed that they are also building a bike box (where bicyclists can wait in front of motor vehicles at red lights) and a bike-only left turning lane at a big intersection.  Those are also firsts for Chicago.

You can watch the Mayor’s press conference below:

View more videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com.

[You have to sit through a car commercial before watching the press conference.]

Some choice quotes from Mayor Emanuel:

I want Chicago to be the bike friendliest city in the nation.

Speaking of the role bicycling plays in the city, he pointed out three factors for the future:

1) another means of transportation
2) people can do it with safety
3) as we attract businesses to Chicago, an integrated biking system to and from work is essential to the type of workers I want to see in the city of Chicago.

He noted that bicycling is:

Both an economic development essential tool and it adds to a quality of life that is essential to the city.

This particular project is only 1/2 a mile. But the Mayor announced that Chicago will build 100 MILES OF PROTECTED BIKE LANES OVER THE NEXT 4 YEARS!

Yes, you read that right: 100 miles of protected bike lanes.

Obviously, I am excited about these developments. My approval is conditioned on the city following through with its promises here, but for the first time since I started bicycling in Chicago 3 years ago, I’m seeing real and positive change.

I encourage everyone in Chicago to write the Mayor and thank him for his trailblazing support of safe bicycling infrastructure. Also, even more importantly, reach out to your Alderman to state your strong support for protected bike lanes and bike boxes. On June 21, I will attend an Active Trans Social with my Alderman Waguespack to voice my support. You can attend or organize a social in your neighborhood with the help of Active Trans.

{For much more detailed information on the Kinzie Avenue project, check out Steven Can Plan. He’s been doing an excellent job of reporting on this project and others around the city.}

{For more information about cycling with children, check out Kidical Mass.}

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A Lovely Bike Commute?

My bike commutes this week have been lovely, full of sunshine and flowers and blue skies.  That’s what I was thinking, anyway…

Then I read Sam’s “Bike to Work Week” post, which is hilarious (as always), but sadly too true.  You gotta read the post yourself, but basically it has me wondering how lovely my bike commutes really are – objectively.

I have so much experience riding in the city now, the stress mostly rolls off my back: speeding SUVs buzzing me, car doors flung open in my path, cabs idling in the bike lane.  All of that craziness is a dim hum in the background for me, but a new bike commuter would be totally freaked out – and with good reason.

But there’s a lot to be said for sticking with bicycling long enough to get over those initial freak-outs.  Because, as Sam discusses, once you move beyond all that, bicycling “will be the most blissful state of existence you will ever know.”  That’s where I’m coming from when I rhapsodize about my lovely bike commutes every day.  Totally subjective.  :)


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A Shared Bike-Cab Moment

Q: What would cause a bicyclist and a cab driver to share a moment in the middle of a busy Chicago intersection?

A: Nearly falling victim to a supremely stupid and dangerous move by another driver.

On my way home yesterday, as I waited in the middle of an busy three-way intersection to turn left – my light was green but through traffic from the other direction had the right-of-way – a big SUV pulled next to me and then awkwardly inched itself half-way in front of me at a turning angle, effectively cutting me off and placing me dangerously within its turning radius. I was thinking, “What the hell, moron??” and had to walk my bike backward. (True to stereotypical form, the driver was a woman talking on a cell phone.)

We sat there as one, two, three cars went by coming from the other direction. There was one more car, a cab, in the line of right-of-way traffic. Our light was still green. Shockingly, the SUV driver turned left right in front of the cab. She did not dart out quickly; she simply turned as if she had all the time in the world.

For a split second I was sure the cab would crash into the her and both would crash into me. Thankfully, the cab driver managed to stop in time by slamming on his brakes and the SUV continued on as if nothing strange had happened, leaving the cab driver and me stopped in the middle of the busy intersection, staring at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief. Happy to have someone to commiserate with, he made a “What was she thinking????” gesture and I responded with a “I have no idea, but that shit was crazy!” gesture. We shared a moment. Then he continued straight and I turned left, strangely giddy for the rest of my ride home.

I deal with so much ridiculousness on my bike every day, connecting with a driver about the confirmed idiocy of another driver was oddly comforting. It reassured me that I am not the crazy one. It also reminded me that cars are not my natural enemy; rather, stupid drivers are a common enemy to all. I prefer to focus on that part of the incident, rather than think too much about the fact that there are so many drivers distracted by cell phones that they don’t know or even care what they’re doing on the roads. After all, if the cab had crashed into this woman, she probably would not have been injured in her huge SUV and I’m sure she has insurance, so why should she care enough to follow the law and not talk on her cell phone while driving? That would be terribly inconvenient.

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