Posts Tagged ‘car vs. bike’

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. :)

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.}

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.  :)

 

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.

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?

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?

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?

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.}

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.  :)


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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