Tag Archives: Chicago

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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Summer Joyriding Plans

So far this summer, I have been riding my bike about the same amount as during the winter.  That is to say – a lot.  I bike to work daily, of course, and to get anywhere else I need to go.  But I need to start joyriding, now that I can stay outside for longer than an hour without turning into a dotsicle.  :)

Me on a mini-joyride to Humboldt Park

I need to create a plan to enjoy the great outdoors with my bike during the next two months of warm weather.  I definitely want to go camping again, like last year. And I’ve always wanted to take the long ride to the Chicago botanic gardens.

Any other ideas?  What joyrides have you taken in the past and what do you have planned for this summer?

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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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June’s Women-who-bike Picnic Brunch!

Sun, women, bikes, brunch, sangria, fresh mown grass = a perfect Sunday morning.  This month’s women-who-bike brunch was a picnic on the lakefront, with everyone bringing a dish to share – and boy were there some delicious baked goods!  Although Chicago has scores of great brunch restaurants, the picnic was so much better than being cooped up indoors.  After about 8 months of cold, Chicagoans know how to enjoy the summer!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves now.













Thank you, awesome women, for choosing to spend your Sunday morning with the group!
As always, women in the Chicago area who would like to join the brunch (or one of the happy hours – next one on Monday, June 13) should email me at LGRAB@letsgorideabike.com.
Hope to see you there!  :)
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Summer Geek Gear

Summer heat has finally come to Chicago. Although fresh summer cycling is possible, especially if I ride super slowly, with temperatures in the 80’s F, riding in gym clothes is now easier than riding in work clothes. This week I traded my chic suits and tweed skirts for geeky bike commuter gear.

I described my full “LGRAB team kit” last year and this summer it’s pretty much the same, albeit with new sunglasses (am I the only one who always loses sunglasses?).

When I arrive at work, I pop into the ladies room and freshen up with an Action Wipe before putting on my work clothes.

But – oops! On Wednesday I totally forgot to carry a change of work clothes with me! I rifled through my office and unearthed a wrinkled blouse and skirt that had been waiting for a trip to the dry cleaners. Crisis averted, although I looked like a ragamuffin all day.

Getting into the routine of packing extra clothes will require an adjustment period. :)

Has anyone else changed their bike commuting routine for the summer (or winter, for Aussies out there)?

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Wedding Anniversary Bike Date

Earlier this week, Greg and I celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary in a typical way for us: eating, drinking and bicycling. I ended up working late and took the fastest and most direct route from downtown to Lincoln Square. By the time I got to the restaurant (Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro) I was sweaty and amped from all the traffic, but after freshening up quickly in the ladies’ room, I felt great. Although for the life of me, I could not find my comb (don’t you hate it when that happens?). Having a date who also bikes everywhere and knows the deal is helpful. :)

The first dish pictured above is macaroni and cheese bites over goat cheese fondu. Yes, it was delicious and the start of a two hours of yumminess.

Okay, so this bike date was really just about the food and drinks. To see lots of bike dates that actually focus on bicycling, check out Simply Bike’s Bike Date Series. One of my goals this summer is to do a proper bike date for the series.

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Critical Lass a Lovely Success!

Chicago’s first Critical Lass ride was a great success!  The weather was perfect, the route calm, and 25 cool women showed up.

We met at the Polish Triangle in Wicker Park.  Once the group gathered, our fearless leader Ash welcomed everyone.

I said “hi” to some old friends from the Women Who Bike brunch group.

A random guitar guy serenaded us with an impromptu song about bikes.

And then we were off!


We stopped at all red lights …

And stop signs.

We biked along quiet side streets, passing lots of big green parks and enjoying the smell of fresh mown grass.

After a fun and leisurely five mile ride, we ended at Simone’s in Pilsen.  We managed the parking situation by piling all in together and locking to each other.



Finally, we hung out for a couple of hours, enjoying dinner and kick-ass cocktails.  :)  My 9-mile ride home from Pilsen at 10 pm was also lots of fun, since I had several riding companions for most of the way.

The ride and gathering were so much fun. I plan to attend the ride EVERY THIRD THURSDAY! I hope to see you there. Spread the word!

Keep up with Critical Lass on Facebook.

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Bike Fancy: Chicagoans Looking Good on Bikes

I am enjoying watching Martha’s Bike Fancy archives grow, with a new photo every day of the week showcasing Chicago’s “people looking good on bikes.” Chicago women are awesome and have an overall aesthetic that is very different from Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

Martha on the left, a featured cyclist on the right

My favorite aspect of Bike Fancy is that all of the photos are posed portraits with a bit of information about the rider, sometimes a mini interview. Hearing from the women themselves and knowing that they agreed to pose for the pictures adds another dimension to the site.   While stopping a stranger on the street and asking if you can take her photo to put on the internet may sound awkward, if anyone can get someone to agree to this request, it’s Martha.  :)

Martha at work

In the photo above that I took after the last Women Who Bike Brunch, Martha is writing the contact information of the woman she flagged down. And this is the beautiful picture that resulted:

Image (c) Martha Williams of Bike Fancy

That’s how we roll in Chicago.  Check out all the rest at Bike Fancy!

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Introducing Chicago’s Critical Lass Ride

I am pleased to introduce a new addition to Chicago’s growing women-bicycling scene: Critical Lass!  Every third Thursday, 6:00 pm, at the Polish Triangle.

The ride’s name is self explanatory: think Critical Mass but exclusively for women and with an extra dose of friendliness.

The Critical Lass concept was – I think – created last year by Loop Frame Love in Edmonton, Canada.   Girls and Bicycles and Breaking Chains Taking Lanes also participate in the Edmonton ride.  Now my friend Ash of One Less Minivan has picked up the idea and worked to bring the ride to life in Chicago.  As far as I know, Chicago is the second city to host a ride using the Critical Lass name (always the Second City).

From the Critical Lass Chicago Facebook page:

Critical Lass is a monthly 5-8 mile bike ride exclusively for women/trans cyclists. In situations where childcare is not available to you, children who can ride independently while maintaining a 10MPH pace and younger kids in bike seats/trailers will be welcome to join the ride.

We meet on the third Thursday of each month at Polish Triangle (Division/Ashland/Milwaukee) in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Begin arriving at 6pm for a 6:30 departure.

The route will change monthly, always ending at a restaurant or bar for drinks, nosh and conversation.

I’m excited!  Hope to see many of you Chicagoans there.  If not this month, then June, July, August, September, etc.  :)

{p.s. Wondering how to find – or create – a bicycling community in your own town?  Check out Simply Bike for some great tips.}

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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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May’s women-who-bike brunch

May’s women who bike brunch last Sunday was great fun, as always! It marked our first outdoor dining experience, on the rooftop of The Twisted Spoke.

There was plenty of bike ogling and shop talk, of course.

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Also lots of general hanging out, which is the main purpose of the brunch.

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One lady showed us this awesome pannier that she sewed herself. How cute!

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And finally, good drinks and grub.  Yes, I scarfed that entire platter down.  I need my energy for biking!  ;)

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See you next month? Hope so!

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If you’re in Chicago and would like to join our next brunch – or if you’re in a different city and have questions about starting a similar get-together – email me at LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike.com.

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The Lakefront Trail in Spring

When I got on my bike Friday morning, I made a last-minute decision to take the Lakefront Trail instead of my usual street route, since I was not feeling up to car traffic and was not in a rush.

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The Lakefront Trail in spring is totally different from the Lakefront Trail I wrote about in winter.

First, getting on the trail was a challenge, as recent thunderstorms created a moat in the underpass access. The water was very deep, so I backtracked up the ramp and biked three blocks south to the next access point, among heavy car and truck traffic merging onto Lakeshore Drive. Not my ideal route, but I managed safely by acting like a car and taking the lane.

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I was annoyed by the difficulty, since the whole point of riding the trail was to take it easy due to my illness. When Coco and I made it to the lakefront, though, my annoyance dissolved. The cool air was refreshing off Lake Michigan, a huge improvement from the hot-sun-on-blacktop feeling of the streets. Lots of people were out enjoying the beautiful Chicago morning.

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A couple of miles along, I encountered heavy trucks working on the trail. This was a pleasant surprise because they had paved over all the chunks of missing concrete and horrible craters that formed during the winter. Smooth sailing!

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I enjoyed my easy ride so much, I totally forgot I was sick until I tried to sing along to my fav Kate Nash song and couldn’t make it through one line without losing my breath. So it’s official: riding Coco slowly is less taxing than singing along to my iPod.

After emerging from the trail for the final 1.5 miles on downtown streets, I popped my helmet back on, blew my nose and said “cheese!” with Coco.

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Looking back on naive, Friday morning Dottie, I almost feel bad for her. She had no idea that she’d end up working late and then biking home along congested streets in a harsh headwind and temperatures that fell 30 degrees from the 70’s to the 40’s, without the benefit of gloves or earmuffs and with a hacking cough. But at least she could go home and sleep 12 hours, dreaming of her ideal Chicago spring morning ride.

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Bicycle Favoritism

Like a parent, I really can’t choose a favorite among my three bikes Oma, Betty and Coco. But I do go through periods when I heavily favor one over the others. Right now, it’s Betty’s time in the spotlight.

For the past month and a half, I’ve been riding Betty Foy exclusively. (April 7 was our 2-year anniversary!) I missed her so much during winter, as soon as the ice cleared and I got her tuned up, she became my ride of choice day after day. She’s so fun and breezy. I haven’t ridden Oma since the weather cleared two months ago because she still has studded tires and I hadn’t ridden Coco since…let me check the archives…March 31.

That changed on Wednesday, when I pulled Coco out for the day.

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And boy, am I glad I did! She’s a lovely bike and those Fat Frank tires are so cushy. I feel different when I’m perched atop her riding straight up. Once I break in the Brooks saddle, the comfort level will be perfection.

As for Oma – getting her studded tires swapped out is on my to-do list for this weekend. So Betty may have to take a back seat again for a while.

On another note, after all my talk of allergies, I finally went to a doctor yesterday and learned that I don’t have allergies at all (good!), but a two week virus (basically a bad cold). I plan to bike today even though I feel like crap because I can’t stand a second day on the L. (There’s a double meaning with “stand” – get it?)

Happy Friday!

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Blooming Bicyclists

If anyone got tired of me talking about snow during winter, prepare to get tired of me talking about flowers now. :) Seriously, check out these magnolias! How can this not make you happy?




Other than the severe allergies I’m suffering from, my bike commutes have been lovely. Today was the first bona fide hot day of the year. Bare legs, short sleeves and I still sweated. How novel.

Another novelty was the large number of bicyclists accompanying me. Yesterday at a stop light (North & Wells) I counted 12 of us. We are taking over. Very cool.

Bicyclists are blooming like flowers in Chicago! How about where you live?

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Cherry Blossoms, Finally!

Cherry blossoms are finally starting to bloom, a month later than last year.

That is all. :)

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Spring? Not here.

I am stubbornly dressing in happy spring clothes, but had to layer on a coat, earmuffs, winter boots and mittens for today’s 35 degree weather.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my bicycle rides. My commute was low key and I was happy not to be stuck on the L train again.

My only complaint is that the trees don’t have green leaves yet, let alone cherry blossoms. Le sigh. When the flowers finally start blooming, my cameras and I will be ready!

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Happy Friday!

This has been a splendid week for cycling.  During the past few days, I have encountered:

  • Countless other bicyclists on the streets.
  • Two friends during my commute (Hi Jami and Elizabeth!).
  • A mother riding a box trike with two kids in the front.
  • An impromptu happy hour with seven of the lovely Women Who Bike.
  • No particularly aggressive or wildly stupid drivers.
  • Warm weather!

I’m especially happy to see all the other bicyclists.  We’re a real presence out there.  :)

Still waiting for flowers, though!

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A Late Blooming Spring

So far this year, I have not seen any flowers. The temperature is finally warming, but the scenery remains bleak. How disappointing!

I decided to check the LGRAB archives to determine when I could expect beautiful cherry blossoms and I was shocked to see that by this time last year, Chicago was filled with flowers. I guess Spring 2011 is a “late bloomer.”

April 2, 2010 – A Good Friday Commute


April 3, 2010 – I Never Get Tired of My Bike

April 4, 2010 – Simple Spring Enjoyment

April 10, 2010 – Cherry Blossom Oma

April 11, 2010 – Black and White Spring

I’m going to take a bike ride this warm Sunday and hunt for flowers. :)

Is anyone else still waiting impatiently for spring?

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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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Air Pollution and Bicycling

Breathing behind the exhaust pipes of cars, trucks and SUVs is one of the worst parts of bike commuting. Although passengers in motor vehicles breathe in extra pollution from the toxic chemicals leaching off the car interior itself, a recent study found that bicyclists in Brussels breathe in 5 times more air pollution than drivers or pedestrians. On the other hand, I remember a study that declared bicyclists breathe in less air pollution, but I cannot find a link to it now. What I know for sure is my own experience and I feel like I breathe in a lot of pollution while cycling.

Air Pollution - Image (c) Tom Krymkowski

This subject is on my mind due to a recent experience. Yesterday morning a truck, similar to the one pictured above, passed me and belched out a horrific plume of thick, black smoke from the top. The plume was at least 5 times as big and thick as the picture above. I almost pulled off the road, but there was no escaping, so I ducked my body over my handlebars and held my breath until I made it through the other side. The truck continued hurtling from block to block, releasing a disgusting plume of smoke as it accelerated from each stop sign, before mercifully turning onto another street. Surely, this truck would never pass a city inspection, but nevertheless it was out there on the road, spewing its disgustingness around.

This incident, although rare, was troubling. I hate to think how much pollution I breathe in while cycling through the city. I often say that I love cycling because it’s a chance to get out in the “fresh air,” but I shouldn’t kid myself: the air is not so fresh in Chicago. That is a depressing fact.

I am not sure what to do or say about this problem. Complaining about trucks in general would be hypocritical, since they carry food to my grocery store, deliver my packages, sweep my streets and remove my garbage. Living in the Bike Lane wrote about this problem last year and offered some solutions for both individuals and cities.

What have your experiences with air pollution been? I’m especially interested to read the responses of the country mice versus the city mice.

Hopefully, air pollution will not progress to the point where bicyclists feel the need to don surgical masks, as they do in other countries.

{Image courtesy of Tom Krymkowski via Flickr}

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