Tag Archives: civic duty

May’s Critical Lass Ride

I missed the past couple of Critical Lass rides, so I was happy to catch up with the group for May’s ride.  Coolest bicycling group in Chicago, for sure, including a couple of baby-bicyclists.  We started in Roscoe Village and enjoyed a leisurely ride through Lakeview and Lincoln Park, ending at a Mexican restaurant for margaritas.

Many thanks to our fearless leader Ash, pictured first below.

We got rained on a little during the ride, but hail and lightening waited until we were safely at the restaurant and finished by the time we departed for our rides home.  The goddesses were on our side.

Join or keep up with Chicago’s Critical Lass Rides on Facebook.

 

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Bike·a·Bee: urban beekeeping meets city cycling

I recently received an email from Jana Kinsman, a long-time reader and year-round Chicago cyclist, about a very cool project she is beginning with the help of Kickstarter called Bike·a·Bee.

With Bike·a·Bee, Jana aims to bring beehives to community gardens all around Chicago. She will be an urban beekeeper who visits every hive herself by bike. The entire operation will be car-free.

Jana Kinsman of Bike·a·Bee, photo by John Greenfield of Grid Chicago

She had me at bicycles and honeybees, but I especially enjoyed hearing that “honeybees are a female-run society. The queen bee is in charge, and all of the worker bees are female. Drones, the males, are essentially around for mating purposes :)”

Love it.

In order to make all this work, Jana needs to raise money to pay for the operation, including a bike trailer and beehives. Her goal is $7,000 and she must raise the entire amount by February 7th.

This is the kind of stuff I want to see in my community, so I decided to support the project personally as a bike trailer backer. When the project gets going, there will be an LGRAB logo on the trailer. Fun!

Anyone can become a backer by investing $1 or more to help get the project going. Other rewards for becoming a backer of the Bike·a·Bee Kickstarter project including bee postcards, bee stickers, bee posters, and bee honey! Plus, you’ll get the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with helping a project start and watching it grow.

By helping fund Bike·a·Bee, you are casting a vote for sustainability and urban agriculture as much as you are earning some sweet gifts! As Bike·a·Bee launches, we’ll begin creating webisodes to document our process and share the story. You’ll be there as we set up our first hives in the spring, check on the bees throughout the summer, harvest honey in the early fall, and tuck them in for the winter. You’ll be with us from the start because, without your support, a project of this scope wouldn’t be possible.

As of this posting, she has raised $6,236 of her $7,000 goal.

Let’s help push her to her goal and beyond!

{For more information about Jana and her project, read the excellent interview by John Greenfield on Grid Chicago.}

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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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Large Scale Bike-Sharing System Announced for Chicago!

Imagine my surprise when I visited the main page of the Chicago Tribune this evening and saw the big lead story: City to rent thousands of bicycles.  Apparently, city officials just announced plans for a large scale bike-sharing system.  Oh yes yes yes!!

Mr. Dottie uses Paris's Velib bike-sharing system

The system is still in the planning stages and a company has not yet been picked to implement it, but it’s expected to start in the summer of 2012, with 3,000 bikes at 300 stations around the city, most 1/4 of a mile apart in the most dense areas. By 2014, the city hopes to add 2,000 more bikes and 200 more stations.  The system will pay for itself with membership fees (only $75/year with the first 30 minutes free) and sponsorships, along with federal congestion-relief funding.

I love the messaging going out to explain the system.  The article starts thusly:

Transferring from a train to a bus stuck in traffic is often the most frustrating and slowest way to finish a commute, prompting Chicago officials on Wednesday to start the wheels rolling on a new “transit option.”

Discussing how the bike share system will be aimed at all citizens, even those who do not currently ride a bike, the new transportation director, Gabe Klien, says “We view it as a basic form of transportation, but also a fun way to get around.” The article also compares it to the beloved i-Go car-sharing system, which will help regular people understand how a bike-share could be useful to them.

The article’s description of the bikes made me chuckle, because it totally mirrors what’s so great about my Dutch bike.

‘The new bikes will have an upright seating position for riders, a step-through frame to make mounting and dismounting easy, wide tires and a built-in LED-lighting system,’ he said. Other features will include at least three gear speeds, cushioned seats, chain guards to keep lubricant off clothing and fenders above both wheels to prevent water on the pavement from splashing onto the riders.

I am so excited about this and what it means for the future of Chicago as a bike-friendly city. I used to be doubtful of the efficacy of bike-sharing systems, until I visited Paris last year. The Velib system is amazing and, of the huge number of bicyclists on the streets of Paris, at least half of them were riding Velib bicycles. I got the sense that the city was pushed to become more bike-friendly and install new infrastructure as a response to the huge amount of bicyclists resulting from Velib. Could that happen in Chicago? I’m going to say – YES!

Read Trisha’s account of our Velib adventures HERE.  Read the whole article at the Chicago Tribune HERE.  Highly recommended reading. A+ to the Chicago Tribune: the article relays the facts and avoids manufacturing any awful debates.

Do you think a bike-sharing system can change a city?  Would you like to see one where you live?

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A Sorry Excuse for a Bike Route

One of the most popular and vital bike routes from downtown Chicago to neighborhoods on the north side is Lincoln Avenue. I’ve read that 25-40% of the rush hour traffic on Lincoln is people on bikes. I certainly see lots of bicyclists along the way.

One day last week I decided to take this route to work, since I was on a tight schedule and Lincoln Avenue is by far the most direct and quickest route. Perhaps I have been spoiled by my super long and winding but super calm route of side-streets, but I was appalled by the situation on Lincoln Avenue. The cars sped from red light to red light, the huge intersections were like gladiator trials for bicyclists and pedestrians, car doors flung open left and right, buses heaved, and large trucks blocked the bike lanes on every block.

At one point, I was going straight through an intersection with a green light and a driver turned left riiiight in front of me. I looked at him in horror and saw that he was holding a document up in front of his face, reading it. What the what?!? And last Friday, my husband was side-swiped by a driver who veered into the bike lane. His pannier bore the brunt of the impact (with a big mark to show for it) and he was able to keep his bike upright. The driver had the decency to stop, apologize, and ask if he was alright, but maybe drivers could LOOK FIRST?? Pretty simple.

I don't *think* I'm invisible

Greg is definitely visible

All this on a popular marked bike route, which is a joke (on us bicyclists). Despite the fact that people on bikes make up a substantial amount of the traffic, all we get is a strip of paint dangerously close to parked cars and some sharrows.

Door zone

Our beautiful bike lanes

If Chicago is going to be anything near a world-class bicycling city, this key route from the northside to downtown must be improved. While a buffered or protected bike lane would be the bees freakin’ knees, I know that will not happen. I would be content with colored bike lanes that extend through intersections, bike boxes at stop lights, fewer potholes, red light cameras, enforcement of cars parked in bike lanes, and attention-getting signage*. Such improvements should not be an afterthought. If a street is not safely servicing up to 40% of its daily users, the street is a failure.

Until then, I’ll be on the side streets, getting to work 15 minutes later but in a much better mood. And here, hoping that loud complaints will somehow beget real change.

*Something like, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO FLING OPEN YOUR CAR DOOR WHEN YOU HAVE NOT LOOKED TO SEE IF THAT ACTION WILL KILL ANYONE??????? I’m just brainstorming here, but you get the idea.

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Optimism

As someone who rides my bike everyday, I get a lot of questions and comments about bicycling in the city.  When people tell me (so many people do, especially women!) that they wish they could bike BUT they do not feel safe and are afraid of being hit by a car, I do not launch into a stump speech about the benefits of bicycling.  I may say something like, “It’s not so scary once you learn the rules of the road and get used to riding in traffic,” but I always say something like, “Yeah, it can be scary, I know.”

Although I’m a passionate advocate for transportation bicycling, I have to be understanding and realistic during those conversations.  I don’t think it’s right to pressure or judge people when it comes to bicycling because the transportation system is not set up for us.  While bicycling may be safer than driving a car statistically, statistics won’t help people feel less afraid as speeding SUVs whiz by them.

All of this is to say – I am optimistic that the day will come when I can respond to people with something like, “Oh, you should try out the network of protected bike lanes.  Just take X street to Y street straight into the Loop and you’ll be physically separated from cars the entire time.”  Or, even better, I’m optimistic that the day will come when I won’t have to respond at all because the first reaction to the idea of bicycling in Chicago won’t be FEAR.

From whence does my optimism spring?  From the direction the city is going in with bicycle infrastructure.

Today was the ribbon cutting ceremony for Chicago’s first protected bike lane and the announcement of the next location to get a protected bike lane: Jackson Boulevard from Damen to Halsted.  This is all part of new Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan for 100 miles of protected bike lanes during his first term.  The Mayor is working with new Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein to get this done.  (Read an interesting interview with Commissioner Klein at Grid Chicago.)

I know I should not get too excited about this plan because it’s only the beginning and there will surely be opponents.  But I’m choosing optimism.

What do you think?  Do you feel optimistic for the future of bicycling where you live?  How do you react when people tell you they’re too afraid to bike?

 


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June Critical Lass – all lasses welcome!

Chicago’s second Critical Lass ride rolled out last Thursday, this time with a group of nearly 30. Like the inaugural ride in May, the ride was so much fun. I love it!

As you can see in my photos below, it’s a women’s ride, plain and simple. All lasses are welcome! I guarantee you will be greeted by the friendliest group of women in Chicago.

(Saying goodbye to mom)










Chatting with others and riding side-by-side was easy due to the super calm route.  After about an hour, we ended at a bar in Logan Square, where I stayed for a couple of hours, enjoying beer and buffalo wing specials.

The next Critical Lass ride is July 21 – always the third Thursday of the month, starting at the Polish Triangle. I hope to see even more lasses there next time! :)

I bow down, once again, to our amazing leader Ash.

p.s. You can read about Edmonton’s June Critical Lass ride via Loop Frame Love and Girls and Bicycles.

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Bike to Work Week!

Last week was Bike to Work Week in Chicago. We celebrate it later than the rest of the country, waiting until June to make sure it does not snow. :)

I volunteered at an Active Transportation Alliance commuter pit stop one morning. The stop offered free coffee and Clif bars, various swag, tune-ups and general encouragement.  I mostly just stood around chatting with friends, though.

This particular pit stop was co-hosted by The Chainlink and REI.

Julie of The Chainlink worked the megaphone with great enthusiasm and cuteness.

People signed their names to a petition to support more protected bike lanes in Chicago, part of Active Trans’s new and exciting Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign.

My friend Sara happened to ride by on her way to work, looking naturally fabulous.  Hello!

And other office cycle chic peeps rolled by.

After a demanding morning of gabbing and drinking free Caribou coffee, I set off for the office myself.

I’m a fan of Bike to Work Week. Some people criticize the focus on commuting, while others proclaim it should be “bike to work week every week,” but the directed outreach seems to encourage new people to try transportation cycling. In fact, I first biked to work during the official Bike to Work Week three years ago.  It would be interesting to see statistics comparing the amount of bike commuters the week before, the week of, and the week after the event.

Was anyone else inspired by Bike to Work Week or a similar event as a newbie?  Do you have any co-workers who became interested in commuting after hearing about the event?

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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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Ride of Silence

Dear fellow cyclists,

As the Ride of Silence approaches — Wednesday night, May 18, 2011 for most communities — let’s take a moment now to reflect why we ride in silence and for whom. As someone commented on the Ride of Silence’s Facebook page – “the great thing about the Ride of SILENCE, it’s the same spoken in any language.” Silence is truly a universal and powerful language.

Below in the comments, please list the name of a bicyclist (could be yourself as a crash survivor) that you honor and wish to always be remembered.

Then please take a moment to also add this honoree info here (which will be collected by official ROS organizers for possible inclusion on the memorial page, which hopes to soon include injured cyclists). To see a list of all cyclists who have already been memorialized on the ROS site, visit the “In Memoriam” page.

Now – fellow bike bloggers… help us make another “silent” statement before the night of the ROS silent procession. Please re-post this exact post on your own blog asking the same of your readership (to comment with the names of bicyclists they honor and remember and to repost).

This is our “honor roll” for all bicyclists that the Ride of Silence (the global bike community) will never forget! We honor in this “silent” way all those who have been killed or injured by respectfully saying nothing at all… as we put a name to all cycling crash victims who we will never forget.

Please also add the names of cyclists we honor to the ROS Honor Roll database for statistical collection purposes –http://bit.ly/mnFne9

Let the Silence ROAR.

{Much love to our friend Elizabeth, who started this message at Bike Commuters, and who puts so much energy into organizing Chicago’s ride and spreading the message of remembrance.}

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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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Is Bicycling Political?

Old photo chosen for the red, white and blue

WBEZ asks this question and Julie Hochstadter answers.  For those of you who are not from Chicago, brief introductions: WBEZ is my beloved Chicago Public Radio, Julie is co-owner of The Chainlink and all-around awesome woman.

Julie’s take on the question: basically, bicycling is a political statement even if you don’t intend it to be because you’re doing something out of the norm.  Also, you’re saving the world.  ;)  But bicycling is also fun, practical, safe and fast.

I cannot embed the story, so read and listen here. The audio is only 3 minutes long.

What do you think: is bicycling political?

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Women in Motion

Streetsfilms created this wonderful short film, Women in Motion: New Lady Riders Reflect on NYC Cycling. The film highlights women who started riding their bikes only recently, inspired by the new infrastructure and growing number of other everyday cyclists.

Meanwhile, Steven Can Plan highlights numbers showing that the frequency of Chicago women riding their bikes to work is down this year.

Trisha and I have been bicycling for 2.5 years now. I suppose we’re slowly but surely becoming members of the old guard, but our message remains the same: anyone can start bicycling for transportation right now, even if they have never done it before. And the goal of sharing our experiences is to encourage more women to start and continue to ride bikes.

We bloggers can’t do this alone. As the news above from NYC and Chicago shows, safe bicycle infrastructure is a major factor in whether people will ride their bikes. If you agree, make sure to contact your government representatives and let them know how important bicycle infrastructure is to you!

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…and then news stories like this happen.

File this under “schlocky local news strikes again.”

I could not watch the entire video because I was shaking in rage from the opening line: “Bicyclists on the streets of Chicago face many dangers, but they may put themselves in that position and frequently frustrate others on the road.” (Next up on Channel 7 news – Domestic violence victims: why don’t they just leave the guy??)

This is how the mainstream media uses a few examples to twist reality and perpetuate false truths about bicyclists. I ride through Chicago every day and I see hundreds of bicyclists riding lawfully and courteously. Anyone could stand on the corner of downtown Chicago during rush hour and record footage of drivers and pedestrians breaking traffic laws, but no one’s broadcasting a story about how those who die in car crashes everyday are asking for it. This story is bullshit, total car-head on display.

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The macho discourse on city cycling

How much does the bike community’s own discourse on city cycling negatively affect the number and type of people who are willing to give life on two wheels a try?

This question has been swirling around my head since last week, when I read a guest post on Commute by Bike that offered 10 Rules for Urban Commuting. The rules are full of advice such as disobeying stop lights, being aggressive and never signaling. There is also solid advice about avoiding the door zone, not waiting to the right of stopped traffic and taking the lane. I disagree with a lot of the rules, but that’s fine: it’s not my list and I’m sure the style of riding works for the author and many others.

However, the macho tone of the article is endemic of a problem of the greater discourse on bicycling in the bike community. This wild west approach contributes to the fringe status of transportation cycling, both by repelling everyday people, especially women, and by reinforcing a culture that pits cyclists, drivers and pedestrians against each other.

When I first started bike commuting, I eagerly searched the web for tips and information, and this is the kind of advice I found everywhere – the kind that increased my apprehension about riding in the city and made me feel like I was not the type of person who should be attempting this. While I would have learned something from the “10 Rules,” the net effect may not have been helpful.

Me, a happy city cyclist {photo (c) Martha Williams}

I must not have been the only one who felt this way. The comments following the “10 Rules” post argued passionately both in favor of and against the rules. In response, the author followed up on his own blog by posting an 11th rule:

“I was struck by one curious and oft-repeated theme: the idea that those who ride bikes should assiduously avoid breaking traffic rules, because doing so makes motorists think badly of us.

For those afflicted with this way of thinking, I offer Rule 11:

If your priority is being seen as a “cycling role model” by drivers, you should not ride in the city.

Leaving aside the notion that riding safely and not making motorists think badly of us are mutually exclusive, I have a problem with this statement. I am not comfortable with advice aggressively telling people they should not ride in the city if X, Y or Z. I have enough experience with city cycling now to know what’s what, but this macho instruction would have been very off-putting to me when I was a beginner. What is a new bike commuter to take from such a statement: that to ride a bike in the city, one must abandon a lifetime of lawful behavior and reconcile oneself to pissing off drivers in a never-ending struggle to make it home alive? Sign me up!

Since new bike commuters are presumably the intended audience for these rules and other similar advice columns around the internet, I worry about how many potential cyclists are scared off by this kind of rhetoric. Someone kicking around the idea of bike commuting is already going out on a metaphorical limb and is likely hearing from family and co-workers that riding a bike is crazy and dangerous. It may not take much to push someone away from the notion completely. Certainly, safety is important and a new bicyclist must learn the rules of the road, but there is a way to broadcast that message without alienating most of the audience (I highly recommend the article, “How not to get hit by cars”).

Hopefully, some who are initially put off keep digging around the web and find advice that speaks to them and their situations. In the two and a half years since I first started my research as a new bike commuter, the number and quality of alternative resources has grown. Although the discourse is still largely controlled by the hardcore contingent, I am optimistic that as city cycling becomes more popular, the discussion will become more moderate.

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Your City: A Bicycling Survey

I love Chicago. I moved here 3 years ago for a job and because I wanted to live in a big city. I stay because there’s so much to do and I enjoy walking, biking and taking public transit everywhere.

Chicago’s bike infrastructure and sizable bike community are huge pluses. Compared to most North American cities, Chicago is advanced in this aspect, but the bar is not set very high. What I really want is serious European-style infrastructure with separated and protected bike lanes.

I’m optimistic about Chicago’s future as a bicycling city, but real progress lies in the far future. In the meantime, I wonder if a quiet town with light traffic would be better for bicycling, even if there is absolutely no infrastructure. And while I’m wondering, how about cities like Portland, Boulder, Minneapolis and Davis, those shining bike-cities?

Thinking about Chicago – what I like and don’t like and how bicycling plays a role – makes me interested in how others view their cities or towns. We’d love to hear about your experiences, if you feel like sharing.

1. What city do you live in?
2. What brought you to your city originally?
3. What is keeping you in your city?
4. Do you ever think about moving to a city that is more bike friendly?
5. Does the bike infrastructure (or lack thereof) play a major role in whether you will stay in your city?
6. Are you optimistic that your city’s bike infrastructure will improve?

Please leave your answers in the comments! We can all compare notes and learn more about each other’s experiences.

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First Suburban Critical Mass a Success!

The Critical Mass ride that Melissa organized was a huge success! Fifty people showed up for the first Critical Mass ride in Aurora, a town about an hour from Chicago. There was a mixed group, including families with children, city employees, young hip guys, lycra racers, older riders, chic cyclists and even a tall bike.

The ride was definitely a Critical Mass in all the best ways.  We had lots of cheery balloons, smiles, waves and “Thank You” signs. The reaction from drivers, pedestrians and other on-lookers was overwhelmingly positive.  Motor vehicle traffic was very minimally obstructed, as most of the route had two lanes going in each direction, making it easy for cars to go around the group.  (I did not witness any negativity at all, but if some drivers were upset by the ride, that is their problem. No progress is ever made without upsetting some people who prefer the status quo.)

Check out these pictures, which describe the ride much better than my words can.

…and there was the press.

Resulting in the third positive article about bicycling in one week in the local paper, “Fifty turn out for Sunday (Critical) Mass.” The next ride will be October 31.

Go Aurora!

Anyone out there living in other a smaller town or the suburbs should consider starting their own movement. All it takes is some people, bikes and passion.

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A Critical Mass: bicycling as a social movement and the importance of working together

If you ride your bike, you are part of an important social movement.  Regardless of your level of involvement in any organized effort, this movement would be impossible without your participation.  We, as people who ride bikes, are the only ones who will look out for the interests of bicycling as a viable form of transportation.  Most people who drive everywhere never give bicycling a second thought, and I’m not holding my breath for politicians lobbied by oil and car companies to take proactive steps.  Therefore, bicyclists working together and agreeing at least on the very basics (bikes = good) is essential.

Melissa rides her bike

The issue is on my mind this Friday morning because of great efforts that our friend Melissa has taken to create positive change in her suburban town of Auroral, Illinois – and the subsequent blowback she’s received from a sport cycling club and vehicular cyclists.  Melissa is not some political strategist, she’s a woman who rides her bike, feels that the roads should be much safer and is doing something about it.

There will be an organized ride in Aurora on Sunday afternoon that Melissa and others have publicized as a critical mass ride, Aurora’s first.  This ride has already garnered much attention, including an article in the town’s newspaper and a follow-up article today.  Both articles are pretty positive about the event and bicycles.  Unfortunately, the response from subsections of the bicycling community has not been as positive.

First, she received a message from a certain suburban cycling club, stating that they would never participate in or support an event that carried the Critical Mass name and did not follow all traffic laws.  They also suggested she get a permit from the city of Aurora – a permit to ride bikes in the street.  Then, in the follow-up article a vehicular cyclist is featured to give an argument against bike lanes.

“It’s not that Klenke doesn’t support better access for bikes, but he says, “Lanes don’t address education, training and attitude for cyclists and motorists to coexist. They’re a feel-good panacea that likely worsen the problems instead.” He referred me to the book “Effective Cycling” by John Forester, who, according to Klenke, “cites studies that suggest bike lanes lead to increased car-bike accidents and are inherently destructive to traffic management.”

On top of this, there are the typical mean-spirited comments at the end of the article from drivers about bicyclists.

I understand where anti-Critical Mass cyclists are coming from.  The event can create hostility in drivers and sometimes, with a big enough crowd, lead to unruly behavior.  However, the ride on Sunday will be a group of cyclists exercising their right to the road in a lawful manner – nothing more, nothing less.  If the ride were not called “Critical Mass,” would anyone have paid attention?  Would the newspaper have written two articles about the ride before it even took place?  A critical mass is an appropriate description for the purpose of the ride.

I understand where vehicular cyclists are coming from.  Bicyclists should be empowered to ride in the street with the rest of traffic.  But bicycling will never become a widespread mode of transportation in America without bicycling infrastructure.  Vehicular cycling may work for a very small minority, but telling a parent toting kids or an elderly woman to get out in the street and fend for herself will not work.  I feel even more strongly about this after visiting France and seeing the bicycling infrastructure – and people on bikes – in every city.

People who ride bikes – and people who want to ride bikes but do not feel that the roads are safe enough – have to work together for change.  Debates within the bicycling community are both important and inevitable, but there comes a point where rifts stall progress and play into the hands of those already-powerful groups working to maintain the status quo.

So I have a simple request.  Could we all in the “bicycling community” agree that people riding bikes lawfully down the street in the hopes that others will note their presence is a Good Thing?  Otherwise we are stalling our important social movement.

Sunday.  2 p.m.  West Aurora High School.  I’ll be there.

{If you would like to thank the writer of today’s column, Deena Sherman, for bringing attention to this issue, you can reach her at deenasherman@att.net.}

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Brownie on a Bike in San Diego

Hi. I go by “beany” online as I’m a bean counter. I’m a brownie who is car-free in San Diego and blog at Brown Girl in the Lane . While Dottie and Trish are off galavanting in France, eating the most delectable of meals and drinking the finest of wines, they have asked me to write a post for you. So here it is :)

I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Dottie and Trish in person earlier this year. It is easily one of the most memorable blogger meetings I’ve had because meeting women who ride a bicycle is harder than finding a pair of shoes that I want. Meeting women who genuinely love riding and ride for the sheer pleasure of riding, like I do? Well, that’s much harder than…fixing a flat in the worst of all possible ghettos in sub zero temperatures, in a hail storm while trying not to dirty a nail. In other words, a very rare occurrence in my world.

This post is a brief-ish history of my love affair with riding a bicycle.

Me and my cousin at age 5

I first began riding when I was around five years old.  My father bought me a red colored bicycle that had a banana seat and came with training wheels. To say that that bicycle became an obsession would be an understatement. My bicycle was parked close to my bed and I rode it every day  and soon graduated to riding a two wheeler like a proper cyclist would.

My bicycle became a constant and steady companion. It was how I was able to explore the city of eight million that I grew up in. My bicycle was my ticket to freedom, exploration and with it an incredible feeling of utter exhilaration. Riding through the city began to define how I viewed the world. Everything seemed possible and doable when I was out riding. It was on a saddle (or banana seat) that I was able to sort out the jumble of thoughts and contemplate about things I thought were worth contemplating over.

In my late teens, I moved to the U.S. where I found myself living in a suburb of Philadelphia. It was there that I realized the futility of relying on others for rides or the shoddy public transit system. I also disliked living in a small town. I thrive on the energy that is found in cities. So I began to date a man in Philadelphia who would one day become my husband. My dates with him all revolved around a lengthy bike ride ending at a good bar and grill. Thankfully, he rode because he loved to ride and rode everywhere. But he was unhappy living on the East Coast and wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream of living by the Pacific Ocean. I agreed to move and convinced him to make the move to the West Coast…by bicycle.

And that was what we did. We got rid of everything we owned and got ourselves touring bikes and panniers and headed west.

I would state that teddy bears provide much more visibility that wearing neon would. Because, who would want to run over a teddy bear?

This was how, in late 2008, we found ourselves in San Diego. San Diego seemed like a nice enough city so we decided to make this city our home. I found that I had become a very different person than the one who had left Philadelphia. The weeks of repeated riding had made me fall deeper in love with riding. Whereas in Philadelphia I found myself only riding because I had, in San Diego I soon found myself extending my commute daily, going out for a ride for no real purpose besides for the sheer thrill of riding.

I moved further away from my job to extend my commute. I began frequenting a farmers market located further way to have a longer ride. This was craziness. Especially in a place where the love affair with the automobile is practically a law.

But here I am. Living in a automobile-saturated culture without ever having owned an automobile. Life here without an automobile is the furthest thing from a hardship, for me. With perfect weather to be experienced every single day, the last place I want to be is boxed up in an automobile. The only place I’d rather be is on my saddle: riding, exploring, discovering and falling in love with the world around me every single day.

Visit the awesome Beany and her wickedly funny musings at Brown Girl in the Lane.

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