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. :)
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.
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.
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.
About 80 percent of vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Chicago occur at intersections and commonly involve people crossing the street with the walk signal, according to a new city study.
As a frequent pedestrian in Chicago, these statistics are not surprising. What’s noteworthy is that the city commissioned a special study on pedestrian safety and plans to do something about it.
The exceptionally high rate of pedestrians being struck, predominantly by turning vehicles, while they are inside the presumed safe haven of crosswalks was an unexpected finding that will prompt increased police enforcement of the No. 1 cause of pedestrian accidents — drivers failing to yield, officials said. More traffic safety technology is coming too, they said.
The hit-and-run rate in Chicago is double the national average, with 33% of drivers leaving the scene of a pedestrian crash (44% for crashes that result in death).
“It’s unbelievable, and it’s a real crime,” Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said. “I think we have this culture of speeding and reckless driving.”
I agree that there is a culture of speeding and reckless driving. I rarely see drivers slow down or stop for pedestrians even in school zones.
Improving the safety of pedestrians by working to change the culture of speeding and recklessness will naturally improve the safety of bicyclists. Bicyclists also must make sure to yield to pedestrians (which does not mean simply swerving around them in the crosswalk).
Before I get to the main point of this post, let me mention that I was thwarted from riding my bike today. Last night a severe storm knocked out power for about 18 hours. No electricity meant my garage door opener would not work and my bike was trapped inside (a detached garage). That’s something I never considered before. I guess there’s some sort of mechanical opener on the inside, but figuring all that out early in the morning was beyond me. So I took the L train instead. Boo.
And now for something completely different.
Bike Snob recently mentioned (which means made fun of) a Kickstarter project for creating a turning signal bike glove. While the idea of a bike turning signal is…interesting, I prefer to use old fashioned hand signals that no one understands. When I feel like increasing visibility, lately I’ve been using this slap bracelet that came in my bike-to-work week goodie bag.
That’s right – slap bracelet. Remember those?
Makes me think of Smurfs and Fruity Pebbles.
When I’m not wearing the slap bracelet, I keep it slapped on the handle of my pannier. I’m not really big on neon, but this thing is so easy and increases my false sense of security, so I haven’t found a reason not to carry it.
Do you do anything to make your turning intentions more visible?
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?
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?
This morning I was excited to jump back on my bike after a week’s vacation in North Carolina. I set out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with the sun shining down on me.
A couple of miles into my ride, the air began to look strangely green. Suddenly, all at once, the wind picked up massively, rain poured, lightening struck and thunder pounded. A small branch fell down behind me. It was freaky!
I was on a quiet neighborhood road and I started riding toward a bigger street in hopes of finding shelter at a coffee shop. I didn’t get far before I had to dismount and scurry to the sidewalk. I stood next to a wind-blocking building for about five minutes, getting soaked. (Later I read the wind was up to 75 MPH.) When the wind and rain did not let up, I scurried down the sidewalk to the end of the block, where I found a bank lobby to duck into (the bank was closed but the lobby was open for the ATM). There I watched the downpour and lightening for 30 loooong minutes.
When the rain let up slightly, I decided to bike the 2 miles back home, drop off my bike, change clothes and take the L train to work. I did not want to ride all the way to work downtown in the lightening. I finally arrived at the office at 10:00 – a not-so-great way to start back after vacation. Luckily, I have understanding co-workers.
I’ll take this morning’s “adventure” as a harsh reminder to CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE LEAVING. Also, as a WELCOME HOME, SUCKER, from Chicago.
At least I’m not the only one who got stuck in the storm. Anyone else get caught by surprise lately? Nah, I’m sure you’re all way too smart for that. :)
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.
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?
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?