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?