Speaking With “One Voice”? Ain’t Gonna Happen!


ChainLink Logo

The chaotic nature of the ChainLinks approach to problem solving is easy to demonstrate. Look for the threads which are longer then a couple of replies and have start dates a year prior to when you are viewing it and you have a gold mine of angst and hysteria to wade through.

There is a common problem which surfaces from time to time. Bikers have decided that they are the oppressed group in the Chicago Transportation Scene. This generally results in descriptions of encounters between cyclists and motorists where the latter always end up painted as the aggressors. And always there is a recounting of how a motorist “cut off” a rider or parked in a bike lane or a bus driver attempted to box them in when approaching a traffic stop, etc.

What seldom if ever gets discussed is why bicyclists are such scofflaws. Riding down a busy street like Milwaukee you can easily spot cyclists who routinely run red lights, weave in and out of stalled traffic by leaving the biking lane and sometimes crossing the yellow line to pass on the left of cars, fail to signal their intentions using hand signals and routinely ride without helmets
and often use the opposite side of the street (i.e. ride against traffic) when it suits them.

Bicyclists who speed on paths like the Chicago Lakefront Trail are seldom criticized for this aggressive and often unsafe behavior. Instead threads devolve into harangues about the foot traffic on the trail impeding the swift passage of bicycle traffic. And cyclists love to complain about the unpredictable nature of pedestrian traffic while failing to see the correlation with their own on street behavior in traffic.

Chicago bicyclists have trouble trying to deal with incidents of bicycle theft. Among the most commonly discussed problems is a stolen bicycle from a street location. It seems that the question of how to lock up your bike has reached a point where no consensus methodology has been found to succeed on a permanent basis. I often read these threads and wonder why folding bikes like the Brompton are not more popular. But a folding bike would probably deprive this group of something to complain about, namely stolen bikes.

The lock makers and chain forgers must love bicyclists who ride around with not just one but several U-locks, bigger it would seem than their bicycles and perhaps a motorcycle weight chain around their waists for added measure. Yet bikes keep getting stolen despite the best efforts of some cyclists. And to add insult to injury many of the bikes I see are pretty fancy ones. So why no one has found a solution despite the escalated chain and lock purchases escapes me.

And what is quite interesting is that a great deal of this thievery goes on in the posher neighborhoods of Chicago. Places like Lakeview and Lincoln Park have uncovered some fairly impressive hordes of stolen property.

In the rougher neighborhoods the problem of bike theft is a bit different. Rather than waiting to attack your bike locks and chains while you are sleeping or inside the office during business hours, thugs lie in wait for you to be knocked off your bike. Since quite a few of these instances are in black neighborhoods it requires a delicate verbal touch to avoid sounding like a bigot when you are complaining about the attack and the possible physical and emotional scarring that resulted.

But at least one or two ChainLink denizens have taken to calling the black neighborhoods in the city “cesspools“. Actually these crass individuals use more earthy terms but I don’t think you need to have me spell it out for you here. You can however read the filth here: http://www.thechainlink.org/forum/topics/attack-on-cyclist-on-lake-street-1

I tried to make the case that the rest of the world hears some fairly awful things about Chicago. You can read that thread here: http://www.thechainlink.org/forum/topics/anyone-else-planning-on-auditing-the-l-a-t-e-ride?commentId=2211490%3AComment%3A562843 What was interesting is that for my trouble I was called a troll. Supposedly the initial article cited was supposed to have been a case of yellow journalism. But when I pointed out another half dozen or more articles from around the country that was when the troll denunciation was delivered.

This tells me a couple of things about this group. First, that calling Englewood and the entirety of the West Side is popular with many of the denizens of this forum. But any mention of the entire city of Chicago in a negative light is verboten because that includes where they live and by extension reflects poorly on them as individuals. This of course is why the labeling of entire neighborhoods within the totality of the city is poorly advised.

Some of the finest people you will ever in your life want to meet live in these depressed areas. They are quite religious people who work hard but simply don’t make enough money to move to a fancier and indeed safer neighborhood. When you use racist descriptions to infer judgment on the entire population of a community that is indeed hurtful. And I know by the reactions of these same folks when the entire city gets labeled badly that they understand how it feels to have that done to you. No amount of blathering can explain away their reactions to have the entire city characterized as the “Murder Capital of the Midwest“. But I sometimes think it is in fact a good thing to have insensitive people experience a bit of their own poison.

Among the more contentious issues is how improvements to the cycling infrastructure should proceed, if at all.There seems to be a certain amount of ambivalence where such issues are concerned. Critical Mass demonstrations have become about as meaningless as those of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements. Media types ignore them for the most part as they have seldom generated anything newsworthy excepting situations where some drunken participant decides to try and ride Lake Shore Drive during Rush Hour.

Because funding is tight (and now with the failure of the Transportation Billeven tighter) bicyclists are faced with seeing some areas get improvements while their own does not. This creates something of a schism in the ranks. South and West Side riders get far less visible improvement dollars spent along their commute routes than say those on the North Side. And most if not all of these riders fail to see the even bigger picture that drives the allocation of spending in a municipal budget, namely business needs and tourism.

The overall tone of the ChainLink forum is quite strident. I attribute this to the fact that most of the very vocal few are single, rootless and perhaps unawares that they feel a profound emptiness in their lives. After all you cannot go through the entirety of your existence fueled on alcohol alone. As good as beer and ale are they do not make up for the healing that a strong family relationship provides.

If you know that you have a family depending on you for their food and shelter your speech and behavior are more moderate. Besides it is difficult to worry about the inane issues of cars parking in your bike lane when you are worried about finding the money to feed your family or get medical attention for a young one who is gravely ill.

Forums like this need strong leaders. Right now the Lord of the Flies is the book that best describes how the place is functioning. The loudest, crassest, most foul-mouthed of the tribe are the ones that generate the greatest activity. And folks seem to relish in this sad fact. Now there are attempts by individuals who have blogs that address issues surrounding cycling advocacy which provide a great read. But those blogs (e.g. Grid Chicago) are not suitable vehicles for folks who would rather discuss riding around dressed solely in pink underpants while drunker than skunks. The motto of this crowd is “Never Grow Up”. I suspect that in their personal relationships there is something lacking in terms of commitment .

Groups whose mission is to serve as cycling advocates are treading a very fine line when they join forums of any sort. By doing so one has to ask whether they share a similar mindset. And frankly it is often difficult to tell. They is a fair amount of cross fertilization that is evidenced by their social interactions with the crasser sorts away from the forum.

Now as with most of the loud-mouthed talk radio hosts who get called out when they stray too far afield of common decency on the air and lapse into the “it is only entertainment” defense, the same is true on the ChainLink. That cheap trick of hiding behind some supposed internet theater schtick can only go so far. Eventually you have to stand by your words and explain yourself. You don’t for instance call two black communities indecent names but then take offense when the media talk about the high crime rate of Chicago in ugly terms.

Chicago’s cycling community needs to look deep inside and find a better means of moving forward in terms of the discussions it entertains on what is the foremost forum on cycling in the city.