Active Transportation Replies to John Thomas Article on Chicago Cyclists

Original Article by John Thomas:,0,5622294.story

Active Transportation Alliance Response

Reply by Lee Crandell (on ChainLink) 20 hours ago

Just wanted to share that Active Trans sent the following response to the Tribune on Friday.
– Lee Crandell, Active Trans

Ron Burke, Executive Director, Active Transportation Alliance

John Thomas comes to the wrong conclusions in his column about biking behavior (“Crazed cyclists run rampant,” July 19). Everyone has the right to use a public street and a responsibility to follow the rules. Of course people can be jerks on a bike. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty in cars as well, which outnumber bikes roughly 50-to-1 citywide. But it’s a cop out to call everyone on a bike “crazed” when the biggest reason for bad behavior is poor street design. Cities that calm traffic and give people on bikes their own space see more harmony and fewer crashes. Chicago isn’t there yet, but it’s moving in the right direction.

For example, Mayor Emanuel is installing 100 miles of protected bike lanes. By adding a physical barrier to separate bike traffic from motorized traffic, protected lanes give bikes and cars their own space and help everyone feel more comfortable. Mr. Thomas implies adding new bike lanes will create more animosity between people on bikes and in cars, but the facts suggest otherwise. Statistics gathered by transportation engineers in Chicago and around the country show protected bike lanes actually reduce conflicts by encouraging more predictable and responsible behavior for people who walk, bike or drive. This includes fewer speeding cars, bikes on sidewalks and close calls.

Enforcement is important, but police should focus limited resources on road behavior that’s most likely to injure or kill others, not just targeting cycling.

We also need to move beyond childish labels and recognize each other as people. An endless volley between competing tribes of “cyclists” and “motorists” only feeds the fire. People riding bikes aren’t “crazed.” We’re your neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends. And like you, we’re just trying to get around town. With better street design, smart enforcement and a little empathy, we can all get along on our streets.

– Ron Burke, Executive Director, Active Transportation Alliance

My Response to the Response

There is an additional article which should be read in conjunction with this blog entry:

Rob Burke has written a restrained piece and that is a good thing. I like his “can’t we all get along?” homage to the late Rodney King. We definitely need to find a way to tone down the rhetoric in favor of finding solutions.

What I think makes a great deal of sense is to continue the development of protected lanes on busier streets. I also enjoy and have used extensively the green signs that are posted everywhere around the city showing the direction and distance to various target destinations. It is almost like having a copy of a Bicycling Route Map available in the real world.

As a motorist I can certainly understand the need to take extra care when around cyclists. I appreciate the difficulty a cyclist has in getting through traffic and try to defer to them when waiting at an intersection. I am especially mindful if a person is pulling a child in a trailer or on a trail-a-bike. For the most part folks with children or teens riding in their company are quite well-behaved. I think the added responsibility of setting a good example for your child helps in that regard.

Having protected lanes makes all the difference to me. It allows me to assume that the drivers around me know where I should be and if I am using that lane I am “predictable” in terms of my location. In fact the Rules of the Road are all about allowing vehicles to predict the behavior of the other fellow.

These rules are not about sucking the joy out of driving or bicycling or walking. They are about coercing the kind of behavior out of a participant on the roadway that is safety-minded and predictable. If I make turns without signaling my intention I am not being either safe or predictable. If I slow or stop and don’t signal my intention I am preventing my fellow travelers from anticipating my movements and thus avoiding collisions or death.

As a cyclist I can appreciate the fact that having to slow down at intersections cuts deeply into my overall average speed. It takes a cyclist a fair amount of effort to come to the full stop and then get back up to speed. The same applies to motorists but in their cases the penalty is in gas mileage not personal muscular effort.

My experience as both a motorist and a cyclist is that Chicago cyclists are guilty of not following the Rules of the Road in two glaring instances:

  • At intersections with either stop signs or traffic signals they seldom stop. This is more than just a question of coming to an almost complete stop and then rolling through, the way automobiles do. It is more often than not a complete disregard of stop signs and a more cautious foray into intersections when they are crossing on red. Both practices are dangerous and they are among the ones that motorists are most aghast at. Were I a judge and encountered motorists who routinely entered intersections on red and then after judging they could make it crossed on red I would be sorely tempted to both fine them and seek to have their licenses revoked. This is very serious behavior and is not something society should have to tolerate. It is equally offensive for me as a cyclist that other cyclists routinely perform in this fashion.
  • Weaving Through Traffic. Motorcyclists have made a fine art of this behavior. Like cyclists they are narrower than cars and can do this sort of thing. You most often see it on super highways during rush hour. Cyclists are guilty as well. Cars that attempt this sort of thing are just begging for an encounter with a pedestrian who is crossing the roadway between corners. Being somewhere that you are not expected to be while operating a smaller less protecting device is stupid. And I often wonder whether cyclists ever understand the difficulty they are placing themselves in when they abruptly move to the left of the yellow line to get around stalled traffic or ride between parked cars and stalled ones past a side street intersection when a driver trying to merge into traffic cannot anticipate their sudden appearance?

In addition to the routine disregard of cyclists to traffic signals and signs there is one additional area where I find us lacking and that is in understanding of other cyclists. Why would a group of cyclists decide to harass participants in a night ride in the city? These riders are generally visitors to our city and are bringing sorely needed tourist dollars when they make the effort to ride here. We have a reputation of late as a violent city. Having these folks venture in helps shape our reputation. Why try and discourage that sort of behavior?

But more to the point the Active Transportation Alliance failed to speak up about this? They put on two very nice rides each year which along with the L.A.T.E. Ride my wife and I try to participate in. I would have expected ATA to have been as vigilant in protecting the reputation of visiting cyclists as those within the city limits. They were not and that to me is a very sad thing indeed. I sometimes think that they pander to the Chicago Cycling Community at the risk of alienating the folks from the suburbs who are the true source of revenue for their rides and fundraising.

Ron Burke sorely needs to address this part of the equation where cyclist reputations are endangered.