City says some areas becoming hazardous to everyone
June 07, 2011|By Jon Hilkevitch, TRIBUNE REPORTER
Source: Chicago Tribune
For motorists who think bicyclists in Chicago have been granted unconditional rights to violate every traffic law on the books, authorities were out in force Tuesday to suggest otherwise.
The sting was conducted at only one intersection near downtown, and only for two hours during the morning rush. But the site that was chosen is a complex intersection that’s a magnet for bicycling commuters, widespread disregard for red lights, and plenty of accidents and close calls, officials said.
Some 240 warnings and one ticket were issued by the end of the law enforcement and education operation, which was aimed at bicyclists pedaling through red lights and taking over crosswalks meant for pedestrians only, officials said. It was carried out by the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the City of Chicago’s Bicycling Ambassadors program in what officials dubbed a “share the road” campaign.
“We want to let cyclists know that they are not only putting themselves at risk, but also endangering pedestrians in crosswalks and drivers who have to come to a screeching halt for bicyclists going through red lights,” said Carlin Thomas, share the road coordinator for the CDOT bicycle program.
Across the city, an average of 1,300 crashes involving bicyclists occur each year, according to CDOT. Bicyclist fatalities are running about five a year, officials said. With the growing number of on-street cyclists, the death rate could climb if all road users do not help make the streets safer, they added.
Tuesday’s blitz, at the busy and chaotic intersection of Milwaukee Avenue and Desplaines and Kinzie streets, may not have persuaded all the violators to change their unsafe ways.
“I know the police have a job to do. But if obeying the law is going to cost me my life, I’m not going to do it,” bicyclist Peter Walke said after being pulled over for riding in a pedestrian crosswalk and against a red light.
Walke told police officers that the crossing, used by hundreds of cyclists during rush hours, is extremely dangerous.
“I’ve been turned into (by drivers) a couple of times,” Walke, 31, told the officers. “Cars will run into you. They don’t like cyclists.”
Walke agreed to follow the traffic rules in the future, and he was let go after he was given a verbal warning and a flier on traffic safety.
Police and Bicycling Ambassadors officials said the enforcement operation went smoothly overall.
The ticket written for a red light violation was issued to a bicyclist who “didn’t like us being out here,” said police Sgt. Patricia Maher.
“Most everyone was been pretty nice,” Maher said. “A lot of the bikers we stopped simply said they didn’t know you cannot blow through a red light.”
Kate Patterson, a Bicycling Ambassador, stood on one corner shouting out, “Go bikers! Thanks for stopping for the red,” as wave after wave of bicyclists approached the intersection.
Most bikers smiled or waved, but some couldn’t resist offering some feedback.
“Is this like bicycle Breathalyzer day?” bicyclist Justin Schmitz, 30, asked a police officer.
When he was told what the campaign was about, Schmitz said he supports it.
“If it will save some lives, why not?” He said. “There are as many crazy bikers as crazy drivers out here.”
Authorities said changes in the traffic-control signals are needed at the intersection, which has been the site of numerous vehicle, vehicle-bicycle and vehicle-pedestrian accidents.
“The lights are timed awkwardly, and the pavement striping is not effective,” Patterson said.
As she spoke, city crews were restriping Kinzie, part of a project that the Tribune reported about on Monday to install the first protective bike lanes in the city, on Kinzie from Milwaukee Avenue to Wells Street.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel made an appearance to commemorate the construction of the protective bike lanes, called cycle tracks, which on Kinzie will involve installing flexible posts along with pavement markings to separate bicyclists from motor vehicles. A recent city study that counted bicyclists found that Milwaukee and Wells are among the most popular bike routes in Chicago.
Improving bicycling options is part of taking a holistic approach to transportation in Chicago, said Gabe Klein, the city’s new transportation commissioner.
“People need to feel safe or they won’t ride to work,” Klein said, adding that he wants bicycling to be considered a primary form of transportation by more people. “You can live, work and play in Chicago without a car.”