So Why Again Should I Support “The Movement”?

Active Transportation Alliance Sends A Request

Active Transportation Alliance

I get renewal notices from most of the major Cycling Advocacy groups in Illinois and Wisconsin. These are the places where I do most of my bicycle riding and Chicago and Milwaukee are primarily the cities (and their suburbs) where the rides take place. Here in Chicago the ATA is requesting renewal with these words:

Join or renew today and support the movement!

Want a paper membership form? Fill out this form, and then mail or fax it to Active Trans.

We want to transform our region into one with half as many crashes and where half of all trips are made by biking, walking and transit. We envision walkable communities, networks of trails and bikeways, reliable transit, safe and easy biking. In short: healthy streets filled with healthy people.

We need your support to make that vision a reality. Join or renew by selecting a membership option below. Together, we will build a powerful voice.

Wow! Those sound like the kinds of issues I support. But the lion’s share of the monies being spent for visible infrastructure on city streets is going to Chicago. And frankly Chicago’s urban cycling community is a bit more than dismissive of suburban cyclists who in their estimation are silly enough to come ride in the city at night and actually pay upwards of $45 for the privilege. But hey, perhaps they are correct and it is a wasteful thing.

In fact driving into the city and paying a parking fee and then riding ones bike around is about as silly as taking mass transit into the city and then renting a bike along the Lakefront Trail all just to sight see. Besides to hear Chicago’s urban cyclist community tell it they really want those pesky Segway tours ended because they bring suburban and out-of-town tourists in flood the Lakefront Trail path. In fact the ATA was supposed to have spearheaded a request to have one or more of those tours halted.

Sometimes I wonder whether Chicago’s cycling community is more self-absorbed than I had imagined. But hey, I only read what they say on the ChainLink and form an opinion on that basis. And that is what brings me to this question of why contribute to “The Movement”? Do we really have to rely on a Chicago-centric entity to get what we need to build suburban infrastructure?

Trying to Gauge the Temperament of the Activist Cycling Crowd in Chicago

This past week we got a chance to see how what people say “behind closed doors, in friendly territory” when stumping for campaign contributions. And regardless of whether you are on the side of the speaker or not it is difficult to justify the sometimes cavalier way in which the “haves” appear to dismiss those they consider the “have nots”. Chicago cyclists can be that way too. They want our help with petitions to urge the mayor to build infrastructure of which frankly they are the primary beneficiaries. And they want to do this without have to be subjected to silly things like obeying the Rules of the Road.

Now before you decide I am being unfair in saying such things consider a couple of the most recent threads on the ChainLink forum. The first of these gives you a glimpse into the divided nature of what is “right and wrong” in the context of social behavior as it relates to the bicycle.

An article appeared in the Tribune titled:

Read the article and then visit the ChainLink to gather an idea as to the range of responses to the situation in the article. The very first response in the thread was this:

Reply by Bill Savage 9 hours ago

Not to blame the victim here, but why on earth would you ride down this ramp?  Much worse than riding on the sidewalk even.  Once in an El station, you walk your bike.  It’s common courtesy.

The use of the term “victim” here spoke volumes to me. If you bother to sift through the ChainLink’s threads you will nearly always find bicyclists termed victims especially when they are involved in accidents with motor vehicles or pedestrians. There is a nearly endemic approach to street riding in the city which is characterized by the article written by Randy Cohen.

It is cool to be a scofflaw and there is nothing that anybody can do about it.

That is the mantra. Another response was:

Reply by Cameron Puetz 8 hours ago

I’m going to refer that question to my 17 year old or intoxicated self. He said that it looked like fun.

Okay, so a ChainLink-style response is that riding down that ramp “look like fun”. And while you digest this you need to ask yourself how folks who view life this way are likely to behave when riding on the streets in traffic. Are you getting the picture?

Oh wait! Here is perhaps a rationalization that has some value:

Reply by h’ 7 hours ago

Because not riding down could mean missing a train and potentially an extra 30+ minute wait depending on Blue Line construction.

Uh huh. Heard this sort of retort when folks try to justify running stop signs and red lights. They are far to eager to get to the office to slow down and be safe. And as Randy Cohen puts it “they have skin in the game” which is true but not the entire truth. When you are foolish enough to behave in a dangerous fashion you often end up costing others in your demographic bracket to have their premiums raised and the cost of your healthcare is to some extent shared by the rest of society. So you are not the only one “with skin in the game”.

It took a female to deflate the testosterone-laden air of this discussion:

Reply by Lisa Curcio 7 hours ago

Guess the wait turned out longer than 30 minutes.

And that wait was shared by every individual on any train delayed to handle this emergency that occurred to this “victim”. Another response made even more sense to my feeble mind:

Reply by Michael B 7 hours ago

I wonder how long the trains were delayed because they had to drag his stupid ass off the tracks.

And again the wishy-washy logic comes through:

Reply by h’ 6 hours ago

I will resrve judgment re: the relative intelligence of his ass until more of the details are known.

It’s hard to believe this fellow is a ChainLinker:

Reply by Michael B 6 hours ago

Making the decision to ride a bike down that ramp is all the information I need. Stupid & irresponsible.

Sometimes a bit of “tough love” is what is needed in cases like this. It was stupid and everyone involved in this thread should have the cojones to say so.

Wait for it…

Reply by h’ 5 hours ago

We don’t know that it was his decision.

This response is meaningful not just for its cogency but its owner is reflective of the majority of riders who grace our urban landscape:

Reply by Bill Savage 3 hours ago

Someone put a gun to his head and said “ride down this ramp designed for pedestrians!”?   I’m a situational cyclist: sometimes (rarely) go on a sidewalk, or against a one-way street.  Like everyone, I drift through most stop signs, and red lights on empty streets.  But some things are just never OK, and one of them is riding a bike on a ramp down to a train platform.  Too dangerous, as this result shows, and rude to other CTA patrons and workers.

He makes no bones about the fact that “everyone” is a scofflaw. See what I mean, I can’t make this stuff up. Urban Cyclists are not bothered by a few “bad apples” this is a situation that is endemic.

And ChainLink “bad boy” chimes in with his assessment of the “it looked like fun” excuse with this:

Reply by Gabe 3 hours ago

Amen 😉

Now if you are getting ready to plunk down your hard earned money to renew your ATA membership, it ought to have some strings attached:

  • The Executive Director of ATA is a member of the ChainLink. His organization has staffers who monitor the goings on here. But seldom does anyone chime in with a rebuttal when dumb ideas like the ramp riding get defended by the very folks who serve as volunteer for their rides.
  • I am still trying to imagine how a fellow as ill-suited to be a ride marshal at the most recent Four Star Bike Tour was allowed to serve in that capacity. He broke just about every rule in the book and did so with bravado. Why? He just felt like it.
  • Reporting his actions was of no effect. There was no return email or even an acknowledgement. Silence. Do I want to support a group which has that little sway with its membership?
  • Children were on the ride along with their parents. Fortunately the behavior of this individual was less drastic when the children were near the intersections he crossed on red lights. But still, why are these volunteers not vetted? Or perhaps they are vetted but the problem is too large to be picky when volunteers are scarce.

I would love to have better bicycling infrastructure built in the city. But I want some evidence that the purported improvement in scofflaw cyclist behavior is in fact a benefit of the expenditures incurred as a result.

I can just image how this would play out if we were talking about a shiny new housing project in a very poor neighborhood that had notorious gang problems and drug trafficking. Every taxpayer would be within their rights to demand of the local municipality that the millions spent on this project resulted in a safer neighbor and no drug trafficking. And if that did not happen there would and should be some accountability exacted of the politicians who spearheaded the project.

We need to have a “come to Jesus meeting” with our urban cyclist counterparts that puts on the table the demands that we suburbanites have about the spending of so many regional dollars with the possibility of so little benefit. If the folks who will be enjoying the daily rides along newly installed bicycle infrastructure lack the will to behave themselves, then I for one would treat the situation with a bit of tough love.

If my teenage child could not abide by the rules in our home, their privileges would be curtailed. It that too little to ask of our urban cousins? And while we are at it I have noticed that there is a fair amount of this same scofflaw attitude making its way into suburban riding etiquette. I guess it is a sign of the times.

Training and Re-Education

Chicago is not alone in dealing with scofflaw cyclists. Portland is having a similar issue. A businessman there is leading the charge to license cyclists who of course (despite having more infrastructure built that Chicago) have a similar set of mores that include running red lights and blowing stop signs. You can read more about this here.

I agree with Mr. Huckaby that with rights come responsibilities. Mr. Maus also makes a valid point. More training is needed for cyclists. And waiting until later is not the proper strategy, would be my rejoinder. We know that there is a scofflaw culture that has permeated all of cycling but especially urban cycling. So since we suburbanites are the rubes you think us to be, perhaps we can be shown how to train our residents so that they can behave properly on the roads they share with motor vehicles and pedestrians. And to do that it will mean displaying some “tough love” towards your urban comrades.

A Golden Opportunity was missed this month as the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin took the gloves off and delivered news that neither ATA or any of the other Illinois cycling advocacy groups dared “pick up”. It was news of a priest in Wisconsin who was crossing on a red light and lost his life.

Talk about a teachable moment! But not a single one of the news scavengers that picks up on articles far and wide dared touch this one in a forum like ChainLink. Why? It really does not reinforce the notion that scofflaw behavior while irritating is low priority stuff. Of far more importance are the infractions being waged by motorists whose vehicle weights and speed are the real villains in their narrative of the “victim” cyclist.

Read the article about the priest above and ask yourself why you never heard one whiff about this. It happened in the next state over. Instead Maus and others with blogs seek to focus on whether or not licensing is too expensive or what percentage of bicyclists have drivers licenses and thus need no further re-education. This is all misdirection stuff that is aimed at keeping the cash flow into the coffers of cycling advocates steady enough while they give the appearance of actually doing something.

Heck you folks meet once a month to ride through the streets and annoy drivers. Why not use that time to do all of this training that Mr. Maus is speaking about. In fact that same sort of training could go on at the Critical Mass Rides held in his city as well. But it seems all too easy to simply go with the flow despite the fact that your job description says Cycling Advocate.

I’ll make a deal. I’ll stop complaining about the scofflaw behavior of cyclists if the ChainLinkers will cease complaining about drivers parking in the bike lane and cops running red lights in a manner similar to them.

Reply by Tricolor 9 hours ago

I saw a cop at State crossing Elm this morning roll their Tahoe through a red light with traffic all around watching.  Not very uncommon, sadly.

Buses on State are actually pretty nice if you know to give them enough berth to get to their stops.

Posted by Erin on April 1, 2010 at 9:03pm in Bikes and Bicycling

Is there anything that can be done to quash a valet parking service operating in the bike lane? There’s one at 150 N. Canal (156?) that almost gets me killed on a regular basis during my work commute. Anything I can do about it, short of changing my route? Thanks.

At least make me think that you are not just a bunch of whiners “who want their cake and to eat it too”.

An Update I Could Not Refuse

This segment was added upon realizing that some of the heavyweights at ChainLink had decided to weigh in on this discussion. Here you go:

Reply by h’ 10 hours ago

Gabe and Cameron don’t use the Forest Park branch of the Blue Line.

Our friend is still trying to offer a justification for the riders actions. And another comes to the defense of the “victim” who managed to nearly get himself electrocuted. It is a time-honored ritual on the ChainLink to keep the “victimology” of the cyclist uppermost in your mind. Repeat after me “I am a victim”…

Reply by Marco Rayos 1 hour ago

Someone is hurt on a bicycle and ridicule and insult is seriously the response from some cyclists?

Ah but one of the “adults” weighs in with this gem:

Reply by Bill Savage 33 minutes ago

Criticism of a bad judgment–riding your bike on a pedestrian ramp down to an El platform–is not “ridicule and insult.” It’s criticism.

But he has broken the Eleventh Commandment to never speak ill of a fellow Republican cyclist. It would seem that no matter how bone-headed an action is taken we must always defend our own.

Reply by h’ 29 minutes ago

I’ll never forget the morning it hit the newswires that a cyclist had been killed on the tracks by a Metra train in the west suburbs after going around the gates. I watched the same sort of “idiot cyclist”/”Darwin Award” comments unfold on a local bike club’s discussion list. Turns out the cyclist was president-elect of a suburban bike club, a ‘model cyclist’ by any definition, a young mother and licensed health care provider… and she had been waved around the gate by a Metra conductor.

Of course, the details of the incident are different here, but the self-satisfied gloating is the same.

Now here is a legitimate claim, but as he points out he facts are not the same. In the first instance the reporter failed to explain the details (probably because he/she did not know all of them) and in the second someone at Metra should have had to answer to some serious charges.

I wonder whether h’ would be as charitable concerning the Metra conductor? Is he at least guilty of a bone-headed move? Certainly someone was.

Reply by Bill Savage 26 minutes ago

By the by, I can now say I’ve seen worse: last night about 8:50 on a crowded Fullerton El platform, a youngish (late 20s?) woman actually rode her fat-tire bike ON THE D@#& PLATFORM. Calling out “Excuuuuuse Meeeeee!” in a tone of voice that can only be called “Lincoln Park Entitled” she wheeled herself along the edge of the Red Line side of the platform till she got a little beyond the spot where the front door would open. When a totally jammed train pulled up, she was walking her bike towards a car where literally no one more would fit. I looked at her with a WTF? expression as I boarded, barely able to fit myself, and only the train operator telling her “No! There’s another train following, there’s no room here!” kept her from trying to jam her bike into the car. Where she thought people would move to let her on, I have no idea: every foot of space was occupied by a standing passenger, all the way into the car, not just at the doors as is sometimes the case. She actually ARGUED with the operator that she had “every right” to bring the bike on the train, a train some people weren’t able to board even sans vehicle. So I guess riding on the ramp isn’t all that bad.

Bill needs an “atta boy” for speaking truth about this incident. Julie responds to the notion that no one forced this “victim” to ride down that ramp. He failed to understand the problems that resulted from an asinine attempt:

Reply by Julie Hochstadter 16 minutes ago

Yeah. I’m with you. I have rode p and down ramps and half way get off when I realize it’s a really bad idea. I’ve stopped trying to ride up and down the north ave beach bridge and have succumbed to walking the bike there.

Sometimes just being young is a truly burdensome thing because “A man has gotta know his limitations”. That last line was said in my best Clint Eastwood voice.


Sure we are all probably guilty as ‘h points out of jumping to conclusions before all the facts have been reported. But pedestrian and train collisions are so common that it has become a cause for groaning when you realize that yet another individual has tried to outrun a train so as not to be late and ending up dying for the privilege. Now Randy Cohen would point out that what they did was “ethical” if not “lawful” but that brings little solace to those left behind after the death.

I think the worst aspect of Randy’s article was the glib notion that the only one being hurt by my “foolishness” is me. Wrong on all counts. Society pays and pays dearly every time someone dies needlessly. Premiums go up for those in that age and demographic bracket and work time is lost while investigators needlessly spend time wading through the aftermath of the collision of a train and pedestrian or train and car or a train and cyclist. I say needlessly because it is never justifiable to say that you did something stupid with respect to trains because you would have otherwise been late.

A few years ago my wife’s commuter train conductor kicked a woman off who had boarded after crawling UNDER the train with her daughter because she had arrived too late to get to the north side of the tracks where the boarding was taking place. I applaud that conductor for using the confrontational shaming of the rider. It might save her life in the future.

At some point personal responsibility is the bottom line. You do something stupid and your peers should “call you out” for it. It makes everyone in the group look bad when one individual acts up. The problem with cyclists is that things have been allowed to go way beyond “a few bad apples”. We are now faced with an endemic situation where taking chances has become so commonplace that people shrug when they see it happen or worse yet follow suit at red light intersection and stop signs.

Newbies assume that this is the common practice and blithely follow suit. And to top it off guys who run blogs about cycling safety of all things dismiss this behavior as part of the mores of the cycling community. He is accurate in that description he is just missing the demonstration of outrage that this is now an accomplished fact.