A Cycling Community’s Reaction To A Death

Background Reading


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The ChainLink Discussion of the “Bicyclist killed while avoiding an open car door” begins with:

Reply by Marc-Paul Lee 12 hours ago

sadly, the take-away for many may be “biking is dangerous” rather than “look before opening your door.”

Reply by Jenn_W 11 hours ago

This sickens me and breaks my heart.

This is one of the worst spots on my daily commute. You MUST check before you open the door (IT IS THE LAW!) no matter if you are looking for bikes or car, etc. I HATE Wells, the High School, Middle School, and Early Education center make it a nightmare around 8am and at 5pm the Early Education Center is Terrible, Parents double parking, letting their kids run into the rode/bike lane, etc.

My sympathy to the family & friends of the fallen cyclist.

Reply by Anne Alt 11 hours ago

Yet another reason for a LOT more education about sharing the road.

No matter how much lipstick you put on the pig, cycling conducted in the manner we do here in the States is dangerous. On this one point the Europeans and I agree. Their bike thoroughfares are largely segregated from automobile traffic and that makes all the difference. As long as we plan to try and build infrastructure on the relative cheap we will be faced with situations where cars and bikes get to intermingle. And an good insurance person can tell you that means there will be accidents.

The odd thing is that increasing numbers of riders may in fact mean increasing numbers of accidents. Even in cities with more advanced infrastructure than our own riders get crushed when drivers making right turns cannot detect their presence. If we were discussing these kinds of situations in a military classroom designed to keep new recruits safe while deployed overseas you can bet that the notion of danger would be conveyed loud and clearly.

Cycling is dangerous! For that matter so it rollerblading, motorcycling, driving, skiing, mountain climbing and giving birth. They all have documented fatalities and to argue otherwise is probably an indication of being in denial. You do not don a helmet when the thing you are about to do is safe. You do not dress in bright colors to keep drivers alert to your presence because you simply happen to like wearing overly expensive Lycra outfits which really have no business being worn indoors when dining at the halfway point of a club ride. You dress like a roadie under the assumption that doing so will help keep you alive!

What is ironic here is that the response by Jenn_W is very insistent upon the fact that there are things that are not to be considered because they are illegal. I will come back to this a bit later. Anne offers up the usual idea that education concerning “sharing the road” is needed. I would agree. But in the context of this thread I would guess that many find the need for more education to be on the part of the motorists and not themselves, and that would be debatable.

(Note: At least two accidents of late have involved riders being trapped under the wheels of trucks, even while in protected bike lanes. One of the higher profile victims was the sister-in-law of Alan Dershowitz. Her situation involved a U.S. Postal truck driver. The truck driver was acquitted of negligence in this particular accident. There is another similar accident that took place in the Portland area (again on a buffered bike lane).

A Bit of Irony Just After Reading The Thread

I was scanning the web with my iPad just before leaving home tonight to pick up my wife, Connie. I read quite a bit of the ChainLink thread before heading out. My destination was the Chicago Loop.

On the way I encountered two bicyclists whose behavior was of note:

  • The first was a male rider in his late twenties to early thirties riding without a helmet heading southbound on Racine. I was in the middle lane at the time approaching the intersection when this fellow suddenly turns right onto Jackson heading west. Jackson is a one way street that heads east. I scanned his progress in my rearview mirror and noted that he rode a couple hundred feet or more beyond my position before crossing from what was the leftmost lane to the rightmost lane and then exited the roadway. I suppose he must live in the condominiums that are adjacent to the Helix Photography store on the southwest corner of the intersection. Judging by their advertisements the condominium is owned by a British concern.
  • I continued eastbound on Jackson towards Jefferson street. A cabbie was on my right and decided that he could pick up a fare that was on the north side of the street and he nearly collided with me by trying to enter my lane with not enough room and no signal. Sound a bit familiar to the operating protocol of our male rider? I let him through and he crossed in front of me and entered the left lane to pick up his fare. Meanwhile a helmeted female cyclist in her twenties was approaching from the rear in the same left lane. In front of me was a CTA articulated bus. Rather than wait for the cab to move on she decide to ride between the bus and the cab while hugging the dotted white line. She eventually got out into the intersection and made a wide left turn but was delayed in completing her turn because the pedestrian traffic crossing there was impeding her movement. I asked myself, “why anyone who might have read the news from this morning’s accident would even think to attempt to ride between a cab and a bus”?

When I reached my waiting spot I read a bit more of the on-going thread on ChainLink and before long Connie arrived. I related the news of the tragedy as we drove to get coffee to drink on the drive home. I took VanBuren west to Loomis and turned left heading south. At Lexington I witnessed the third in a series of notable demonstrations of how not to ride a bike. This time a fellow who looked to be about mid-forties to early fifties was about to blow through the stop sign at that intersection in an effort to turn left.

In fact the last time I saw this maneuver employed it was the night that the Critical Mass Ride was doing a tour of the near South Side. What was surprising is that the same fellow showed up in a video shot by one of the participants. He came past the camera and I recognized his face. Tonight’s scofflaw upon noting that the car in front of me was a police SUV came to such an abrupt halt that he nearly pitched forward onto his face. He had this sheepish look that spoke volumes about being an adherent to the writings of Randy Cohen but unwilling to demonstrate his devil-may-care attitude in the presence of an officer of the law. He bowed deferentially and allowed the officer to go through (since it was the officer’s turn) and then rode past me with a scowl. I suppose he was a bit embarrassed by the whole encounter.

Yes Anne, there is “Yet another reason for a LOT more education about sharing the road.”

More Responses

Reply by David Barish 9 hours ago

So sad. I ride by that same location all the time. We can all say “there but for the grace of God go I.” How many of us have made that split second decision to encounter the lesser of two evils- the open door and whatever lurks to our left further in the lane. We figure we can evade something we did not see on the left rather than barrel into the door for a more minor injury that can screw up our bike and result in a pissing contest with the door’s owner. Even when you have a mirror or have scanned the lane you can make an error or not see somebody who was in a blind spot. You did your best, the driver is relatively innocent and the door opener never had an idea of the consequences of the cascading train of events that could follow. Within the last week I peeked to my left when seeing a driver fidgeting in his car that was parked. A cab buzzed by on the left out of the corner of my eye and I risked passing close to the parked car. It could have been different…like this. Perhaps the parked driver actually looked in the mirror and did not see the cyclists coming. Its a tough one. All we can do is think of this poor fellow and those who know and love him and after that resolve to keep our awareness and our wits when we are on the road.

Reply by spencewine 9 hours ago

I think a ride is exactly what is in order to show solidarity and that there is a strong community who deeply care about the well-being of it’s members. A show of strength might lessen the negative impact this will have on possible future riders, as well as, bring comfort to those currently riding, and bring public attention to the issue of “dooring”. I think a ride with a silent gathering at the site of the accident would send a strong message to the public.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 9 hours ago

The Illinois Vehicle Code:

No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
625 ILCS 5/11-1407

Wrestling With The Nature of the Responses

There is sooner of later always going to be the defiant “us against them” talk that you see above. In fact the tragic thing is that when they want to cyclists who normally have no problems with scofflaw behavior in their ranks can find the time to quote chapter and verse when they are attempting to point out the serious flaws in the operational protocols of motorists.

Accidents happen because people are not machines capable of reacting in a split second to changing conditions. And both motorists and cyclists alike are as guilty as pedestrians of regularly breaking their favorite infractions because they get away with it on a regular basis. And both groups hate it when the police target them during a “crackdown” meant to reinforce in their minds in the only meaningful way possible that the law is the law. When this happens the ChainLink community goes ballistic and out comes the “I hate cops” drivel that is so typical of the reactions of a “trained seal”.

Attempts To Understand Both Sides

Reply by David Holmquist 9 hours ago

I, too, would like to express my condolences to the friends and family of this cyclist, and to the driver of the truck (who seems, based on the report, to be an innocent passer-by).

In no way am I blaming the victim with the following comment, or implying that he was in any way neglectful … I want cycling to be safe and fun for all.

David Barish makes a couple of great points about mirrors and scanning. Two things I was taught when I first started driving a car were (1) to always scan the side of the road for pedestrians and doors being opened, and (2) to spend as much time checking the traffic situation behind me — using my mirrors — as watching the road ahead. Whether driving or riding, it’s crucial to be aware of what’s happening all around you. We’re all taught to “drive defensively.” It’s even more important to to be defensive when cycling. I always ride with a mirror, and encourage everyone to do so. Twice I’ve bailed out of the way of overtaking traffic where I’d certainly have been run over if I hadn’t been watching my six.

Be safe, everyone.

Reply by jolondon30 9 hours ago

How Sad. My sympathies go out to this cyclist and his family for what must be a terrible loss.

I don’t know what to say about dooring. I am not clear who is at fault in these situations.

I take Wells to the Merchandise Mart every weekday at this time. This could have been me. Today I decided to take the lakefront path just to get some of that great air. First time I haven’t taken Wells to work in over a month.

I would like to send a note of sympathy to the family. If anyone gets the family information let us all know.

Reply by Active Transportation Alliance 9 hours ago

I just spent an hour at the site of the fatality speaking with media. Our thoughts go out the families of the person who was killed and the people who are involved in this tragic crash. We urge people to make safe choices while getting around, most importantly obeying the law and rules of the road.

People who are driving should look before getting out of their cars, that couple of seconds can save a life. People who are driving should also choose to pay attention, keep both hands on the wheel, look, signal, use their mirrors and drive reasonably within the speed limit and observe a safe passing distance. In IL the minimum is three feet. People who are biking should avoid the door zone, the three to four feet near where a door could be opened into your travel path. People on bikes can legally look and signal to take the lane if that is a safer choice.

We all as people, no matter how we get around, need to obey the law, make safe choices and respect each other as people not as a “car” or “bike” or “pedestrian”…we’re people and we can keep each other safe.

Again, our best thoughts are with the family and friends of the person who died and won’t be going home today.

Ethan Spotts, Active Trans

Reply by Chicago Ride of Silence 8 hours ago

Ethan, thank you for stating the obvious so well – that we need to “respect each other as people not as a “car” or “bike” or “pedestrian”…we’re people and we can keep each other safe.”

It’s so true. There’s a person driving that bike or that car and that pedestrian is another person just walking to get somewhere – we’re not obstacles in someone’s way… and certainly we certainly have the power to make our roads safer if we start with our own actions.

~Elizabeth Adamczyk, Ride of Silence – Chicago

Reply by Stephen P. 8 hours ago

This is heartbreaking to hear as I bike this route all of the time. More education is needed all around. The most obvious is for auto drivers and their passengers. But also for cyclists…I will probably be flamed for saying this but… I am not saying the victim here did anything wrong, I have no idea, I wasn’t there. But I am saying we can do more to bike more safely for ourselves and others. Often when riding, I see cyclists in front of me swerving in and out of the bike lane into traffic without looking, trying to avoid every manhole and crack in the asphalt. There is a lot we can do, like slowing down when we get into crowded areas like around Walter Payton High School and being prepared, only passing on the left, stopping at stop signs and stop lights, using hand signals, using lights, wearing helmets… God bless his family and friends…

Reply by Adam Herstein 6 hours ago

Why is it that every time an article is posted about a cyclist being injured or killed, some commenters always feel the need to wrongly claim that all cyclists break the law and therefore they deserve whatever happens to them? In my experience, far more car drivers are breaking the law then cyclists, e.g. speeding, driving aggressively, following too closely, not allowing 3 feet of space, driving/parking in the bike lane, not looking before flinging their car doors into traffic, etc. Drivers of cars need to be held to a higher standard of safety since they can injure/kill someone with their vehicle FAR more easily than a rider of a bicycle.

For the most part some of the more adult responders showed up and “represented”. Any train engineer along the various commuter lines who hits a pedestrian or motorist on the tracks can tell you of colleagues who have taken to strong drink to deal with their anguish at having been unable to stop the train in time to save lives. And as any cop who reaches the scene will tell you too many of the pedestrians killed by trains may have put themselves deliberately in harms way.

No motorist who is sane sets out to harm a cyclist. But it happens and that is what makes cycling dangerous. I am not one who tries to whisper this fact hoping to avoid scaring a newbie. I think they need to be sufficiently afraid to take the urban cycling experience seriously. If they spend to much time riding behind some of the scofflaws I routinely encounter they are likely to forget just how dangerous the streets really are.

But worse yet is the notion that being critical of cyclist behavior is somehow being disloyal to the Cause. And this is often voiced while trying to demonize drivers. The most outrageous claim is that “Drivers of cars need to be held to a higher standard of safety since they can injure/kill someone with their vehicle FAR more easily than a rider of a bicycle.” To my mind that is like saying that shooting and killing an innocent bystander is much worse if you use a 50-caliber sniper rifle than if you do it with a 22-caliber revolver. I don’t know perhaps we should ask the mothers of the victims which method of killing they would have preferred for their child. But “trained seals” are sometimes unable to differentiate between the subtleties of a discussion.

All that one has to ask is whether the bike rider tonight that made a wrong way turn onto my street would have been less culpable had I veered to avoid him and struck and killed a pedestrian in the sidewalk? After all his action did not directly cause the death of the pedestrian. It was my reaction in attempting to avoid running him down that led to the inadvertent taking of life. Much of what happens in most accidents involves more than just the two individuals who collided or in the case of the gentleman killed today almost collided.

We Need Several Things

A couple of folks suggested seminars on how to deal with the “dooring” issue when a collision is unavoidable. That makes sense. I have said more than once that Critical Mass Rides could be used to bring cyclists together to a predetermined location where a demonstration was carried out and perhaps a video showing proper techniques was shown. That makes good sense to me. In addition the school in front of which this accident took place would be a meaningful place to hold such a meeting.

But from my point of view the “real solution” is to offer suggestions built around the concepts of Vehicular Cycling. We are unlikely to have a completely foolproof system provided anytime soon, if ever. It still means that every man, women and child on the roads astride a bicycle is in charge of their own safety. Getting together for vigil rides is fine, but frankly never having to attend another one would be preferable.

Cyclists need to be proactive:

  • Using white flashing lights on your handlebars makes you much more visible at any time of day to motorists who are exiting their cars on the traffic side
  • Slowing down and riding further to the left is the key. You should never allow yourself to be traveling at a pace and a proximity that requires you to swerve into lethal lefthand traffic when a door suddenly opens up in front of you.
  • Riders need to inform one another when their behavior on the road is not sound. Even Randy Cohen did not mind telling riders using the bike lane in the wrong direction that their actions were unwanted.
  • More importantly we need to ride as if the guy behind us is “learning the ropes”. We need to set a good example by using hand signals. The two most negligent groups on the roads today (when it comes to failing to signal their intentions) are cabbies and bicyclists. Hands down!

It was good to see that the Cycling Advocates who spoke up were “fair and balanced” for the most part. Pandering to the “trained seals” in our midst is not the answer. Unfortunately the number folks willing to take the chance that they will incur the wrath of the ChainLink True Believers are few. It would seem that we value more the opportunity to go drinking with one another than perhaps avoiding attending one another’s vigils.