To Obsess or Not To Obsess That Is The Question


To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Hamlet Act 3, scene 1, 55–87 [Italics mine]

Members of the ChainLink waded in with comments on this interview:

Reply by jennifer james yesterday
Wow Anne thanks! I think this is a terrific interview. My only wish is that Active Trans and Cdot point out that cyclists are tax payers when asked why bicycles deserve infrastructure. We are are tax payers here in Chicago– many of us home owners.

Reply by Cheryl 22 hours ago
Kass has an obsession with cyclists running reds, doesn’t he?!?!? Kudos to Gabe for trying to bring drivers who run reds into the discussion.

Reply by Jeff Schneider 17 hours ago
WLS promotes politics somewhere just to the right of Mussolini, and typically any guest who is not a Republican mouthpiece is put on the air primarily to be ridiculed (this interview was done just before Rush Limbaugh, so that tells you who was listening). Gabe Klein did a great job anticipating their rants and disarming them. However, most of the people who listen to WLS probably couldn’t understand what Gabe Klein said anyway…sadly.


The comment which caught my eye was the second. It seems fitting that a Dane have delivered the most often quoted soliloquy on obsession. I say this because today Denmark’s Copenhagen is considered alongside Amsterdam as the place where cycling has become a marvelous obsession that is the envy of the developed world. These two countries stand in sharp contrast to places like Hong Kong and Beijing where though the cycling numbers are high the traffic situation is chaotic. It would not be advisable to send politicians on junkets to these places if you presumed to show them how transformative a good cycling infrastructure could be to a densely populated urban traffic system.

Congestion is only part of the problem in Hong Kong and Beijing. The definitive characteristic of traffic in these areas is the lack of orderliness. Drivers of all stripes (automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, buses and trucks) are in “free fall”. When you have enough people on the roadway at any given time and then complicate the situation with little in the way of lane structure it makes for a thoroughly unpalatable sausage recipe.

Traffic signals in countries like these are only suggestions. People ignore them because it is simply too easy to do so and not be singled out as a scofflaw.

Cycling In Bejing is an 2008 article written by Angel Hsu:

Photo by © Alexandra Moss.

Once known as the world’s ‘bicycle kingdom,’ China has experienced rapid urbanization leading some to declare the beginning of the end for China’s bikes. While it’s true that from 1995 to 2005, China’s bike fleet declined by 35 percent and private car ownership more than doubled, there is no evidence today that bicycles are a thing of the past on Beijing’s streets.

Increased urbanization and growing diversification of transport has only meant cycling Beijing streets is becoming a greater challenge, particularly in areas where designated bike lanes have been removed. Cycling in Beijing – let alone mastering the art of walking Beijing’s overcrowded streets brimming with buses, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, and some 18 million people – is (in a word) terrifying, yet somehow millions of Beijingers seem to cope just fine.

Helmets are nonexistent, and the agile Chinese have mastered the art of multi-tasking while cycling. Not only do people seem to cart their livelihoods on bikes, but I’ve witnessed whole families perched atop a single tandem, ladies cycling one-handed with umbrella in tow to prevent any sun exposure that would risk their pale complexions; I even saw a man with three 15” computer monitors strapped above his back wheel (and they were not flat screen). And you’ll never see a hint of the abashed – anything goes in the Beijing bike lane.

The absence of bicycle lanes is said to be a contributing factor to the chaos. When people know what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to be on the roadway it helps immensely in keeping order. In fact the greater the concentration of people the more important orderliness becomes. When you have a breakdown of orderliness chaos ensures. And it all begins with intersections.

Intersections Are The Key To Orderliness

ChainLinkers recently tried to tackle the question as to which intersections are the worst in their experiences:

Reply by Fran Kondorf 22 hours ago
Western Ave. and Logan Blvd. is always a pleasure, but any place near an Xpway ramp will be sure to get your adrenaline pumping.

And Damen/North/Milwaukee is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Reply by h’ 20 hours ago
Fullerton/Clybourn/Damen is an abomination. I usually take the sidewalk northbound to get past the donut or chicken place or whatever it is. Last time I did so I was with another cyclist who did the exact same thing.
Ogden/Chicago comes up a lot in bike crash reports.

Reply by Thunder Snow 20 hours ago
Steven Vance’s crash map seems to show a lot of bike crashes on Milwaukee Avenue from south of Logan Square to the Loop, as well as Clark Street south of Irving Park to the Loop. And there looks to be a crash reported on virtually every intersection within the Loop itself. This may be due to the sheer numbers of cylists on these roads, rather than any inherent danger in the streets themselves.

Reply by MagMileMarauder 18 hours ago
The EXTRA long Fullerton light makes drivers EXTRA impatient on the Fullerton/Clybourn/Damen intersection. Drivers always try to squeeze into the bike lane just to beat the red on Damen.I guess it’s long for a reason, since they’re trying to prevent traffic from accumulating on the I90-94). I also use the sidewalk to avoid close calls.

Reply by Anne B. 16 hours ago
I’m one of those people who often gets off and walks my bike through the crosswalks at Damen/Fullerton/Elston. Although even walking through there isn’t particularly safe or pleasant.

Irving Park/Lincoln and Damen can be somewhat bad too- drivers going really fast on Irving and there are a lot of red light runners. Also strange pedestrian walk signal timing there. One of those intersections where I give a good pause and look around a lot after the light turns green. But at least it’s nice and wide there.

Reply by Jim S 11 hours ago
Chalk up another one for Fullerton/Elston/Damen. It’s unfortunate that it’s the most direct route for me to get to Bucktown/WP. I absolutely loathe this intersection and the feeling of extreme defensive cycling one must use when coming through here.

I had to think hard about negative experiences at Diversey/Clybourn/Damen, which is slightly tricky, depending on the time of day.

Reply by Manny Fuentes 9 hours ago
I’m sure the reckless bike riders don’t help out the situation either.

I was almost hit by several bike riders on Friday afternoon/evening while going northbound on Halsted, while riding my “Beast” )Schwinn Frontier with lots of lights.

Quite a few of them with no lights, wearing dark clothes, and not giving some kind of signal (whistle, yell, bell, “passing on right/left”, etc.)

Reply by Lisa Curcio 2 hours ago
I would be willing to bet that those angle street intersections have higher rates of auto on auto crashes, too. They are just bad–long spaces to cross, bad sight lines, confusion about turning, etc.

Reply by william 1 hour ago
grand/halsted/mke can suck a fat dick.
belmont/western/clybourn, too.

intersections like these are generally fine if you continue forward on the same street. danger comes with making left/right turn onto adjacent street.

good luck turning left onto damen from diversey heading west. not possible without a close call.

What makes big intersections problematic is not their size but the inability to get through them before traffic conditions change. I have ridden most of the intersections mentioned on a long wheel base recumbent with my spouse and I pedaling like maniacs to cross before lights change. And as one respondent mentions going through the intersection is nowhere as difficult as making a turn through a multi-street intersection line the one where Damen/North/Milwaukee all converge.

Even more dangerous (to my mind) is the one just north of there where Fullerton/Elston/Damen all converge. What makes these intersections so frustrating is the timing of the lights and the lack of uniform flow through the intersections. You are always dealing with the left turning cars in the oncoming traffic who are worried about being stranded in the middle of the intersections.

How Could You Improve Such Intersections?

One thing for certain is that intersections are made messier when the timing of the lights leaves pedestrians and bicyclists stranded halfway across, and left-turning motorists likewise caught out in the middle of the intersection. If you were to extend the length of left turn signals that might help assuming that the traffic on the street into which they are turning is not stalled.

When the crossing traffic is stalled then turning either left or right is problematic. The congestion of the crossing streets gets translated into intersection congestion. And when the lights change and the crossing streets suddenly are allowed to venture out into the intersection they are often stalled because they enter without being certain that they can make it across. It becomes master “fustercluck” and you sit there either on your bike or waiting on the curb to cross on foot or behind the steering wheel of your car wondering why you even bothered to visit the city. It is a nightmare.

Just imagine being in Shanghai where the volume of traffic is several times greater! Traffic networks in cities where the concentration of vehicles and people is high make for a not very pleasant and quite stressful overall experience. Now if you mix in a bit of anarchy by having people who are impatient suddenly deciding that they do not want to wait but instead cross intersections against the light the situation quickly descends further into madness.

Fixing the traffic problem usually takes involves two kinds of thought. The reductionist scheme is to reduce traffic volume. It is the one that children most often adopt. They see toy models of city congestion and are asked how to reduce it. They do so by removing some of the vehicles. Voila, situation resolved.

But city traffic engineers take a slightly different tack. They try and control the flow. They slow down vehicles whenever possible to stem the rate at which congestion is spread. If the traffic is slowed a bit the thinking is that intersections along the length of a congested street have a chance to clear before another onslaught of vehicles attacks an intersection.

This strategy is hampered by the fact that overall traffic light control is not orchestrated. There is no system which takes into consideration the current status of congestion along all of the streets and using computer technology devises in real-time a means of altering the rate of traffic light change to help clear up the problem. Our traffic control system is very antiquated and needs to be more of a smart grid than it is today.

Cities may one day get around to laying out sensors (much as they have on highways to alert news agencies to traffic conditions) on streets that allow them not only to see what the congestion conditions look like but to alter that outcome by controlling the timing of the signal system across the entire grid.

But Until That Day Comes

On the ground for the foreseeable future is going to be what will be. There will be a stiff competition between the use of automobiles and other modes of transportation that will wax and wane with the seasons and the economy. Look for smarter vehicles to hit the roads which will be both electrified and if needed capable of burning fossil fuel. They will have sensors that alert the drivers to impending collisions in situations where visibility is low (e.g. backing out of a parking slot in a mall).

But unless our society decides to take the decision making process out of the hands of individuals everything depends on the willingness of the driver, the cyclist, the pedestrian, the busman, the train engineer to yield to the controls that are in place to save lives and help manage traffic flow.

We begin with an attempt to address the usual snarky thinking that pervades places like the ChainLink Forum where scofflaw behavior among cyclists is concerned. The problem here is not that “motorists are also running red lights and blowing stop signs and what about them, mister?” The problem is that ANYONE is disobeying the laws that are in place to help traffic engineers deliver the kinds of safe experiences we all want.

There are consequences to acting like a jerk. Eventually your luck runs out and something awful happens. There is no amount of happy talk and blathering from Active Transportation Alliance that can make up for one of their ride marshals acting like and ass. That single event sends the wrong message and it threatens to undo all the good they hope to do. For them not to acknowledge the problem is the worst part of it all.

How are cyclists going to take the “high road” in the debate over road usage and the inevitable budget battles that will result if they are not willing to let the system work? It motorists were as eager to run red lights as I see cyclists doing the weekends that I ride the means streets of Chicago would result in blood baths. But cyclists get away with this because at present their numbers are minuscule. If we are ever fortunate enough to rival Shanghai or Copenhagen or Amsterdam it will be even more important that cyclists behave.

I am not writing here about motorists because this blog entry is written to cyclists. So please do not ask aloud or in your mind, what about motorists. They are not the people who need to hear this particular message. Imagine for a minute that I was a parent who had invited my son or daughters underaged friends over to our home to drink. Imagine that after the party some of these kids got into a car and rode home but never made it because they ended up in an “accident”.

I would have to answer to both the police and their parents as to why I allowed the underage drinking to go on in our home. My defense might be “Other parents do it, so what?” Sound familiar. That my friend is what a cop-out sounds like. Trying to lay off some of the blame for your actions on a bicycle by wanting to bring up scofflaw motorists is equally lame. But we seem destined to continue this charade until such time as society will not allow us to continue.

That would indeed be a tragedy.

As If On Cue – More Tragedy

The first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.

— Walter Anderson

Sadly Jonathan Maus of BikePortland reports today that:

Here is why this is ironic. We are in the midst of a surge in bicycle infrastructure creation. The more cyclists on the roadways helps to explain the problem (think gas molecule model theory). If you increase the number of riders, you increase the likelihood of accidents occurring.

The moral to take away from all of this is that there is an increasing need for cyclists to behave out there. Folks this is getting more critical with each passing day. We do not need to see newbies or for that matter oldies lying under truck trailers or sprawled across the hoods of vehicles which did not expect a biker in the middle of an intersection crossing on a red light or suddenly appearing at an intersection where a stop sign is posted and never breaking their speed as they round the corner.

The newcomers to our sport/transportation alternative are going to take their cues from the old timers out on the road. What you do is what they will attempt to emulate. As they become increasing inured to the casual bad behavior of those around them they like everyone else becomes less attentive and thus more vulnerable.

And despite what Randy Cohen has to say about “skin in the game” when a cyclist choosing to be lawbreaking but ethical you are not the only one who has a bad day. The unlucky motorist who was heading off to work or coming home to relax has to wait around until the cops show up to take his statement and endure a breathalyzer test. The cop who has to call his accident response team to pick up your body is also having a bad day. The accident scene team is going to have the image of your crumpled body on their minds as well. And then there are your loved ones and the loved ones of the driver involved who all have to have their lives disrupted all because you could not wait.

You bet your sweet as we need to be obsessed about this, because you were not. You are not the only one with “skin in the game”. Randy Cohen is an ass. And ride marshals for the Active Transportation Alliance who demonstrate scofflaw behavior while leading cyclists on the Four Star Bike Tour are asses as well. And executive directors of such organizations who fail to respond to criticism of this sort of behavior can get in line as well.

Wow! That feels a bit better. I am getting sick and tired of the blathering about new bike lanes here in Chicago and elsewhere while folks on bicycles are dying at increasing rates. Call me silly.