For The Next Time You Hear, “Cycling Is Safe!”


Giro Reverb (Highlite Yellow Color)

Giro Reverb (Highlite Yellow Color)

You can always find a cycling thread where the principle theme is that you are safe when cycling streets in urban areas. This is part of the never ending narrative of the Church of Urban Cycling. And for the most part you can ride the streets of Chicago and live to tell it about it well into your 90s. But there is no doubting the fact that you have either to be quite careful or quite lucky or both to live long enough to reminisce about “now back in my day” when it comes to urban cycling.

And then sometimes a thread begins like this:

Most Dangerous Intersections…..
Posted by El Dorado on December 9, 2012

I was wondering what you guys think are the most dangerous intersections to bike through? I recently rode through the Fullerton/Clybourn/Damen intersection & was literally shaking. Cars turning everywhere, other bike riders zooming, panhandlers out in traffic ect….I’m guessing any diagonal street (ogden, elston, milwaukee) or Lake St. can be dangerous.

It seems like an innocent enough question, “I was wondering what you guys think are the most dangerous intersections to bike through?” And then the memory of the last time you traversed a more than busy, actually dangerous intersection clouds your mind and you respond:

Reply by Fran Kondorf on Sunday
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 Thunder Snow on Sunday
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 Lisa Curcio on Sunday
Fullerton/Clybourn/Damen is the worst I have seen followed closely by Milwaukee/Damen/North. Although the Ogden/Milwaukee/Chicago is not great, it seems not as all around threatening at the times I go through it.

Reply by Anne B. on Sunday
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 Fran Kondorf on Monday
The issue I face @ the dreaded Fullerton/Damen/Elston most is northbound on Damen. That chokepoint in the last 1/2 block coupled with a fast food parking lot exit is rough- the only thing to do is to take the sidewalk.
If you’re lucky with the timing there you can squirt up to the tiny island bordering Elston and wait for the light there instead before hitting the bridge. It’s a recommended move only for the foolhardy, though.

Reply by Jim S on Monday
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 on Monday
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.)

Just my 2 cents.

Reply by william on Monday
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.

Reply by Cameron Puetz on Monday
My two least favorite intersection types are the “Y” where a diagonal crosses a grid street where most auto traffic makes a soft right and cyclist traffic continues straight (ie. Elston at Ashland) and the “belly bulge” where a bike lane disappears and a car lane appears just long enough to create turbulence and encourage dangerous passing (ie. Damen at Elston/Fullerton). The “belly bulge” seems to be an uniquely Chicago design. I’ve never understood why if the lanes are added, they aren’t structured as turn lanes.

Reply by Rich S on Monday
My least favorite of the Y intersections is southbound on Clark where LaSalle begins. Horrible area especially since Clark is so nice to ride down from North to Division.
I find the intersection of Dearborn and Chicago to be dangerous for riders going north on Dearborn. It’s because of the bike lane crossing over the left turn lane on Dearborn.

Reply by Brian F Morrissey on Monday
I’d have to give my vote in a three-way tie to Elston/Armitage/Ashland, Elston and Milwaukee and Elston and Milwaukee (both ends of “The Knife”).
With the the first, the danger lies in going northwest on Elston. The extremely wide right turn to northbound Ashland invites many cars to turn from the left lane, and I have been right-hooked many times, thankfully never being hit. The intersection at Chicago/Ogden/Milwaukee/Elston is in desperate need of redesign. Finally, trying to go from south on Milwaukee to Elston at the north end of The Knife is also a harrowing experience, and once came very close to getting killed by someone who went straight in the left turn-only lane to Elston as I was turning left from the right two-way lane.
I’m frankly pretty frustrated that the protected bike lane on Elston was a pretty easy grab of low-hanging fruit and stopped short of revising either of these extremely dangerous intersections.

Reply by Apie on Monday
My least fav on my commute is irving park/mil/cicero going SB on milwaukee. There is no left on to Irving, so 2 cars are always jockeying for the 1 lane after the intersection, which leaves no room for a bike. Then Irving S to Addison can be really sketchy if there is traffic, due to all the crazy passing on the left, including people passing the buses. S on Mil to Irving from Belleplaine is hazardous for the same reason, 2 cars where there should be 1 lane, and many buses stopping. Not too many cyclists up there, so the cars try to ignore us.
I thought I was good with a super bright headlight for the last few months, but this morn a guy yelled from his truck, “A$$hole, LIGHT!” Now I feel I should assess the angle of my headlight, I know it is super bright and I don’t want to be pissing people off daily. (I use an Urban550 on blink, pointed more directly ahead than the road.) Those stretches on Milwaukee I need all the help I can get so cars can see me.

Reply by magomawe yesterday
I hate the Fullerton/Elston/Damen intersection as a biker or a driver. Though I’d rather bike it than drive it. Dearborn near Chicago is also terrible with the left side bike lane. Everyone gets confused, though I can’t say I’ve ever had a close call there. Also Wilson and Western going west on Wilson can be a pain. It is such a pinch point that you have to speed ahead and take the lane.
Logan and Western is an intersection I avoid at all costs. When an intersection has multiple biker deaths, one should take notice.

Reply by Comrade Cycles yesterday
I personally don’t mind the Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection too much. The only times I’ve had much trobule are when I am in a rush to cross and/or attempt to squeeze through the congestion in order to be at the front of the line when the light changes. When I wait with the rest of traffic, follow the lights, and take enough of the lane that I don’t get pressed to the curb by merging cars everything works out pretty well. I know it’s a terrible intersection that causes congestion and therefore impatience, but I rarely find it dangerous.
One that I do find dangerous and downright intimidating is Ellsworth Dr./Morgan Dr./ Garfield Blvd. in Washington Park. Although the recent addition of well marked bike lanes can be quite nice, it’s still very hectic crossing Garfield here. Traffic is moving from many directions (and often too fast) with everybody merging together. Too bad, as it’s otherwise a great connector from King Dr. to the Hyde Park (& Blackstone Bicycle Works!) area.

Reply by Adam Herstein yesterday
Ashland/Elston is terrible.

Reply by Steven Vance 20 hours ago
From purely a data perspective, based on the limited dataset (which includes only reported crashes for 2007-2010), the most “crash frequent” intersections are:

  • Fullerton, Elston, Damen – 17 crashes
  • Milwaukee, Paulina – 14 crashes
  • Chicago, Halsted – 14 crashes
  • Chicago, Ogden, Milwaukee – about 14 (this intersection’s atypical in its layout)
  • Milwaukee, North, Damen – 14 crashes
  • Cortland, Ashland – 13 crashes
  • Montrose, Lakefront Trail – 12 crashes
  • Milwaukee, Armitage, Western – 12 crashes (also atypical layout as it’s really 3 intersections)
  • Damen, Diversey, Clybourn – 12 crashes
  • Clark, Barry, Halsted – 12 crashes
  • California, Milwaukee – 11 crashes
  • Elston, Cortland – 11 crashes
  • Western, Logan – 10 crashes (there are 5 more intersections each with 10 crashes, but I’m stopping the list here)

There isn’t bike/traffic count data for each of these intersections so it’s not possible to rank them by “crash rate”, which is a better metric for determining “danger”.

Further reading

How Does One React To This Stuff?

Well bicyclists are not different than fisherman in some respects. Some of the hyperbole found in a few of the thread responses is just that, you know “fish talk”. But overall it would be difficult to ignore the reality of the danger cyclists face while riding on streets in urban areas. And when you find a cyclist who reflexively begins the “happy talk” line about how safe cycling is look just above their heads to see what they really mean. You will find the unspoken words (the subtext of the “Trained Seals” narrative) floating in the air.

The words will say:

  • We need more cycling funding, so we need more cyclists on the streets.
  • To get more cyclists on the streets we need attractive bike lanes that give newbies a sense of safety.
  • So I must push the “cycling is safe” theme otherwise my fellow ChainLinkers will think I am a “sellout”.
  • And if I am perceived as a “sellout” they won’t drink beer with me anymore and I will be shunned at outings and even ex-communicated from the group.
  • I must at all costs say what is not really and truly in my mind.
  • I must repeat, “cycling is safe, cycling is safe”
  • Must not let people see that my eyes are glazed and my stare is vacant.

But this thread and others like it are the “real deal”. You cannot fake terror any longer than you can fake feeling safe.

You might want to take a look at the flip side of terror in cyclists in that it turns on an aggressive response. Then go find one of the aggressive threads and bask in the testosterone-laden musings of Gabe.