Updated : Time to stop spinning wheels on punishment for rogue cyclists

John Kass
December 13, 2012

Source: chicagotribune.com

Bicyclists and drivers should be treated equally under the law

John Kass - chicagotribune.com

John Kass – chicagotribune.com

It’s heartbreaking to see how the little bicycle people treat their benefactor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

He offers them kindness. Yet some of them respond with insolence and contempt for the law, running red lights, for example, without getting traffic tickets. For this outrage, they must pay, and pay dearly.

As many in the sustainable transportation movement know, the Rahmfather is a big supporter of bicyclists commuting into downtown. To make them happy, he’s been putting Chicago’s streets on a diet.

Good for bicyclists. Bad for automobilists.

He’s squeezing out lanes of car traffic, installing new signs, buying untold gallons of expensive paint for the new bike lanes on Dearborn Street. Sure, there’s less room for cars, and less room for drivers who actually pay the freight, but more room for the little bike people to ride to and fro.

So how do they repay him?

Well, some of them ride like barbarians, ignoring traffic signals, weaving across the lanes, hopping up onto the sidewalk while narrowly missing elderly pedestrians and innocent children. They drive the wrong way on one-way streets. They’re completely above the law. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. They don’t even get tickets.

It’s bike anarchy, the neatly groomed little bike people with their cute spandex outfits and matching helmets and flashing red breast reflectors, and those grungy ones in their tattered jeans, looking like homeless bums on wheels, iPod earbuds in their hairy ears.

And if you dare ask them about their heedless ways, many offer only a two-word phrase, the second of which is “you.”

(If you’d like to share your lawless little bike people stories, to chronicle their abuse of traffic laws in the hope of finally creating some equality between the bicyclists who pay nothing and the car drivers who pay so much, please send them to my friend Old School at wlee@tribune.com.)

Before the bicyclist lobby shrieks and gets its spandex shorts in a knot, let’s say right here that there are many conscientious bicyclists who obey the traffic laws. They’re the good little bike people. Unfortunately, my informal research suggests that the evil ones outnumber the good.

Every morning after Jake Hartford and I do our fill-in talk radio gig on WLS-AM 890, we stand for a few minutes on Lake and Dearborn to witness the bike anarchy. We think about making citizen’s arrests, though we’re far too dignified to give chase.

“I’m stunned, shocked and saddened at this wanton and disrespectful display,” Jake said Wednesday as another bike hooligan whooshed through a red light on Lake, going the wrong way.

“To think of all the mayor has done for them, and this is the way they treat him?” Jake said. “It’s an outrage!”

Just try taking your car up on the sidewalk in Chicago (forcing old ladies to jump out of the way) or speeding through a red light. Then see what happens. You’ll get hit with tickets. And you’ll be sad.

At the Tribune, we asked the Chicago Police Department and City Hall to tell us how many traffic tickets are issued each year to bicyclists. At first, it was the old story. Nobody knew a thing.

The police said they don’t keep the records. City Hall said it thought the police were keeping the records. Finally a city official said that last summer, police stopped about 5,000 bicyclists for traffic violations during their special “Share the Road” traffic stops.

And how many tickets were issued?


The rest were “warned.”

“We do know that we do have an issue — whether it’s people walking into intersections while they’re on the phone, people on bikes running red lights and stop signs, or cars running lights — it’s definitely a problem,” city Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein (and big-time bicyclist supporter) said the other day on the radio program.

Yet here’s the thing: Car drivers pay. Little bike people don’t. And it’s about time the bicyclists dig into the pockets of their skinny jeans and provide revenue like everybody else.

Chicago residents pay about $85 for a city vehicle sticker, more for a large car. The state license plate fee for cars is about $99. What do bicyclists pay? Nada. Tipota. Zilch. Nothing.

City traffic tickets cost car drivers $25 to $200 for each violation, while lawbreaking bicyclists generally pedal past the law scot-free. And now the city is taking out lanes of traffic to accommodate bike riders.

With all the uncollected fees, and all the unissued traffic tickets, the city is losing out on millions of dollars that should be flayed from the hides of those two-wheeled lawbreakers.

Attorney James M. Freeman, a good and careful bicyclist who represents riders struck by autos, says it’s time bicyclists obey traffic laws.

“Let’s have evenhanded enforcement,” he said. “Bicyclists don’t get pulled over for blowing red lights. I’m not saying let’s lower the hammer on bicyclists, but let’s hand out some tickets once in a while.”

Not once in a while, Mr. Freeman. How about every single day and night, thousands and thousands of tickets, and state license and city sticker fees, too.

Increased enforcement is “good for everybody,” Freeman said. “It’s better for pedestrians. More than anything, it’s irritating for motorists to see citizens violating the law. When I see it, it irritates me.”

It irritates drivers who pay, compelled to watch free-riding bicyclists get political favors from City Hall, even as they disobey traffic laws.

But there is a way to soothe the irritation.

Bicyclists and drivers should be treated equally under the law. And that means the little bike people should pay up, like everybody else.


Twitter @John_Kass

Copyright © 2012 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC


Here are some of the responses from the “Trained Seals” of ChainLink to this article:

Reply by Tim S 8 hours ago
I sat at Gannon’s Pub on wing night about a month ago and watched EVERY car, save for a small number who only stopped for pedestrians in the crosswalk, roll through the stop sign on Lincoln. I am getting rather tired of the us vs. them mentality when there are bad drivers on both sides of the equation difference being that a bike causes far less damage then a car when accidents happen.
Lets Invite Kass out for a ride and a beer at Gannon’s so he can count with us how many cars roll the stop sign, talk on their cell phones and not stop for pedestrians vs bikes rolling a stop sign. It is an exceptionally lopsided number, exponentially more dangerous, and far more lucrative to the city to ticket the drivers.
edit… Thanks Thunder Snow for the copy so I didn’t have give the Trib a click.

Reply by Brendan Kevenides 8 hours ago
The more interesting question is why do we sometimes roll stop lights & signs and should the law change to permit it. Here’s my take in the current issue of Urban Velo Magazine: http://www.mybikeadvocate.com/2012/11/stop-and-yield.html

Reply by Cameron Puetz 7 hours ago
Mr. Kass has never in his life been interested in an adult debate. His columns have always been teenage sarcasm propped up with childish name calling. After all, of all the flaws of Mayor Daley to highlight, Kass went after his height. When you insist on calling the Mayor Shortshanks, you’re clearly not interested in a grownup discussion of city government.

Reply by Kara B 7 hours ago
I totally agree – bikes are different than cars, and the traffic laws are intended to protect people from cars, which kill, as opposed to bikes, which really don’t.
And – if we took the ‘”bikes are the same as cars an should follow the same rules” argument to its logical next step, bikes should really be driving in the middle of the lane, instead of sandwiched between parked cars and passing trucks/cars/etc: and I doubt most drivers would fight for that…

Reply by Jim 7 hours ago
I sat at a residential intersection in Wicker Park a few years ago and filmed cars negotiating a stop sign for five full minutes. I edited it and cut out the dead space, and it made for a pretty funny short. There were two cars out of maybe 20 that came to a complete stop. Some cars appeared to actually accelerate through the intersection.
I have never taken the view that becuase drivers do it we should do it. It seems to me that it serves our interests to promote the bicycle as a civilized form of transportation- a sharp contrast to the comparatively uncivilized automobile.

Reply by Jeff Schneider 7 hours ago
I don’t worry too much about the right-wing media in general anymore. They are so out of touch and extreme that only nutjobs (who are immune to logic anyway) really take them seriously. I don’t think Kass or his fellow traveler know-nothings will have much effect on our city’s transportation policy.

Reply by Jamais716 5 hours ago
Biking scofflaws, driving scofflaws, what about pedestrians? A wave of them started crossing at Jackson and Wacker against the light like I wasn’t heading right for them with the right of way. There’s regularly a bunch of people who seem to wait for the light to change against them before cross at Canal and Monroe. If the city wanted to make some money and reduce traffic snarls downtown, they could just as easily go after people jaywalking. (I’m assuming there’s laws against jaywalking in Chicago that are never enforced?)
Nobody’s perfect and all of us break the law sometimes. I just wish more people would be aware and exercise good judgement and courtesy to others when they do it. Don’t ticket all violators unless you want to make an example. Just ticket the ones whose actions clearly violate the purpose of the laws to keep everyone safe.

Reply by bk (aka: Dr. Mambohead) 4 hours ago
Oy vey! Let me at that mental midget.

John Kass would hand cops the additional responsibility of chasing bicyclists. Finally! Clearly the slackers at the CPD need more work. This noble, yet non-Nobel “jounalist” never saw a low-hanging fruit he couldn’t pluck nor a popular emotion-driven, knee-jerk opinion he couldn’t champion. Yes John Kass… For a millisecond Ninja Cyclists made you all afluster. Yes John Kass… Benghazi was a mess. Yes John Kass… Fire BURN!!!

Now, go cash your check.

For all that is right and good. Defender against logic and common sense. John Kass: Discourager of bicyclists. Hop in your jalopy and rave at them as they whizz you by in your unsustainable dream world of 1971.

This “Jack” Kass likes seems to like new taxes and some big government that is right up in your face…. and feel this one for me: For pedaling a bicycle!!! What’s next Jack Kass? An excise tax for lemonade stands? What brief personal slighting or mild inconvenience will Jack Kass, noble soap salesman of The Fourth Estate, champion today?
How about a surcharge to get on a city beach or the LFP?.. Cower! These are other socialist utopians that have been pulling on the government teat for far too long!!!!

Use your thinky part Jack Kass. Encourage bicycling! We clear the roads… Increase their average speeds… We clear the air… We add more parking spaces.. etc.. etc.. etc… And? Best of all? Cyclists hand their superfluous gas money, not to the Royal House of Saud, our allies in the War on Terror!… Y’see Dr.Kass…. We keep more money local!.. Research shows cyclists are even able to purchase one of Chicago’s fine printed newspapers!!… Instead of dialing up the same information on the www for free!.. But, unless they had a bird cage, who would do that?!?

This Jack Kass should be on his knees in service and gratitude for every bicyclist he sees.

Reply by Brendan Kevenides 4 hours ago
I dunno, Anne. As I demonstrate in my article, it is happening; slowly, but it is happening in places where you might not expect it, like Arizona and Virginia.
I agree with Jim regarding even enforcement, but I frankly think enforcement isn’t as uneven as folks like Kass suggest. As I’m guessing Jim’s video would demonstrate, both cars and bicyclists roll stop signs and both are ticketed for it rarely. Of course, the difference is that bicyclists (1) have a much better view of the road, (2) slow and accelerate much slower than motor vehicles and (3) pose a far lesser hazard to others using the street.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4 hours ago
Do you think the person who is the subject of our derision has a google alert or something set up so his computer goes “ding” every time his name is mentioned on the internet? Do you suppose he rubs his hands together with glee every time he hears that ding? Are we making him really happy?

Reply by notoriousDUG 3 hours ago
You wanna do one of the primary things that can be done to stop John Kass, and those like him, from writing things like this?

Reply by Eric Roach 2 hours ago
I LOVE IT when a Republican suggests a government solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. But hey, adding staff to process all of the applications for bicycle registrations would count as Government creating jobs, might even need an entirely new department! Who would’ve guessed Kass was secretly promoting a bigger government.
(Edit) Also, make sure to ring your bell and say hello when you ride by him and his buddy standing at the corner of Lake and Dearborn aroundish 11am.

Summing Up The ChainLink Responses

These are in essence the summation of the responses given:

  • Cars are as bad as cyclists about running red light and blowing stop signs.
  • Why can’t we just adopt the Idaho Stop Law so that we would no longer be in violation of the law?
  • John Kass is probably a Republican so anything he has to say is probably wrong.

The first of these is probably the most important to understand. By making this your argument you are acknowledging that you are indeed breaking the law. But you are attempting to deflect criticism by pointing out that others do it to. OK. So the next time you have a cyclist injured in traffic and it is because someone broke a law, let’s cut that motorist some slack and simply acknowledge that he was doing what we do too. Yep, that sounds like a truly “adult” argument.

The question of adding laws here to accommodate cyclists who are too lazy to obey the ones currently on the books is interesting. It is even more interesting that a lawyer is the one who brings this point up. Let me answer this argue this way. A bit over 150 years ago we fought a war because there were some states which allowed the sale of human beings and some that did not. The practice had been a common one through much of human history. Today we are struggling with laws regarding the “right to work” that has taken over yet another state, Michigan. Am I to assume that one would look at that law and decide that because it is more to the liking of business owners and also popular in an increasing number of states we should also bring it here? For that matter we are the last state to have a “no concealed carry” law. Should we cave on that one as well? Just sayin’.

Politics aside it is possible to be appalled by cyclist behavior even if you are a Liberal Democrat. I know that I am. What I have learned is the case with the ChainLink crowd is that it feels entitled to do what it wants to do. And it entertains thoughts of changing laws to suit its whims. That is just fine. Business owners who are wealthy and have no worries about their health care can also take the same attitude and decide to hold their governors hostage over ObamaCare. The irony is that most of these pseudo-liberals on the ChainLink Forum are probably aghast at anyone wanting to swat down their pet policies but unwilling to understand how their acting in like fashion should be of any concern to the rest of the world. Would that they could get their heads out of the asses.