So Which Is It?


So after nearly a half week of plotting to ignore anything John Kass has to say, the Vicar of the Church of Urban Cycling has decided to play Pope Urban VIII to the Galileo Galilei of Mr. Kass. Now this is indeed both a welcome situation but as Ron Buhrke himself puts it “a bit bizarre“. You either have “Talking Points” that assist your narrative or you don’t. What you probably should not do is have your “Trained Seals” begin to make the case for ignoring the fellow and then suddenly present an open letter to him and the rest of the cycling community. Oh well, let’s take a look at what he had to say:

Submitted by Rburke on Thu, 12/13/2012 – 5:00pm

Kass’ column on bike scofflaws is a “little” right and a lot bizarre

Yellow Jacketed Cyclist Riding A Sharrow Lane

Yellow Jacketed Cyclist Riding A Sharrow Lane

Today, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass rails against “free-riding little bike people” who don’t pay for roads (wrong) and against law breaking cyclists who are rarely ticketed (true). (Registration is required to read the column).

I do agree with Kass on this point: Like motorists and even pedestrians who use roads recklessly, people who ride bikes should also be ticketed. We don’t endorse ticketing cyclists and drivers for minor violations that put no one at risk. Let the police focus on more important matters. But if you’re putting people at risk, a ticket is warranted whether you’re biking, walking or driving.

Unfortunately, lax enforcement of traffic laws is a problem for all modes of transportation. I agree with Kass that people biking should not get away with riding on sidewalks in the Loop and going the wrong way on one-way streets, but I also see motorists commit flagrant road violations in plain view of the police regularly, and they let it go.

On average in Chicago, 60 people are injured or killed every day in car crashes, of which about 13 are on foot or bike and 47 in cars. Bikes are rarely the cause of injury. If the police are willing to look the other way for reckless motor vehicle drivers, they aren’t likely to ticket people riding bikes.

We hear that police officers sometimes feel that traffic tickets aren’t worth the amount of time it takes to process them. We need the police to overcome this hurdle and step up traffic enforcement across the board.

As for “free-riding” cyclists – wrong! First, many people who ride bikes own cars and buy gas and vehicle stickers. Second, roads and highways are only partially funded by gas taxes and other direct user fees. A report from the Environmental Law & Policy Center found that, even counting federal funding as user-based, between 24 percent and 38 percent of road and highway money in Illinois comes from non-user fees.

As a sidenote, it’s downright bizarre how many times Kass refers to “little bike people” – he wrote it in a previous column, too. It’s obviously intended as an insult, but to me it refers to how little space we take up on the roadway, how little wear and tear we cause, and how little our facilities cost within the grand scheme of transportation dollars spent!


Bravo to Mr. Buhrke for stepping up and agreeing to the obvious. We cyclists need to feel some sort of “heat” when it comes to scofflaw behavior. This is a good beginning, (I almost feel as if I am reading through the documents John Boehner is offering Barack Obama prior to the most serious Fiscal Cliff negotiations).

Now comes the Randy Cohen moment in this diatribe:

if you’re putting people at risk, a ticket is warranted

The problem here is that like Cohen, Buhrke is thinking “skin in the game” to quote Cohen:

Drive dangerously, you’re apt to injure others; ride dangerously, I’m apt to injure myself. I have skin in the game. And blood. And bones.

Okay, so we understand the logic behind the “skin in the game” ploy is it meaningful? I guess the question can best be answered by another question:

What is the ultimately aim of societal laws?

We have laws on the books in most states against suicide, assisted or otherwise. And to my mind risky behavior in traffic is tantamount to Russian Roulette if not suicide. Our drug laws are in place because we also do not wish to see people ruin their lives. I would venture a guess that there are no people who when exhibiting in traffic are the only ones getting hurt.

What about your spouse and your children? What about your parents and siblings? What about your office workers and their work product? To suggest that cyclist behavior is non-injury threading is to deny that when I exhibit risky behavior on a bike that I am “putting people at risk“. I am people.

If I get injured not only do I suffer but some poor shmuck who like me is just trying to make a living, suddenly has to drop what he was doing and wait for the police to arrive, wait while an ambulance arrives with the EMTs to cart away an injured or perhaps already dead cyclist and relive and dream about something that happened because Ron Buhrke and Randy Cohen convinced some “Trained Seal” that what he was doing was his own business and did not affect the rest of society.

Wrong! Flat out wrong!

Somebodies automobile insurance premiums are going to soar. Somebodies health insurance premiums are going to soar. If I am an uninsured rider then the state itself is going to pick up the tab for my emergency care and if I am lucky other cyclists are going to chip in to help me cover what are potentially needless expenses had I only been able to avoid the temptation to listen to knuckleheads who parade around as executive directors of cycling advocacy groups and ethicists (of all things). Were I the lawyer of the driver who was unfortunate to have hit and injured or God forbid have killed a cyclist I would be hopping mad that my client had been placed in Harm’s Way by such stupid offerings. But I would be thanking my lucky stars that both have committed this nonsense to digital paper.

The Church of Urban Cycling needs to ask for a new vicar. And failing that it needs to examine its group narrative. The very notion that we are suggesting these kinds of things should be considered nearly treasonous in an environment like the one we experienced as a Nation this weekend.

John Donne said it best:

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the SeaEurope is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thineowne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

For the hard of reasoning let me explain this to you in terms you might understand:

We discourage our urban youth from joining gangs because we do not wish to see them throw away their lives. They counter that it’s their lives, who are we to tell them what to do.

We council our daughters to wait until marriage before trying to bring a life into this world, they counter it is their bodies.

We tell people who are standing on ledges to think about their families before they leap. They counter that it is their lives and not ours. And yet here we are talking to them on the ledge and hundreds if not thousands standing below.

We look on the face of a man ready to leap in front of a train or drive his automobile onto the tracks just before a train passes an intersection and we say stop! He responds that he is despondent and that it is his life and no one has the right to tell him to stop.

Messrs. Cohen and Buhrke you should both be ashamed. It would not be half so bad were you as insignificant as I, but you were hired to lead, not be asses.

As for the taxation argument go ahead and wage that verbal war on each other.

But never again try and make the claim that there is once ounce of meaning in the “skin in the game” argument. To continue that charade is beneath your dignity and ours as members of the cycling community.