Updated: Anne, I Think I Have Your Answer – Maybe, Never!


Background Reading:

Anne Alt evidently does not know any more about the urban bicycle subculture than do I. She wrote an entry on Facebook that asked:

Equal treatment is where we need to be. How soon can we get there?

One would think this is a simple enough question and reasonable people would offer up guesses as to how soon a society of reasonable people to offer one another the respect we all so richly deserve. But it would appear that the Urban Cycling Community is unable to muster any consensus on the subject. Take for instance the continuance of a thread on Anti-Cycling “Friends”:

Reply by Allen Johnson on Friday
Well I guess I’ve just been fortunate enough to have shared the road with mindful bus drivers. I can’t think of a single time where I’ve been cut off or endangered by a CTA vehicles. It’s the people driving their own cars an cabbies that truly worry me.

Reply by Jeff Rogers on Friday
Don’t get me started on the cabbies. Worst class of so-called professional drivers I have ever seen are Chicago cabbies. I’d rather take on a texting teenager.

Reply by Shaun Jacobsen on Friday
I’ve only heard one co-worker tell me that she “hates when cyclists are in the road, because they slow me down.” We were driving to the movies. I politely pointed out that the road is for all users, and that was that. Haven’t heard worse at work.

Maybe this is because I myself am rather adamant about equal rights for road users on social media, and my friends on Facebook know I write a blog about “alternative” transportation. Some of them drive, some walk most places, and some ride bikes. I think that my pronounced stance has repelled others’ criticisms and comments (or they just hide them from me… :-P), but when I do see something advocating violence, or even something as simple as not understanding why people on bikes “just can’t stay off the road,” I politely try to explain what is the law and that people like me, who ride bikes, are humans who just want to get somewhere safely too.

Reply by yai danche on Saturday
I also have been lucky. CTA bus drivers along streets with bike lanes are pretty mindful. Even before a bike lane was put in on Madison, the bus drivers would leave about 8 feet of space behind the crosswalk so that I could be ahead of the line. I rarely pass buses unless I know I can get way ahead of them. Otherwise, it’s just playing Frogger and I don’t mind the extra commute time to have peace of mind. Cabbies by Union Station are shifty and all those pedestrians crossing the Madison street bridge are more of a danger to me.

In terms of anti-cycling friends, my roommate is pretty anti-cycling. Even a friend who used to bike commute but now solely car commutes still rants about law-breaking cyclists. We just agree not to bitch about cyclists/motorists to each other.


Reply by mat defiler on Saturday

  1. I think face to face encounters are more likely to be productive than facebook encounters. I had a coworker for years who was very conservative about a lot of things, but we respected one another’s work ethic. When we first met she said thoughtless or biased things about rude cyclists and cars’ right of way. I politely disagreed with her many times and we would have respectful but heated arguments. After a few times of her seeing me come in really rattled by something a driver did or said to me on the way to work, she became much more sympathetic. She would listen to the whole situation each time and after a while she really understood my life was at stake and i was just another commuter trying to respect the road as much as possible. She, who i had originally assumed would be my biggest adversary, became my biggest champion. Several years later, a while before she retired, she offered me a random gift of a shirt with a bicycle on it for the sole reason that she thought of me when she saw it at the store. So, it really is possible, with patience, to open people’s eyes; it’s not always a dead end.
  2. Buses are not the natural enemy of bikes. But we are often pit against eachother by the unfriendliness of roads and traffic laws to BOTH bikes and buses. Buses can be super dangerous, and some drivers can exacerbate that by pointing their frustration towards cyclists (believe me, i’ve felt it). But just the other day i experienced bus leap frog with a driver that made me think “wow, that person is really going out of their way to show that they understand that, at the end of the day, bikes and buses should be on the same side”. I returned the courtesy, by making room for the bus to pull over and pick up passengers in response to the bus not zooming ahead and cutting me off to do so. I don’t begrudge bus drivers, i just think we have a lot of work to do creating an environment of respect and a transit system which priveleges both CTA and cyclists in such a way that we aren’t fighting over our tiny margin of the road.

Reply by Mark Potts on Saturday
“So, it really is possible, with patience, to open people’s eyes; it’s not always a dead end.”
I totally agree with this.

And busses are great, I’ve never had an issue at all.

Reply by Minh on Saturday
You can be right or have a relationship.

Reply by Allen Johnson on Saturday
Spoken like a wise sage.

Reply by Joseph Shields 22 hours ago
There is a hierarchy on the road. Those who drive automobiles cannot complain or talk shit about anyone, because their modus of travel has the ability to kill both bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as others in automobiles. If a car was ever inconvenienced because of someone on a bike or a pedestrian, they have no real cause to complain about. It should be understood that they are part of the problem themselves. Now, taking that one step further, bicyclists can talk shit about cars, because they are at a much higher risk and I can sympathize with their cause and they are generally treated poorly on the road. But, I have also seen bicycles treat pedestrians with the same lack of consideration and lack of respect for their safety as they might equally receive from motorists. Ultimately the pedestrian is the most “naked” and at risk individual. So, while I agree with your cause as a bicyclist, please consider how you treat those who are simply on their feet and have to defend themselves not only from cars, but riders just as much.

Reply by notoriousDUG 2 hours ago
This has to be one of the most ill conceived notion about manner on the road that I have ever seen.

Cars have EVERY right to be annoyed and complain about it when a cyclists does something rude, illegal or just plain stupid that inconveniences them. It is stupid to think that somebodies transportation choices have any bearing on their right to get upset when others are ignorant.

Reply by Allen Johnson 2 hours ago
I disagree with DUG. Driving a car is inherently dangerous/annoying to the environment. So, a motorist getting upset with cyclists for using the road is asinine. Like cool your shit or get a bike so you can use the road more freely too.

Reply by Joseph Shields 3 hours ago
There is nothing more satisfying than pissing off someone in car. I think the scale with which they amplify their anger is in direct proportion to the size of their car and in inverse proportion to the size of their humanity. But that aside, the car is truly the biggest inconvenience of all. It has ruined so many great things about our lives, our society, our culture, our architecture, our way of thinking about the world. So to sit and watch a driver get pissed off as I cross the road in front of him, walking home from work in 0 degree weather, while he sits in his heated oasis, fumed, just wanting to hit the gas and plow me over. I smile back at him and enjoy his inconvenience that much more.

Reply by notoriousDUG 2 hours ago
You are an asshole and you make the roads worse for EVERYONE on them. The attitude you have is so damaging to the cause of cycling advocacy that I don’t even have the words to express the harm you do. All of the anger and ill will we all deal with is driven by people just like you no matter what form of transportation they choose.

Cars, nor the people who drive them are inherently evil. In fact cars are pretty darn useful and there is nothing wrong with choosing to use one from time to time.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 2 hours ago
Trolling, trolling, trolling, keep them doggies trolling, RAWHIDE . . . .
Oops, wrong song.

Reply by Joseph Shields 2 hours ago
The only anger and ill will expressed thus far has been from you. I never made any attacks on your person, only expressed my opinions with regard to cars. I only pointed out the smile on my face, whence you called me an asshole. The amplification of your anger is palpable. I hope you enjoy it.

Reply by Minh 2 hours ago
Ha this has to be a joke.

Reply by Allen Johnson 2 hours ago
Cars aren’t inherently evil? Oh I guess they’re just the object our entire unsustainable crumbling infrastructure based on. No big

Reply by Zoetrope 9 minutes ago
Cheers for making me laugh.

Also, is this even english? “This has to be one of the most ill conceived notion about manner on the road that I have ever seen.”

Reply by Mark Potts 3 hours ago
“the car is truly the biggest inconvenience of all. It has ruined so many great things about our lives, our society, our culture, our architecture, our way of thinking about the world. So to sit and watch a driver get pissed off as I cross the road in front of him, walking home from work in 0 degree weather, while he sits in his heated oasis, fumed, just wanting to hit the gas and plow me over. I smile back at him and enjoy his inconvenience that much more.”

Our way of thinking of the world… so true. While enjoyment of others’ misery is never any sort of real joy – your point regarding the car taking over the transportation system is very important.

The car has helped draw people away from appreciation of the world that surrounds them. This happens directly by climate control/noise isolation/use of external energies to transport… but deeper are the psychological attributes of car ownership and desire of car ownership.

Simply put, why would ANYONE, EVER, desire to use a device *every day of their lives* that decreases the quality of the air they MUST breathe and the water they MUST drink and changes great forests for which so much life NEEDS into concrete deserts? And even in a state of nature detachment, why would anyone decide to spend more time away from friends and family to gain monetary support for an infatuation with transportation? And why would someone create the above situation to transport themselves 5 miles to a place where they then walk 5 miles in place (treadmill)?

Is it realized that the “grocery getter” contributes to obesity not only by making effortless time that would otherwise be spent giving physical effort… it alters our food choices as now less trips to the grocery store can be made/more gotten at one time. In comes frozen processed food and all the horrors it creates.

Facts are, cars are an extremely destructive force to every aspect of our lives. There are superior forms of transportation that do not contribute so greatly to the poisoning of our planet… cycling is a fine example of this.


This portion of the thread is ample evidence that there are sublime thinkers in the Urban Cycling Community intermixed with sociopaths. A recent cartoon on “Pearls Before Swine” sums up the prevailing notion that cyclists seem to have about everybody on the road but themselves:

Pearls Before Swine Comics

Pearls Before Swine Comics

It is difficult to own up to the fact that this bit of nonsense more accurately describes the views of the Advocacy Leaders and Activists than any single discussion could uncover. We are simply Transportation Bigots. It is the kind of slowly festering position one develops after spending time in close proximity to other users of the roadway in congested urban and suburban settings. Urban Cyclists are stressed and then some become aggressive. The phenomenon is fairly well documented and is the subject of at least one blog entry on this site.

What is not really clear is the proportion of haters in the Church of Urban Cycling actually exist. But even some of the writing of Mikael Colville-Andersen show glimpses of a deep-seated loathing of the automobile.

My guess is that as with handguns that which we hate most has become a source of fearfulness in us.

What we often mistake as mindful deliberate driving tactics on the part of motorists is nothing more than the kind of mindless selfish behavior that people exhibit in washrooms, restaurants, office spaces, schools buildings, art museums, other people’s home washrooms and places of worship. Nothing that happens on the roadways of America would surprise a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO). If they have ever had to come upon a murder scene that was horrid enough to make them puke, you can bet that what we dish out to one another on the roadways comes as no surprise.

In a word, people are selfish and greedy. And we are living at a time when the tendency to cover up this fact with external politeness is mostly gone. The Jerry Springer and Randy Cohen models of behavior are the norm rather than the exception. And given that this is how things are we are likely to continue to have problems on the roadways.

Both Ron Burke and Mikael Colville-Andersen are under the mistaken impression that things can be changed simply with enough money and bicycle infrastructure. Colville-Andersen writes in the article Behavioural Challenges for Urban Cycling of 11 November 2009:

Generally, bad behaviour is a sign that cyclists don’t have adequate infrastructure. Increasing cycling’s infrastructure and profile is a good way to calm the traffic in more ways than one.

Ron Burke echoed this sentiment when he wrote in an open letter on ChainLink:

John Thomas comes to the wrong conclusions in his column about biking behavior (“Crazed cyclists run rampant,” July 19). Everyone has the right to use a public street and a responsibility to follow the rules. Of course people can be jerks on a bike. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty in cars as well, which outnumber bikes roughly 50-to-1 citywide. But it’s a cop out to call everyone on a bike “crazed” when the biggest reason for bad behavior is poor street design. Cities that calm traffic and give people on bikes their own space see more harmony and fewer crashes. Chicago isn’t there yet, but it’s moving in the right direction.

But neither of these gentlemen offer up much hope that they understand the fundamental problem with cyclists versus motorists, a simple lack of respect. I live in both worlds. I drive nearly everywhere I need to be in a minivan. But when I choose to recreate I use a long wheelbase recumbent bicycle.

Over the past three seasons I have deliberately eschewed riding in the suburbs in order to gain a better understanding of what urban cycling is like. The first two years I rode mainly along the Chicago Lakefront Trail. But gradually my wife and I ventured out onto the streets of the city during all kinds of weather and times to see what city cycling is all about.

I think the best way to understand the problem is contained in these two articles:

At one level they confirm some things about the assertion that separating bicyclist from motorist traffic could help defuse the situation. And I would agree that riding along the Chicago Lakefront Trail is simply marvelous. I happen to prefer much of the infrastructure along the southern end of the trail where you can ride off the trail and dive down under Lake Shore Drive to reach sidewalks that take you further inland towards the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago.

But eventually you have to enter streets to the west of Lake Shore Drive and once again you are in a mix of traffic. In fact we rode around the U of C campus shortly after the protected bike lane was installed along 55th Street just east of Ellis Avenue. At the time we were dismayed to find that completing a left-hand turn onto Ellis required leaving the bike lane and crossing a swathe designed for automobiles desiring to make right turns. It was a logistical nightmare and left me wondering who might have overseen its construction?

[google-map-v3 width=”350″ height=”350″ zoom=”12″ maptype=”roadmap” mapalign=”center” directionhint=”false” language=”default” poweredby=”false” maptypecontrol=”true” pancontrol=”true” zoomcontrol=”true” scalecontrol=”true” streetviewcontrol=”true” scrollwheelcontrol=”false” draggable=”true” tiltfourtyfive=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkerlist=”5535 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL{}theater.png{}Court Theatre” bubbleautopan=”true” showbike=”false” showtraffic=”false” showpanoramio=”false”]

That was a valuable lesson for me. Nothing we are ever likely to experience in the United States is going to remove the need for physical contact between cyclists and motorists. So the general notion prevalent in the Urban Cycling Community (especially among Cycling Advocacy leaders) that Vehicular Cycling is passé is a Big Lie and likely to cost cyclists either their lives or their well-being.

The problem in cities is not the fact cyclists and motorists inhabit the same lane. Rather it is the degree of density of traffic itself.

If you ride a street like Milwaukee Avenue on a Sunday afternoon it has an entirely different feel than during the week. Trying to create an artificial barrier between cyclists and motorists by shoving cyclist literally to the curb is in my experience a big mistake. Cyclists seem to prefer buffered lanes (like that on North Halsted) to anything as cramped as Dearborn Street where you have dual bike lanes along an very imperfect edge.

[google-map-v3 width=”350″ height=”350″ zoom=”12″ maptype=”roadmap” mapalign=”center” directionhint=”false” language=”default” poweredby=”false” maptypecontrol=”true” pancontrol=”true” zoomcontrol=”true” scalecontrol=”true” streetviewcontrol=”true” scrollwheelcontrol=”false” draggable=”true” tiltfourtyfive=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkerlist=”1466 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL{}hiking.png{}REI Store” bubbleautopan=”true” showbike=”false” showtraffic=”false” showpanoramio=”false”]

The primary reasons are that despite the fact that you are to the left of parked cars you are nevertheless free to make left turns in a more intuitive fashion. And if the buffered area is wide enough you can easily avoid “dooring” incidents while still maintaining a safe distance from traffic to your left. And you gain the knowledge and skill to perform these kinds of transitions by studying and knowing Vehicular Cycling.

Nothing in Vehicular Cycling is going to prevent your stress levels from rising to the point of aggression. But having strategies helps to avoid the panic of being on streets which have too much concentrated traffic without some forewarning of what to expect. For me the solution is to take a side street if I feel threatened. In fact I would do that even if I were driving a car.

The monies we are spending to put in lanes which have limited and indeed questionable value are likely to be wasted. Having however elevated bicycle tracks that keep cyclists out of the mix with traffic altogether and not stuck against the curb riding through glass, water, snow and ice would be preferable. But that kind of infrastructure would be costlier than the $450,000 required to put up the Dearborn Street boondoggle. But it would be vastly more user-friendly if it could be designed to go places which are useful to commuters.

If we could devise a plan to keep motorists out of a central core of the city that might be useful. They would essentially be treated as we now treat train commuters. They get dropped off on the outskirts of the Loop and then have walk the remaining mile or two into their office buildings.

Such commuters could be provided with access to rentable bikes or encouraged to purchase folding bikes which they could take directly into their buildings and store under their desks or in the hallway closets near them. This is the kind of multi-mode traveling that I think makes far more sense than miles upon miles of protected bicycle lanes that look like this:

I called it a minefield.© Steve Vance

I called it a minefield.
© Steve Vance

What is amazing and appalling at once is that this particular bike lane is newly installed. This is not the result of a year or more of use as a bicycle lane. This is brand new stuff! Shameful!

It is this kind of stuff that puts the lie to anything Burke or Andersen have to say about the value of bike lanes/infrastructure.

So in closing the problem that we have in bringing equality to our roadways is as or more elusive than equal treatment of people based on their gender, race, ethnicity or national origin. Minimizing the density of traffic is preferable to erecting lanes which often create their own class of problems.