Updated: You Might Be Right, “Biking Isn’t Going Anywhere”


Background Reading:

The Premise

Shaun Jacobsen takes on John Kass in a blog piece that appears on his personal site. It begins with these auspicious pronouncements:

John Kass - chicagotribune.com

John Kass – chicagotribune.com

There’s a reason why newspapers like The New York Times are often cited throughout the country and internationally as a great source for editorials and opinion pieces. Their columnists are smart, sharp, and eloquent.

In Chicago, we like to be different: we have the columnists of the Chicago Tribune.

I debated even writing about this because I don’t see the point in sending pageviews to Tribune columnist John Kass’ latest vendetta against people on bikes, which are becoming boring, repetitive, and generally predictable. I’m not even going to post a link here. But I read it, because it’s important to understand the enemy in any “battle,” even if the battle is completely fabricated by disgruntled motorists and the “enemy” is a narrow-minded bellyacher writing for a subpar newspaper.

Moving on…

The plan to ignore John Kass will not make his ideas go away. Rather it begs the question, “Why does he represent such a  thorn in your side?” There is an element of clarity if you view the writing of Shaun Jacobsen as if it were in defense of the NRAs position on gun control. He could b e playing the Ted Nugent role in the debate. But I suspect it might be more accurate to posit that he is playing the role of Alex Jones in an attempt to convince his listeners of two basic facts:

  • Because of the Second Amendment to the Constitution we have an inalienable right to assault weapons of every sort
  • Registering gun owners and doing thorough background checks are part of a conspiracy to eventually take away our guns

In fact one of the issues that especially rankles people in the Urban Cycling Community is the notion of having to be registered or licensed to ride a bicycle. And nothing inflames the passions of this community like the notion of having to pay money for the privilege of having some $91 millions of taxpayer money spent on what is arguably a minuscule number of bike riders. By their own accounts cyclists are outnumbered by motorists 50-1.

In fact the problem really boils down to perception. If you are a gun owner and you keep having to read about someone entering a crowded social environment and opening up on innocent people it begins to make you wonder what exactly is the nature of the gun owning community that wants to slow walk if not completely halt any legislation on gun control.

If you are a motorist and you discover that over 100 miles of bicycle lanes are planned at a cost that is pretty dear, then you certainly want to ask the question “If increases in bicycle infrastructure are the key to better cyclist behavior, then why do I still see cyclists running red lights?” And that is a question that “is not going anywhere“.

Pearls Before Swine Comics

Pearls Before Swine Comics

Cyclists have rightfully earned a reputation for being a bit arrogant and dismissive. They used to have the notion the best defense against scofflaw behavior by their membership was to claim that this was a myth. But Randy Cohen has made certain that this ruse is no longer an option. We cyclists are scofflaws and by all accounts pretty proud of it.

What will have to be addressed is the cost-benefit-ratio of building protected bike lanes at a time when money is tight and Congress is certainly going to make every effort to shut down government over the raising of the debt ceiling.

But if we feel threatened by anyone who is complaining about the arrogant, scofflaw behavior of cyclists then we are going to be overwhelmed by questions regarding the actual work done to date on bicycle lanes that are sub par. We are certainly going to have to find ways to bring low-income neighborhood residents on-board without offending them in the process. And eventually we need to wrap our heads around the fact that registration and licensing are coming to a bicycle owner near you. The public is going to want exact its pound of flesh for the privilege of having to pay $450,000 for a 12-block stretch of roadway that Shaun Jacobsen himself has questions about. How ironic.

Getting Real

Cycling is going to have to answer the question, “How is this evidence of someone who understands the world we live in?” Once it becomes widely known that cyclists are not really just interested in having equal treatment on the roadway, but are in fact objecting to the very presence of the automobile at all. That will certainly change the tenor of the debate surrounding the budgeting of future monies to increase bicycle infrastructure. This reply to a ChainLink thread is amazingly naive:

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.

You may indeed be correct in believing that “Biking Isn’t Going Anywhere” but the meaning of that phrase is in question if indeed cyclists hold the same world view as the writer Mark Potts. This is as extreme a view in my judgment as anything Alex Jones has said in regards to gun control.

Why must cycling and gun ownership be treated as if they were religions?

Religious views are not really open for debate. If you are a Catholic and you discover to your horror that priests are molesting children while preaching “Family Values” you end up sounding like John Kass when he complains about scofflaw cyclists who constantly agitate for increased cycling infrastructure so that they can be safer and supposedly better behaved.

The cycling community needs to get beyond all of the hyperbole and bombastic rhetoric of this sort to something that is defensible and more inclusive. How on earth do we expect to curry favor with average citizens who are raising families, going to church and paying their taxes when we are couching their behavior (when doing grocery shopping of all things) are contributing to the death of the planet?

As a vegan I run into this sort of over the top talk all the time from folks who claim that using any animal product is evil. Of course they have some explaining to do when they ingest medicines and wear makeup that was tested on helpless animals. And in fact the vegan issue and cycling intersect at the juncture of animal rights.

If you think back to the days when horses and mules did the “heavy lifting” for us humans, it turns out that the internal combustion machine weaned us off of animal labor. So viewed in that light the automobile is a blessing and not a curse for the planet. But getting bogged down on issues that put the majority of the world on a trajectory that defines them as evil-doers is pretty silly.

Mark and Shaun are young enough to be “silly” in this way. When they are old enough to have to move about in a nursing home using a community bus to travel to field trip locations then they can proudly refuse to ride these evil contraptions in favor of using their wheelchairs via arm strength on a regular basis. But folks who are disabled and cannot walk or ride a bike are forced to rely on motor vehicles of some sort. They might be confined to wheelchairs. I see them riding these in the bike lanes along Jackson every time I pass that way.

It never occurs to me that a person using an electric motor on a wheelchair that was recharged using an outlet providing energy that was either coal or increasing natural gas is doing some evil. He is simply trying to get where he needs or wants to go and that is that.

Driving Isn’t Going Anywhere

Nor should it. We certainly want to find cleaner and more fuel efficient ways of getting around. But flying an airplane or power a high-speed rail train are equally “evil” in the context of these wild ramblings by folks who are sincere but perhaps misguided. No wonder folks like John Kass get their knickers in a twist.

Am I actually supposed to believe that when Gabe Klein or Rahm Emanuel travel back and forth to work or around the city that they are being dishonest and liars whenever they choose to use automobiles or even SUVs? Where on earth does this kind of thinking come from? I guess that it emerges from the “tiny minds” of folks who find anyone who is not a Chicago Cyclist a fraud and then decides to support Active Transportation Alliance even though its director lives in Oak Park?

A Further Set of Responses

Martin Luther King Quotation

Martin Luther King Quotation

After the rabid foaming at the mouth rant of Mark Potts (see above) the following replies were delivered:

Reply by Katie 7 hours ago
Wow, this thread is amazing…..inanimate objects are tools. Problems arise from how people use them. I do not believe this is a problem of cars but of people.

Note to self – do not feed the trolls…..

Before you start nodding your head in that knowing way, think about this reply in the context of  the “gun control” debate. If you are a Liberal who proposes that some sort of “gun control” measures be taken following Sandy Hook then stop and think about how this response fits into your thinking on “gun control“. This is a classic NRA response. It would make Ted Nugent and Alex Jones ecstatic to hear a cyclist say this sort of thing.

Now continue on to the next several responses:

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km 6 hours ago
Ah yes, the I’m a car-hater because it makes me feel superior kind of post.
Remind me not to befriend you on FB either.

Reply by notoriousDUG 5 hours ago
I don’t have to be angry to think you are an asshole, if anything it makes me a little sad and feel kind of sorry for you.

Joseph Shields said:
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 Anne Alt 2-10 4 hours ago
Dug – I’m with you on this one.

This kind of anti-car attitude acted out on the roads doesn’t help any of us, and can make the roads a lot more dangerous for all of us by provoking attitudes like that of Will’s co-worker (getting back to what started this thread).

How many people out there are desensitized to violence and lacking in impulse control? And how many of those folks are driving cars? Do we really need to provoke lethal behavior by people driving big mobile weapons? If you provoke someone and get away, then the driver cuts loose on the next cyclist down the road and severely injures or kills that person, could you live with that on your conscious?

As far as I’m concerned, “share the road” needs to go both ways. That’s my message, and I’m sticking to it.

Reply by Sarah D. 1-3.3 4 hours ago
Of course we on Chainlink all agree that cycling is fantastic and a superior mode of transport, but sharing the road will only work in all directions – ped/car/transit/cyclists. We won’t win anyone over when we’re righteous and mean and deliberately put ourselves and fellow travelers on our shared public way in danger, whether it’s to prove a point or not.

Reply by Mark Potts 2 hours ago
Personally I take no responsibility for the actions of others. If someone feels about me in any way, that is their own desire. Actions that result are their own.

The underlying concept is what is the *best* life we can collectively live. The method of resolution is to find the root of the problem and dig it up from there.

Reply by David Barish 13.9 26 minutes ago
As this conversation started we railed against the fringe on the motorized side. In recent days my mailbox has been flooded with the inevitable reaction railing against the fringe on the green bikey side. I am surprised to find my inner conservative. Both rants resonate with me. I have a hard time with hard core [insert your opinion here]. I like to ride my bike. I try to ride it when I can. I drive a car. I travel out of town on business. I am jealous of Anika.(see the thread on commuting distances) To borrow from another post I have seen, maybe it would be fun to put the original anti cycling misanthrope in a glass room with the cars are death posters, get a couple of beers and sit and watch the show. We can figure out whether it will be a drama, a comedy, a horror movie or perhaps one of those strange bedfellows flicks that bring a smile to our face.

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 20 minutes ago

To borrow from another post I have seen, maybe it would be fun to put the original anti-cycling misanthrope in a glass room with the cars are death posters, get a couple of beers and sit and watch the show. We can figure out whether it will be a drama, a comedy, a horror movie or perhaps one of those strange bedfellows flicks that bring a smile to our face.

<taking off the serious hat…>  That could have a certain twisted amusement value, especially if it was John Kass in that room.  😉

<switching hats again>  This post on Bob Mionske’s blog raises some good points.  Isn’t this often the root of our on-street conflicts:  “…what is really at issue here are conflicting ideas about whether a bicycle is exactly like a motor vehicle and should therefore be subject to exactly the same laws…”  and wouldn’t it be great to get to this point:  “…a bicycle is fundamentally different—a human-powered vehicle—and should have laws that reflect that difference.”

No Breakthrough Yet

On FaceBook Anne had asked the question a short while ago:

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

I had alluded to the type of venomous speech exhibited here in this blog entry as evidence that nothing would or could change so long as there was as much polarization on the subject of cars and bikes as there appears to be. Forums like ChainLink only exacerbate the problem. The thrive on the controversy to keep their hit count high enough to attract the activist types and at the end of the day there is very little consensus. People are quite loathe to express themselves in Right vs. Wrong terms but see nothing unacceptable in spewing venomous demonizations of both cars and the people who drive them. You can search this blog spot and use ChainLink as the search keyword and find literally dozens of rants on this very problem.

Anne tried to break free of being on both sides of the fence when she joined forces with notoriousDUG but then decided to retreat into the classic Bill Clinton “arguing both sides” mode for which he has become famous. But eventually you have to be willing to either decide you want equal treatment under the law or you want to have unequal treatment that defines your situation as something entirely different.

The Civil Rights struggle has had this dilemma for quite some time. On the one hand everyone wants to be treated fairly. But on the other hand the very notion of Affirmative Action is fundamentally unfair treatment. The classic Liberal description is that it is essentially the same as war reparations. When the Germans were required to pay them to Jews and ended up sending Mercedes-Benz automobiles to Israel it was a punishment for what they had done to 6,000,000 souls.

We do not like to couch Affirmative Action in the same way but that is exactly what it is. So it is always a bit of a cop out when a Liberal demands that Affirmative Action be kept in force as a practice while demanding fair and equal treatment under the law. Unfortunately you cannot have it both ways.

What to Do with Bicycles?

Cycling Activists are at a crossroads of sorts. They began the last half decade decrying the fact that slowly and inexorably they were being forced off of streets and onto trails that marginalized cycling into a posture a leisure sport for folks on slow bikes with kids. John Forester comes along and offers a glimpse of cycling as a legitimate form of transportation alongside that represented by the automobile. And for nearly 50 years we taught courses via the League of American Wheelmen (a.k.a League of American Bicyclists) using the Effective Cycling tome as the Bible.

But our European brethren in what I term as Bicycle Heaven had very little respect for this approach. And folks like Ron Burke who head up the Cycling Advocacy groups around the country have adopted that point of view to the exclusion of Vehicular Cycling. The “ultimate solution” as promised by these Neo-Natzis is “bicycle infrastructure“. But what you see there versus what we have developed here is more like the very forest preserve trails we came to dislike here and very much unlike the hybrid system we are shoe-horning onto our too narrow and congested streets.

What really defines the difference between what we are creating for ourselves and what they have are the carless sections of downtown areas. The Case for Bicycle Infrastructure; is a good place to start when looking for a scholarly understanding of what the inhabitants of Bicycle Heaven mean when they speak of infrastructure. You should also take a look at: Being unable to park a car directly outside a shop is not ‘segregation’. Its value lies in the fact that it provides photographs to illustrate the concept.

© xhamster.com

© xhamster.com

So we are a bit like teenagers who are eager to smoke because it displeases our parents and we believe it makes us looker older and more sophisticated. But we still have failed to find jobs and move out of the house and need to have our parents fund our college careers so we are stuck between two worlds. And that is what I believe drives this slight schizophrenic need to demand equality while trying to make the case that what we want to define as equality is not really equality but rather a set of rules which suit our impressions of who and what we are.

We want equality and affirmative action simultaneously. We want to have expensive lanes built for our use despite the fact that they can run as high as $450,000 for a 12-block section while rejecting any notion of having to be licensed or registered or in any way pay tolls for the luxury of using these cycle tracks that are supposed protected.

Now from where I stand this means that we really need to remove ourselves from the streets altogether and build cycle tracks that are more like the Chicago Lakefront Trail than they are protected bike lanes. We are trying again to shoe-horn in a carless area while having to share intersections with them.

And that is a bit like walking down State Street naked and complaining that the clothed people are staring at you.

Amsterdam Bike Parking© StreetsBlog

Amsterdam Bike Parking
© StreetsBlog

While we are at it there should be a consensus on how much we plan to adopt the European ideals concerning bicycles as appliances. Right now we are enamored with them as objects of beauty and desire. That really makes no sense if the folks we are trying to emulate like them as clunky and functional as possible and are willing to park them many blocks away from their office buildings in outdoor bike lots where thousands of bikes are jammed together.

Most of the current biking crowd would balk at having to park in Millenium Park and then fan out to their respective buildings only to reverse the process at the close of the day. We are simply not that attached to the notion of cycling if it means inconvenience of that sort.

Velomobile Along Fox River Trail© BlueVelo

Velomobile Along Fox River Trail
© BlueVelo

And what on earth would be the reaction to having bikes like these sharing the protected bike lanes? These are vehicles that while human powered can cruise at speeds close to 30 MPH. That is a dynamic that clearly few have mulled over in their euphoria over protected bike lanes.

Rather than trying to come to some determination on what exactly we are to do about our collective vision of ourselves we might want to consider what it is we really want to accomplish. Yes, I hear the constant refrain that we want more people to ride along side us in the bike lane. But tripling or quintupling the number of people in those lanes will make for a very different dynamic out on the roadway.

Yes, we may feel safer traveling in a herd. But it will mean something quite different as we jockey for space on commuter trains, buses and elevated train platforms as we carry out multi-mode travels. Currently the city is really not ready for that.

If you think the bike lanes on Dearborn Street are too narrow and too much in need of repair just think of how streets will feel if thousands of bicyclists are riding as a herd at a stately 10 MPH along Dearborn Street. Guys like Shaun Jacobsen will certainly flip out when they realize that the “green wave” is impractical when this many people are bunched up on a street.

Think of it this way. What if every single day was like Bike The Drive at the turn around points? Ask yourself if the thought of having as many people on the streets at night as those that participate in the L.A.T.E. Ride would be bearable. Think too about the fact that the chances of large portions of those bicycle commuters being drunk off their asses is quite possible. Consider what it feels like when you ride the Chicago Lakefront Trail on a weekend and tons of bikes are out and about and kids on trikes or small wheeled bikes are wobbling across the lane as you wait impatiently for a moment when you can jump the line and speed ahead. You could have that thrilling sort of ride every single night.

Night, heck. You could have hundreds if not thousands of school kids joining you for the first leg of your daily commute each morning as they are escorted to school by cargo bike Moms with toddlers who are slow and erratic and having to “herd kittens” as they get their offspring to school.

Are you bachelor guys ready for kiddies in the bike lanes? Are you single females ready to plod along behind cargo bike Moms who are likely to be talking on cellphones? If not then you need to prepare yourself for that sort of thing. It will happen and does on a regular basis in Europe.

So get real and consider the fact that you might one day find life in a shared lane with automobiles something that you remember more fondly than you ought.

A New Further Response

One of the more recent replies on ChainLink’s discussion the “Anti-Cycling ‘Friends‘” reads as follows:

Reply by globalguy 8 hours ago
But elsewhere, an Ohio Lawyer cites English Common Law (going back to the Magna Carta) and various SCOTUS decisions that declare “[t]he streets belong to the public and are primarily for the use of the public in the ordinary way” regardless of conveyance type. IMHO the laws, while reflecting this difference, should preserve our overall right to access.

Anne Alt 2-10 said:
This post on Bob Mionske’s blog raises some good points. Isn’t this often the root of our on-street conflicts: “…what is really at issue here are conflicting ideas about whether a bicycle is exactly like a motor vehicle and should therefore be subject to exactly the same laws…” and wouldn’t it be great to get to this point: “…a bicycle is fundamentally different—a human-powered vehicle—and should have laws that reflect that difference.”

Well it would appear that we have come full circle. A decade ago we were fighting (i.e. Boub v. Township of Wayne Case) here in Illinois for the privilege of being considered “intended users” of the roadway:

Boub v. Township of Wayne is a ruling of the Illinois Supreme court made in 1998, where it was held that municipalities are not liable for the damage cyclists suffer on the poorly maintained roads. The cyclists were ruled permitted but not intended users of the roads in the state of Illinois. Under the state law municipalities has a duty to maintain local roads in a safe condition. However they are liable for damages only if the use of a road was both permitted and intended. The justices were sharply divided on the issue—four of them voted for the decision and three against. The dissenters called the decision “absurd and dangerous”.[1]

Having won the right to be viewed as both “permitted and intended” users of Illinois’ municipal roadways we have decided that obeying all of the same laws as automobiles has become an onerous task. And this while trying to maintain that scofflaw cyclists are a myth. The act of obeying all of the laws of the state in the Rules of the Road should easy if there are few if any scofflaw cyclists who routinely run red lights and stop signs.

But sadly the fact is that these practices are commonplace and rather than dealing with our bad habits we have decided to reset the goal posts. We want to be intended users only in those situations that suit out habits and mores.

The essence of that position is that we would like to have our cake and eat it too.

We need to adopt a position as cyclists that includes owning the burden of being “lawful, permitted and intended users” of the roadway. Failing to act in this way is evidence that we are perhaps not mature enough as adults to carry the burden of educating our youthful cyclists who are learning to ride their bikes to and from school each day. And if that is the case it would be good to know now that we are not up to the task.

IMG_0052For many years the NRA sounded like this when discussing gun ownership. But in much the same way as cyclists the onus of having to accept licensing and restrictions. Everyone (including both cyclists and motorists) it would seem is eager to have unbridled freedoms without any thought to responsibilities and limitations. No wonder our children have little respect for our religious and political establishments.

They see our duplicitous nature and are reviled by it and rightly decide that we are shams. We preach Family Values from our pulpits and molest our altar boys and girls. We tell women how to govern their bodies according to rules set down by men while we fail to behave like husbands and fathers with our secretaries.

What will no doubt happen is that cyclists will find that motorists too want to be able to have complete freedoms on the roadways and will petition to be allowed to treat stoplights and stop signs as Yield Signs. And that will make it even more difficult for cyclists to ever consider venturing out into intersections (against the light) with a reasonable certainty that they are the only ones bold enough to violate red light controls. This will be dangerous ground to be on, in my estimation.

If motorists petition and win the right to travel at whatever speed they deem to be safe for the conditions you then have a very dangerous situation. It would be wiser for cyclists to obey lays that in the final analysis do more to protect them than having concessions to our laziness where obedience to traffic rules is concerned.

I shudder to think of the problems that will ensue when school age kids attempt to make judgments on whether they can safely cross an intersection on a red light with as much aplomb as the older riders they are attempting to emulate. That my friends will be a black mark against cycling far greater than being called “scofflaw cyclists” and we will have earned every ounce of that guilt.