Dear Motorists, Cyclists Are Photographing You And Perhaps Offering Them To The Police


Background Reading:

Chicago’s Urban Cycling Community May Be On A “Witch-Hunt”

Bicycle Lanes

Bicycle Lanes

You have probably read about the new and improved bicycle lanes coming to Chicago. Their intent and purpose is to make cycling safer for commuters and tourists within the city limits. And it is hoped that these kinds of structural upgrades to our streets will propagate to other towns in the Chicagoland Area. Cyclists are part of a larger group hoping to spearhead a movement called Complete Streets. The aim of that group is to have municipalities add sidewalks that are missing or end abruptly because no one took the initiative to complete the street.

Everyone benefits from both Complete Streets and more intelligent infrastructure that accommodates bicyclists, motorized wheel chair users, skateboarders, etc. The hope is that someday you and your family will be able to safely ride Chicago streets without fear of injury or death. Some cyclists are also motorists. Those of us that are understand that driving to work is no picnic either. It can be dangerous and unsafe if not everyone plays by the rules.

We all have seen motorists who break the speed limit on a regular basis, run red lights and blow through stop signs. Some even pass on the right at intersections and general treat other motorists and cyclists with callous disregard. Pedestrians are threatened by both motorists and cyclists alike. And sadly they contribute to the problem that threaten traffic safety by jaywalking and generally crossing in mid-block locations from between parked cars that sometimes end badly.

And you like me have seen cyclists who are derelict in their obedience to the law. Some deliberately ply the streets of the city on bikes that have no brakes and perform illegal alley-cat races that have actually resulted in the death of at least one participant. The cycling community is plagued as is the motoring community with people who routinely disregard our traffic laws under the cover of not finding stopping at red lights or stop signs convenient.

One thing that often brings anger to the minds of cyclists is a blatant disregard by motorists of the bicycle lane. Some of these lanes are against the curb and motorists drop off passengers or make relatively quick runs into coffee shops while parked in these lanes. It means that the cyclist has to veer around the car and that places them in danger of being struck while in the roadway reserved for automobiles. Things get chaotic.

And of course you have noticed (whether a motorist, pedestrian or cyclist) that some cyclists like to run red lights by using a two-step method that literally means crossing the intersection half-way and the performing a U-Turn into oncoming traffic approaching from the right! Yikes! None of the scofflaws in any of these traffic modalities should be allowed to continue.

We need to urge our fellow motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to cease text and otherwise operating mobile devices that distract them from safe operation. The police are overwhelmed here in Chicago with handling rising murder rates due to gun violence. Enforcing traffic laws is somewhat lower on their radar than drive-by shootings and rapes. But you and I can help. We already have numbers to call when we see a motorist operating a vehicle in a manner that indicates he might be under the influence of either alcohol or drugs. It’s not being a “snitch” to notify the police in situations like this, it helps to save lives.

We can offer to be designated drivers when our posse goes out for an evenings libation. We can take the time to watch for cyclists when we exit our automobiles and most certain slow down when traveling along crowded neighborhood streets to give ourselves a fighting chance whether in a car, on a bike, powering a skateboard or driving a truck of stopping in time to save the life of a child. We after are all together in this fight to make our streets safe.

If our streets are safe it means that our community is deemed a great place to live and that invites quality home buyers and renters. If our streets are safe it means our children can live long productive lives and can ride their bikes to school or to the playground. If our streets are safe we all benefit, no matter how we get around, on foot, on a bus or train, by bicycle or in the family auto.

But there is a vigilante effort among some cyclists that threatens to make safety a one-way street. It is a movement that threatens to divide us along lines that represent the travel modalities we choose. It would pit motorists against cyclist in the same way we now seem divided along both political, ethnic, religious and racial lines. This is dangerous and while well-intentioned does more to fragment our social contract to keep our streets safe than it does to aid in the delivery of increased safety.

The vehicle being used to foment this sort of divisiveness has been a social network called Chicago ChainLink Forum. Think of it as the urban cyclists alternative to Facebook. People of all stripes, many who are both cyclists and motorists join this forum and provide social support to newbie cycling commuters who are just beginning to ply the streets of our city. Often these folks are overwhelmed as are most newly transplanted motorists by the sheer density and seemingly chaotic traffic of a large urban area.

If you previously hailed from a small farming town and are now graduated from college and living on the North Side you probably wonder how anybody keeps their heads on straight while traveling hither and yon on pubic transportation let along driving and bicycling. But they do and before long everyone gets the hang of things.

One day you will be sitting on the side of the road worried that you will not make it to an appointment on time and a cyclist will stop and offer directions across time that will be concise and time-saving. And perhaps at a future date you will have the good fortune to help out a stranded cyclist whose tires have punctured and cannot ride home because their patch kit is either empty or missing. In short we all can scratch one another’s backs from time-to-time.

But if we let mean-spirited people seek to divide us a community along the lines of cyclist versus pedestrian versus motorist versus bus rider we will all be lessened as a result. To make it clear to you that there are folks who are busy attempting to offer vigilante solutions to real problems click through the links above to get a flavor of the kinds of situations that have arisen on the ChainLink.

Your first inclination might be to contact your alderman or the local police station to complain that you have been photographed and your likeness or that of your vehicle has been placed on a public website with the intent to shame you or to serve as a place for law enforcement officials to find scofflaws. But please try and resist the urge to do anything rash. Far better would be for you to join the ChainLink Forum and offer your understanding and help in thinking through methods of educating your fellow drivers and pedestrians in how we can all make cycling safer. I am sure that those on the forum who are fair-minded folks would appreciate knowing that they are not alone in their battle for equality under the law when using bicycles on our streets.

Likewise I am certain that every motorist and pedestrian has a pet peeve about the behaviors of cyclists. You wonder why we are unwilling to ride within the law? Frankly the problem is partly that our advocates have given us bad advice about the nature of our duty to uphold the laws that we commonly refer to as the Rules of Road. But none of us has to allow this sort of wrongheadedness to spoil our mutual cooperation in securing safety on our streets.

We are neighbors and should act accordingly. If a cyclist or a motorist is not following the law then it is well within your purview to seek assistance from the police. But it might be a wiser step to first try and reason with the individual to let them know that their behavior is personally hurtful to you and makes you concerned about the safety of the children in the neighborhood or the elderly who confined to motorized wheelchairs are subjected to rude and dangerous traffic situations.

Be sure to let the folks on ChainLink know that you would prefer to work things out online through cooperation rather than aggression. Please do not hesitate to contact me via email if you have any questions about this blog entry.