Spend Less Time On ‘Write-In’ Campaigns And More Time On Self-Education

Background Reading


Our best work as a community is generating write-in campaigns and showing up for photo ops. We are quick to assert that BRTs are the wave of the future and we know this because they have succeeded elsewhere. Yet when new data comes in that indicates that there is not universal success with BRTs we get strangely silent. Bike lanes are no exception. They work some places better than others. They are not universally successful and Chicago is living proof of this.

After waiting months for the installation of grates over the bridge that is at the north end of the Dearborn Street PBL things are still not quite right. Let’s listen in:

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 11 hours ago
Bridge is ICE! I went down hard on my knees. Thank heaven for rain pants and jeans. I think I will just have some nice bruises.

Reply by Jenn_5.5 mi 11 hours ago
Hope you are ok, Lisa!!
The bridge is the worst that I have ridden on all season. I almost dumped it… Twice , then walked it across. It was so slick, it was hard to walk across.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 10 hours ago
Ah, guess I’m not the only one who took a tumble on the bridge. I was riding very slowly but felt the bike start to tip over under me, so I jumped off just as the bike fell out from underneath. Luckily I landed on my feet, so nothing was hurt. It was tough to even walk across in my snow boots!

What is of utmost importance here is that PBLs are supposed to be for “newbies”. These are the lanes that “anyone” should be able to ride and they should be the “sources of encouragement” for those who are on the fence about bike commuting. But judging from the words of these seasoned riders, all is not well in PBL-Land.

Reply by spencewine 10 hours ago
I went down, as well, on Dearborn bridge this morning. The good news is that I’m alive, the bad news is that the cupcakes I was bringing in for work didn’t survive and I may have a broken right hand…it’s swelling up like a balloon.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 9 hours ago
Spence–that sounds like maybe ER worthy. Dan, no swelling for me, and I did think to take the ibuprofen, so maybe that is keeping swelling down.
Skip–probably the only way to do it is what you are suggesting. I of course have a “dumb” phone (what else would you expect?) and do not do twitter, so I would not have been able to use it if it existed. The other problem I could see is that even though my phone is in a jacket pocket I doubt I can’t really hear it while I am riding.

Reply by spencewine 9 hours ago
My fiance is an ER doc, luckily she’s not working today…she’s going to have a look.
Thanks for the condolensces, but it’s my own stupid fault. I was 100% going to take State Street today because of the ice, but then I got close to dearborn and thought that maybe the bridge plates would be complete and I wanted to see it (basically changed my mind right as I was approaching Dearborn)….when I got up the hill and saw it wasn’t done yet, I thought I’d just be careful and get across. Luckily, I fell on the less aggressive grate.

This Bridge Fiasco Is Not An Isolated Situation

Where everything in this push for PBLs seems to fall flat is in the planning area. PBLs present a singular problem for both motorists and cyclists in terms of perceptions. New York had a rather nasty turn of events when cyclists started getting tickets for “not riding” in the PBLs. You can easily see why this is problematic since the language used in even the ordinances here in Chicago are a bit “fuzzy”.

StreetsBlog reported the other day that all was well in regards to the understanding on the issue of bike lane usage. But some of the ChainLink’s Trained Seals are dubious about this. Let’s listen in:

Protected bike lane on Elston Avenue. Photo by Blue Fairlane.

Protected bike lane on Elston Avenue. Photo by Blue Fairlane.

It’s official: it’s legal to ride outside of protected bike lanes
Posted by John Greenfield on March 18, 2013 at 10:05am
As the city considers building protected bicycle lanes on streets with plenty of existing bike traffic, like Milwaukee Avenue, it may become common for faster cyclists to opt to ride outside the PBLs in the main travel lanes. But at last week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, two lawyers specializing in bike cases worried that an existing ordinance could be used against cyclists involved in a crash while riding outside PBLs. CDOT staff told them that the ordinance does not apply to protected lanes, and offered to put that in writing. That should offer some legal protection for those who choose to ride outside the lanes. Here’s a transcript of the discussion:

But you can misread even headlines:

Reply by Julie Hochstadter 8 hours ago
i read this at first as illegal!

The strength of the StreetsBlog proclamation rests on the “understandings” that are held internally:

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 8 hours ago
As I said over on Streetsblog, they have to do more than “internal memos”. I hope they will work on amending the Municipal Code. Those “internal memos” aren’t worth much in court.

Reply by Mike Zumwalt 7 hours ago
And to make it illegal they’d have to change the rules of the road stating that bikes are not entitled to use public roadways.

Now of all the conversations that could be dreamt up for a group of folks in the Cycling Movement this is the one I would never have imagined would be occurring. And yet it has:

Reply by h’ 1.0 6 hours ago
This is not accurate.
See 9-52-020 (d).
Clearly, unless this ordinance is changed, it could easily be construed as illegal to ride in the auto lane where a bike lane is present. Good luck whipping out your letter from the city.

Uh oh. Someone just declared that the Emperor is walking butt-naked down Dearborn Street. Sounds about right though. From its inception the installation of bike lanes in Chicago has moved in lurch-style from neighborhood-to-neighborhood and it seems always with little planning and forethought about the consequences of either misinformation or misreading the involvement of the community.

This sort of thing smacks of what we did with the Native Americans who were a thorn in our sides as we moved westward. We had a plan and their notions of land use and grave sanctity clashed. Telling African-Americans that their on-street church parking will have to take a back seat to the needs of white hipsters traveling into the city from Oak Park is a non-starter.

Reply by John Greenfield 4 hours ago
Howard, that ordinance refers to bikeways *adjacent* to the roadway, not *in* the roadway. It was written specifically to make sure people rode on the Lakefront Trail by the South Shore Cultural Center, instead of on South Shore Drive, which, at that location, is a busy multi-lane road feeding into LSD.
They discussed this ordinance at the MBAC meeting. Read the transcript for deets:

Reply by Sue Clark 4 hours ago
I can see the definition of the words “usable,” “adjacent” and “path” each being a good source of hourly billing for an attorney.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 3 hours ago
While the intent of the law may have been to only address the LFP by the South Shore Cultural Center, it’s the text of the ordinance that matters. As written, there are many streets besides South Shore Drive that the ordinance would forbid ridding on. Off the top of my head I can think of Cannon Drive through Lincoln Park, and Rockwell through Clark Park. As for protected lanes, the existing ordinance is vague as an argument could be made that a blocked off area like a protected lane isn’t really part of the the roadway, but adjacent to it. This argument would be stronger if raised lanes or other more separated lanes were installed.

If the ordinance is to only apply to South Shore Drive, then it needs to be revised. As written there is room for interpretation and I don’t think anything short of revising the ordinance or a case setting a legal precedent changes that. A letter from CDOT staff doesn’t change what the ordinance says or force a court to interpret it a certain way.

Now the LapDogs who serve at the pleasure of their City Hall masters are sometimes snippy. The difference however is that the folks biting back are not from the West Side but rather from the North Side and/or white:

Reply by h’ 1.0 1 hour ago
OK, so per your transcript, there is general consensus that the wording is too vague and needs to be “cleaned up.” Not sure why you’re talking down to me as if I’m way off here– that was exactly my point.
Maybe Chainlink 2.0 should automatically drop “as I said on Streetsblog” into every post here to save some typing.

Ok. Things are getting a bit “testy“. But why was this sort of thing never anticipated to come up in the first instance. Someone in City Hall is earning a very nice salary and not necessarily doing the kind of planning for things going forward.

We need more thinkers and fewer cheerleaders.

Looking Ahead

The chance to either make or break the “good will” of the public depends on how these “showcase routes” are established. Dearborn has as many mixed reviews in its recent past as does the fictional musical on weekly TV show “Smash“. The LapDogs are trying to generate public sympathy to do away with the one piece of bicycle infrastructure which has the funding and it would appear the forward thinking and planning that has eluded its on-street PBL cousins. It sounds suspiciously like a “put up job” to free funds that the City would like to use for other pet projects which are likely less well-planned than the Flyover.

We need to develop a posture that looks less reminiscent of a drunken sailor lurching from pub-to-pub (sorry to all you sailors, perhaps I should have likened this to a ChainLink pub crawl group) and more like people who have “made big plans” and understand how to carry them out.