Background Reading


photo1-660x438Outside the Netherlands (particularly in the English-speaking world) ‘bicycle culture’ is generally defined by its minority status: within the whole transportation & lifestyle spectrum, urban cycling forms very much a ‘sub-culture’, eager to become mainstream. Either marginalized by society or just not overly prioritized on a policy level, there everyday cycling is far cry from ‘cycling is for everyone’.

Cycling is so much part of everyday life in the Netherlands that not many Dutch people give it a second thought, let alone recognize the ‘culture’ part of it. It’s that normal. As normal as water from the tap. It’s just there and we use it. And yes, the Dutch take it for granted. Which can be tricky with regards to advocacy, but on the whole it’s a very positive thing.

If you have ever watch an episode of NCIS you will certainly know of Anthony “Tony” D. DiNozzo:

DiNozzo is perhaps best known for his seemingly-endless film references…

So today I will be the Tony DiNozzo of ChainLink critics. But before I begin let me quote a stalwart ChainLink denizen, Duppie:

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km 10 hours ago
Have you ever lived in a truly bike friendly city?

I did. I lived in numerous bike friendly cities in the Netherlands for the first 28 years of my life, including Groningen which a has a bicycle mode share of 60%. And no, that is not a typo.

In truly bike friendly communities biking is simply what people do to get around, and there is a remarkable lack of bicycling community in those places. (which is what the Chainlink is trying to create in Chicago).

Compare that to Chicago where we celebrate every breadcrumb protected bike lane the mayor throws at us. Chicago, where Complete Streets exist, but only on paper. Chicago, where 4 out of 5 pedestrian fatalities this year are caused by hit-and-run drivers. Chicago, where most of my co-workers think that I am a freak and shake their head warily when I show up in the office in the morning dress in bike clothes.

Clearly in Chicago there is a need for forums like the Chainlink, where we can commiserate and organize. But the Chainlink is only needed because Chicago is not a bike friendly city, and not, as you suggest, the sign of a bike friendly city.

This article sums it up very well:

Cycling is so much part of everyday life in the Netherlands that not many Dutch people give it a second thought, let alone recognize the ‘culture’ part of it. It’s that normal. As normal as water from the tap. It’s just there and we use it. And yes, the Dutch take it for granted. Which can be tricky with regards to advocacy, but on the whole it’s a very positive thing.”

So the premise is that ChainLink is a contraindication of “Cycling Friendliness” in the City of Big Shoulders. I would go a step further to state that ChainLink is not simply a symptom of what we may lack as a cycling community but in its present form has the capacity to be the very cause of some of the overt symptoms of a dysfunctional cycling community. Grousing about drivers and pedestrians ad nauseam is on thing. But when there is little counterbalancing “self-examination” the place borders on being a psychotic asylum.

Am I overstating the case, perhaps. But frankly I would not offer up the ChainLink for one moment to anyone who was considering becoming an urban commuter who was also not a strong individual to begin with. Neither would I suggest that motorists who want to better get to understand the Urban Cycling Community come here either. Too many of the threads were engender hostility in the hearts and minds of too many drivers to ever allow them to see cyclists as neutral entities again.

Imagine for instance having a gay friend stumble upon some Tea Party literature or website (at your suggestion). Imagine that afterwards what they thought was going to be a bit of supportive reading (after all you sent them there) turns out to be something that they find offensive. And the links over to the CPAC speeches of a few as eight years ago would seem them screaming out of your apartment with their blood boiling.

You it would turn out had made the mistake of not understanding the very vile and offensive nature of the rhetoric contained on these sites simply because you have a certain tone-deafness where homophobic rhetoric is concerned. Imagine too that you are the parent of a gay child who has sat at your dinner table for ages and heard you spout the rhetoric of the GOP on a daily basis. Then imagine that this same child discloses that he or she is gay.

The first thing that would flash through your mind is what will your family and friends say. And then you will try and quickly summarize what your words might have meant all these years. Have you wounded your child to the point of their being unable to accept you as a loving parent?

Well hold that thought. Because if you read the ChainLink with the mindset of a non-Urban Cyclist you are more than likely to come away with a certain knowledge that:

  • Anyone from the suburbs who wears Lycra™ or Spandex™ is a doofus who is silly enough to pay $50 to ride around the city at midnight on the L.A.T.E. Ride and thus lacks your respect.
  • Anyplace other than the North Side of Chicago (and even it is suspect) having a majority population of people of color is a “shithole“. The denizens of these areas are “animals“.
  • Drivers who speed or otherwise break the law (e.g. parking in the bike lane) need to be taught a lesson, but cyclists who disregard stop signs and red lights are ethical in their behavior nonetheless.
  • The “Door Zone” is a place where you have the God-given right to ride your brakeless bike at as fast a speed as your legs can produce. Any motorist whose door opens in your path under those conditions is a monster.
  • Bike Lanes are for cyclists. Runners, pedestrians and even people on bicycles who ride against the traffic are worthy of disdain and even having a Taser discharged in their direction.

I could go on but will leave it to your sense of curiosity to discover other wonderful themes bandied about by this group. Just be careful that you do not attempt to provide “pushback” to any of their assertions. This may get you kicked off the forum and most certainly will result in your being termed a “troll” and labeled as “anti-cycling“. You will be as unwelcome in their midst as Mayor Bloomberg at the birthday party of Ted Nugent held after an NRA at the home of Rush Limbaugh.

These Urban Cyclists are a law unto themselves. Many have lost their sense of humor where their behavior is concerned and are deeply enmeshed in what is the cultural equivalent of a Survivalist Camp in the northern reaches of Idaho. Apart from their penchant for tattoos and pasty complexions it is only the presence of nose rings and ear lobe pendants that distinguishes them visually from their cousins in that other self-absorbed cultural enclave the Aryan Brotherhood.

Now About Breathless

In the movie Breathless we have a self-absorbed fellow who is likable but nonetheless a car thief. He ends up killing a cop who has caught him following a traffic chase. He hides out in the apartment of an acquaintance. The WikiPedia reference reads as follows:

Jesse Lujack (Richard Gere) is a cocky, nihilistic drifter in Las Vegas, obsessed with Marvel Silver Surfer comic books, the rock and roll music of Jerry Lee Lewis and Monica Poiccard (Valérie Kaprisky), a UCLA architecture undergraduate whom he knows only from a weekend fling in Vegas. As the film opens late at night, he steals a Porsche, intending to drive to Los Angeles. As he speeds down the highway and looks through the owner’s possessions, he discovers a handgun in the vehicle’s glovebox. Seeing his reckless driving, a policeman gives chase and Jesse is forced off the road and becomes stuck. When the policeman orders him to step away from the car, Lujack impulsively grabs the gun and shoots the officer. Fleeing to Los Angeles, Lujack finds his picture splashed all over the newspaper and TV news as the “cop killer.”

Post at the Start of 'Missed Connection' and Similar Threads

Post at the Start of ‘Missed Connection’ and Similar Threads

Gere’s character (Jesse Lujack) is the “bad boy” that the ChainLink is trying to be. Actually it has succeeding in seducing any number of sincere Monica Poiccard’s. They came to the forum to find support and solace and it turned out to be a never ending source of vituperative belly aching that masquerades as thread titled “Think of This As A Missed Connection“. From its opening salvos to the most recent entries it is all about the anxiety ridden life of the urban cyclist who is either on the verge of a meltdown over this or that action by a driver or perhaps an expression of outrage over what some cyclist or pedestrian has managed to do to offend their sensibilities.

If the ChainLink were the publicly available social networking introduction to life at a university whose link was included in the packet sent to prospective freshman candidates I would wonder if the Chancellors of that University had a “death wish” for their institution. Having the ChainLink be your gateway into the lives of Urban Cyclists would be like sending out a greeting card with an image of your campus cops pepper spraying students who were lawfully protesting alongside members of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Does that make it clear enough for you?

Jesse Lujack is a jerk. He is something of a nihilist and has an obsession with the Silver Surfer. One of my favorite pieces of software (back in the day, went by this codename). That was a total turnoff when I learned that Lujack was a fan of the graphic novel. What is most disturbing is that a young woman whose career is about to “take off” throws it all away to follow this creep into the “death trap” he has set for them both.

But this story is so very true to form for any situation where folks who are easily swayed by their emotional involvement with a cause lose their objectivity. It happens over and over and seemingly no one ever thinks to read the ending of the book first. They keep plunging into oblivion and wondering why it keeps happening.

At present the Active Transportation Alliance is wondering how to attract more commuters. Easy answer is to provide an alternative to the overly self-absorbed ethos of the ChainLink. But this will not happen any day soon. Like the GOP which needs the money proffered by the Tea Party and afraid to face its primary introduced opponents, both groups muddle along wishing that they could somehow wean themselves off the teats of their benefactors. But they cannot.

Instead the Church of the Urban Cyclist keeps navel-gazing and showing up to every photo opportunity to which they are invited and rushing to fill out every single online survey that they hope will create the illusion of a legion of eager commuters just waiting for more green lanes before rushing into the fray that is so woefully depicted in many of the sad threads about the woes of being an urban cyclist.

This way lies madness.

On A More Positive Note

In the interest of sharing other viewpoints here are a few replies that followed Duppie:

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 12 hours ago
Given that I have never lived in any other city, no I have not. You were blessed to grow up in Amsterdam, and have that perspective, but, as the author says: “In the world of everyday cycling there is no other place like it.”

Yes, he goes on to say that the Netherlands was once like everywhere else when it comes to cycling and “Through trial and error, sustained efforts and a long-term vision the Dutch managed to reverse a downward trend and put bicycles back on the map & make them a viable part of our lives again”.

I would love to see the day that we are like the Netherlands. The author did not say how long it took for the country to change, but I am sure it is a long way off in the U.S. If you compare cities in the U.S., Chicago is moving in the right direction. When I search for information on cycling in U.S. cities to which I am traveling and that I perceive to be less bike-friendly I do not find forums like the Chainlink. By U.S. standards–probably not by world standards–I think our forum is a sign of bike friendliness. It is not a sign of complete bike-friendliness.

I too am from Chicago. Born and raised here. Have traveled to other areas of the country and seen what their bicycle infrastructure looks like. You really do not have to go very far to see two interesting examples of Cycling Culture. Wisconsin as a state does a very good job of accommodating bicycles. I find their rural roads inviting. They provide shoulders on even the busier ones. The cities of Milwaukee and Madison are fine to ride around. Milwaukee has a version of what is equivalent to our former Boulevard Lakefront Tour Ride. Both cities have nice trails that are part of either their shorelines or more importantly they circle the cities around which they are built.

Indiana has a rather nice set of trails. It does not have as much infrastructure on its streets but the Erie-Lackawanna Trail intersects with a few others and you can ride quite a ways into the interior without having to deal with much automobile traffic. I judge both these states to have what is more European-styled segregated cycle tracks. They are great for tourists who want to visit and see both cities and suburban areas.

But as for our forum being “Bike Friendly” it indeed focuses on Urban Cycling. It is fairly narrow in its focus on the thoughts and experiences of people who commute. There is no doubting the fact that it is quite “small town” in its connectedness. When you venture in people want to know about your history (in much the manner of a small town) in order to judge whether you have the “chops” to speak authoritatively when questioning anything they have to say.

But it is where the conversation turns to dealing with drivers that things get “ugly“. There is simply no need for the venom and aggressive style but there it is, it exists. And what is even more interesting is that places like the Chicago Lakefront Trail are not seemingly viewed as being vital in the sense that someplace like Milwaukee Avenue is. For that reason I would have to judge the forum as being fairly Northside-centric.

Clearly when the Chicago Critical Mass Ride was routed through the Near South Side there were riders who openly questioned if they would be safe. Chicago is as segregated both in terms of its cycling as it has been in its housing as any Southern town in the Deep South. The central difference is that the Urban Cycling scene thinks of itself as Liberal. It really has a hard time owning up to its rather racist views of people of color in its midst.

But a few recent accounts of thuggery have shown that among the more important bits of information is the ethnicity of the culprit. I was amused that when the guys from StreetsBlog recounted the very same story in one situation that they studiously expunged all racial references. And for that I was happy. It shows that at least some of the folks on this forum have some sensitivity to race and ethnicity. Quite a few others however are tone deaf in that area.

Reply by notoriousDUG 11 hours ago
Me thinks that this thread has taken a nasty turn from its intent…

Seems the OP was looking for a celebration of the things that are nice about biking in Chicago and ya’ll have turned it into a festival of taking things for granted and sounding entitled. Rather than wasting time and space here gripping about what we don’t have, what places are better and how much there is still to do how about we celebrate what we do have?

Stop for a second and think about how spoiled we are here compared to a lot of other cities when it comes to biking. Could it be better? Could we be bike friendlier here as a city? Yes, of course we could but there is no city anywhere in the world where the answer to those questions would not be yes.

Go ride a bike in Memphis, or Nashville, or St. Louis and let me know if you still want to complain about the bicycle infastructure and support we have here.

Having moved to a smaller town I have a slightly different slant on what Doug is talking about. When an Urban Cyclist speaks about a place being “Bike Friendly” he is often talking about how accommodating the place is to the needs of people like himself. But that I think is really the wrong way to look at things.

When you are a two-year old that is often how you decide if people or places are nice. If you can be the center of attention and have folks offer you candy then the place is great. But that is certainly not how the world is “laid out”. Everybody is duty bound to offer a smile and a wave to one another to make a place friendly. And it is at this one point where the ChainLink and Chicago fall flat on their collective noses.

I’ve visited some pretty wretched web sites which support racist causes. They have jokes sections for every ethnic and religious group imaginable. And they have discussion areas in which they rant and rave about having to chafe under the leadership of a “nigger” in the White House (accompanied of course by drawings of the place surrounded by watermelons). And if that were not enough they love to have pictures of guns with ammo clips for everyone to gawk at.

The ChainLink is not much different. It relishes the chance to post images of this or that driver who is violating some rule that they hold dear. Parking in the bike lane while you grab a sandwich is “top of the list” in terms of capital offenses. I suppose that anyone shoveling snow into the bike lane is due a good lynching. And heaven help the cop that points out that the pavement of a newly minted protected lane looks crappy. After all to get the best shot he would have had to be sitting in the lane. And that of course is exactly what everyone on the ChainLink loves to complain about, police that violate one ordinance or another.

But when it comes time to turn someone in they spring into action to get the cops involved and then excoriate them for not taking the situation seriously enough to suit them. I suppose it never dawned on my fixed gear brakeless friends that a cop would find that kind of bike stupid and pointless (as do I). And when as a cop you come across a body of a cyclist lying on the roadway and find that the bike has not brakes it has to really piss you off that you have to be here. There are thousands of places you could be where someone is in need of help, but Chicago Cyclists like to put themselves in “harm’s way” by deliberately riding bikes with no brakes.

If you want a ‘Bike Friendly’ City…

Then you have to be a car/pedestrian/cop friendly community as well. It is that simple. You show respect and you often get it returned to you. You act like a jerk and write about it on the ChainLink Forum and offer up photographs of others behaving badly and then grouse when a journalist merely mentions that you are reckless and you demand that Active Transportation Alliance serve as your lapdog to refute the obvious. And guess what you develop a reputation as “bad asses” and in poorer communities where 50+ schools are being shut-down the fact that on the North Side another stretch of pretty green lanes is going in does not sit well at all.

Petulance is the single most notable characteristic of the threads on the ChainLink Forum. You would think that this group of folks were descendants of scions of commerce whose trust funds keep them in tattoos and craft-brewed ale, but alas they are not. But read their words and you find that hard to believe. They sound like people offering up critiques of the “maids and butlers” whom the would gladly fire but their parents tolerate much to their disgust.

In a word, “grow up“. The world does not owe you or me one single inch of green protected bike lanes. The fact that we have any at all is something to celebrate. I say let every Tom, Dick and Harry that wants to waltz in the bike lane do so. In fact I suggest offering to hold wheel chair races in the blessed things. Runners should be welcomed as should folks afraid to walk on the sidewalk but wishing to feel safer in the bike lane. The more the merrier.

The sooner we ride up to folks parked in the bike lane (especially cops) with boxes of donuts and carafes of coffee instead of bitching at every turn the better. You catch flies with honey and not vinegar. Why not offer to take the orders of the guys in the garbage trucks to save them a few steps and purchase their breakfast without taking a charge for doing so. Make friends with them.

Heck they might start to think that these bike folks are a swell bunch and maybe we should look out for them and park somewhere else. We need the equivalent of Walmart Greeters who act as Ambassadors for Cycling. Instead we have a forum where all the Hall Monitors of Cycling sit and compare notes on which kids in cars are “acting out” and threatening to create website just to try and embarrass them. Clearly the ChainLink Forum is not the purview of folks who are in the hospitality industry. Maybe the bulk of them work for the Correctional Facilities in the area?

And whether you realize it or not, the fact that the ChainLink is one of very few “whine and cheese parties” is not really a badge of distinction in the best sense of that word. One would almost decide that there is a direct correlation between our gun violence issues and the way we treat one another in the electronic media.

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km 14 hours ago
You bring up a good point. The Netherlands weren’t always a bike friendly country. Especially after WWII car culture became more prevalent. But the energy crisis in the early 70s changed many people’s viewpoint and started to change the policies of all levels of government. It probably took a few decades but by the early 90’s I remember the Netherlands overall being very bike friendly.

There is no good reason why Chicago can’t become a real bike friendly city, but it will require a lot more than painting a few bike lanes on a few streets. It will require an coordinated approach by all levels of government. From education about and enforcement of traffic rules, to real complete streets design. From plenty of secure bike parking, to liability laws that place the burden more on those causing the damage, all of that, and more, is needed to make Chicago a truly bike friendly city.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to another summer full of riding in this somwhat bike friendly city of ours.