Perceptions of Cycling Safety

Background Reading


We Liberals love to whine about whether or not the encouragement of helmet usage gives people the “wrong” idea about cycling in terms of its “safety“. Then we turn around and offer up copious amounts of sometimes racist accounts of how threatened we felt when nearly mugged while riding our bicycles. And anyone who is reading these accounts will stop and ask themselves whether given the alternative of riding the bus or the train or driving would they really want to opt for riding a bicycle? And this is especially true when you have to venture out at “odd hours“.

One horrific account read:

Biking on Desplaines Street in the West Loop. Photo by John Greenfield.

Biking on Desplaines Street in the West Loop. Photo by John Greenfield.

At 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, February 24, Zmuda was pedaling downtown on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park. South of Division Street, a young man stepped off the curb on the west side of the street. He yelled at her to give him the bike and shoved her rear wheel, causing her to fall. The assailant then grabbed her and pinned her against a nearby iron fence, choking her and demanding money. After she gave him the $20 in her pocket, he kissed her face and fled the scene.

The today we get another account of a near mugging:

Lake Street Bridge © Juan on ChainLink

Lake Street Bridge
© Juan on ChainLink

Late at night as I was crossing on the north side of the Lake street bridge, two young punks, one with a gun, tried to pull me off of my bicycle.

I was aware of something amiss before they approached and managed to quickly turn around and head the other way to call the police.

Pick Your Poison

We are so busy arguing over whether we obey traffic signals, encourage helmet use or demand protected bike lanes that we ignore that 500 pound gorilla in the room, FEAR! Cyclists often confuse “safety” with how much bicycle infrastructure is in play. And guys like Ron Burke play upon that notion in order to help raise monies for their organizations. They are doing what they have to do to survive, I get that.



But even if all the bicycle infrastructure you could ever hope to deploy had been, you still have to deal with the fact that people in big cities and Chicago in particular do not feel safe, especially at night or early morning. Now the standard notion put out by Conservatives is to arm yourself, preferably with an AR-15.

A Kubotan miniature nightstick/keychain. Photo by Evan Owen.

A Kubotan miniature nightstick/keychain. Photo by Evan Owen.

I would certainly give the fellow or gal riding along so armed a wide berth. But given the fact that so many Urban Cyclists are lacking such basics as patch kits and tools, a weapon seems unlikely. And if weapons are suggested by Liberal Feminists it ends up being something more akin to a glorified keychain fob.

As usual the Liberals are always “underdressed” when attending a gun fight. The one highlight of these two mugging accounts is the fact that the second one illustrates that you should be expecting a “gun“.

And yet another account (let’s ladle on the fear-mongering shall we?):

Reply by globalguy 23 minutes ago
Don’t know about stats but I was attacked on the Blue Line between UIC Halstead and Racine last Friday night around 9. Essentially had to wrestle my bike out of the guy’s hands until he fled off the train at Ravine. Consensus of FB friends (where I 1st reported it) was that without a crime CPD wouldn’t respond even to a “next day” report – they didn’t.

And the highlight of this report is that even if you are riding a train you can get mugged. I am beginning to see a pattern here. Cycling in Urban Areas is a Death Wish. Now guys like Gabe (from ChainLink) would love to have you believe that it’s the South Side or the West Side which are “shitholes” and the remainder of the city is probably just fine or at least livable.

We I’ve got news for you, those first two muggings were on the North Side of the shitty city. Evidently, you can find thugs willing to skew your reality anywhere you roam in the city limits. So let’s all go back to arguing about helmets, “dressing too sexy“, not getting enough crappy protected bike lanes, wanting the snow shoveled more frequently in winter, missing bridge grate covers, motorist who honk at us or park in the bike lane, or whatever. Let’s foment as much passion as possible about this stuff and never peer into that darkened corner where we can hear the great beast himself breathing.

The fact is Urban Cycling is Dangerous. And no helmets are not the reason I say this. I dislike the fact that when riding through the city I am suddenly aware that no matter where I ride I really do need to be “on guard“. When I do ride the Chicago Lakefront Trail it is usually when a great deal of people are out and about. And perhaps I enjoy that kind of riding more because of all the people. But for whatever reason I feel more at ease on the LFT than just about anywhere else.

Chicago Is Going To Have To Do Better

It is not enough to be able to ride a mile or two to a nice restaurant to make me think of the city as the place to be at night. I will gladly exchange having to drive a few miles in the suburbs to buy groceries to only a block or two in the city if it means that my daughter can do so without having to worry about a thug. That is not to say that crime is non-existent in the suburbs. It is merely to indicate that on balance you feel safer doing simple things are night than you do during daylight hours at times in the city.

And no amount of blathering from the ChainLink Knuckleheads and their incessant name-calling when referring to the Suburbs will ever change the facts. But it would appear that the Chief Knucklehead has some doubts about city living:

As I trudge the last few miles, I think about my journey so far. While the Chicago suburbs are not the cultural wasteland that city dwellers make them out to be, the interesting places are few and far between, it’s hard to live there without a car, and the lack of human interaction on the streets is alienating.

If I ever get married and have kids in Chicago I’ll face a dilemma that has confronted many of my friends with children. Unless Jean-Claude Brizard, the newly appointed CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, is able to fix our city’s educational system, it will be tempting to leave the city for the better public schools and cheaper, bigger houses of the suburbs. Will I sell out, abandoning the diverse, social, walkable streets of Chicago for what Oak Park native Ernest Hemingway called the “broad lawns and narrow minds” of the auto-centric western ‘burbs?

I hope not, having experienced suburban isolation firsthand on this walk. My friends with kids provide good role models for me—almost all of them have chosen to stay, proving that it’s possible to build a rich family life in the city. Most of them don’t even own cars. Instead they take advantage of Chicago’s many green transportation options, traveling with their children via the CTA, Metra, I-GO Car Sharing, taxis, bicycles and on foot.

That last little bit about suburban isolation is the usual “bullshit” that Liberals from the Urban Cycling Community console themselves with at night. Suburbs are more like small towns than anything else. I could easily claim that the strolls down Milwaukee Avenue each weekend also result in “urban isolation” but I know better. When I sit down and eat at the Native Foods Cafe I am greeted as warmly as at the local Egg Harbor or whatever cafe in my home town.

Perhaps the real problem here is that Urban Dwellers are too quick to pin “isolation” on anyplace other than their central city. But frankly I cannot imagine anything more “isolating” than to have to move in and among my fellow denizens, armed with a weapon and searching for brown faces to flee from in fear.

The Urban Mystique is wearing a bit thin these days. You can get great beer and music all over the suburbs. You just have to know where. And rumor has it that the same asshole who said “Fuck Aurora” often plays in some suburban dives. What we do lack in the suburbs are morgues overflowing to the point that we have to put the faces of the dead on the Internet to help clear the backlog.

Pleasant riding in the big city. I am beginning to better understand why stopping at lights is such a problem. Who knows what dreadful thing might creep up behind you in the dark. Gotta’ keep movin’.