Protected parking or protected people: What kind of Wicker Park do you want?

Background Reading


Active Transportation Alliance is at it again. They have decided to inject themselves into the argument raging in the Wicker Park community with an either/or approach to the problem. I think they are taking a page out of the play book of one of the ChainLink respondents earlier this week who wrote:

Reply by Daniel G 8 hours ago
As long as you know that your third-way realism is pretty useless to everybody but you.
Milwaukee is one of the highest traffic bicycle corridors in the city and it’s also one of the most dangerous. Status quo means needless deaths. Politics is all about competing interests being balanced and we all know what’s realistic. Don’t try to outsmart politics and do your opponents’ job for them. When you’re the little guy, advocate your side and damn the rest. Or be inconsequential.

The most telling remark is the one about “advocate your side and damn the rest“. Nothing in the cycling arsenal of arguments works quite as well as fear. In fact this works well in politics when you are being asked to flee the other candidate who is supposed to be a Socialist and has designs on your guns and the minds of your children. This approach works quite well in the Old South where racial identity is front and center and the NRA has it strongest support.

But after nearly 5 years of this sort of blather and two elections at the national level we were able to see through some of the blather. I hate to see this same tactic being employed by people whom I should respect and are extensibly on my side.

Here is how the argument is being framed by Active Transportation Alliance:

If you want safety and livability to be the priority on Chicago’s streets, here’s where the rubber meets the road.

We begin with the ultimatum. The implication is that the other guys ideas do not provide for “safety and livability” and those keywords are charged. No one has to tell folks what “safety and livability” mean each person will translate this to their own satisfaction. But there really ought to be some numbers attached so that a person who advocates for these things can be held accountable. At the very least ATA should be including a link to a location where the metrics that define these two are given.

Recently, 32nd Ward Alderman (and Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign supporter) Scott Waguespack asked the Wicker Park Committee, a neighborhood group, to conduct an advisory vote on potential protected bike lanes for Milwaukee Ave. The group voted 15-8 opposing, citing concerns about the need to remove parking in order to accommodate new barrier-protected lane design, which would make the street safer and more livable (not to mention better for business).

There are all sorts of claims made every time about the value of having protected bike lanes where business is concerned. In fact during a recent presentation to the folks were given some figures concerning just how profitable bike lanes were supposed to have been in a New York City. But frankly I would be circumspect about data coming from anywhere since it always seems to be skewed in favor of one side of the argument or the other. When PBLs were installed in New York City last year it was supposed to bring about a positive increase in safety (measured in fewer deaths and accidents). In fact the numbers showed just the opposite.

BikesBelong is trying to cover some of the current research being done:

Bikes Belong and Portland State University team on groundbreaking research

6892229829_099547f707_bA new research study is underway at Portland State University (PSU), designed to measure the societal impact of next-generation protected bike lanes, called green lanes. Green lanes are dedicated, inviting spaces for people on bikes in the roadway, protected from cars and separated from sidewalks.

Lessons from the Green Lane, a Comprehensive Evaluation of Protected Cycling Facilities, is collecting quantitative data to examine ridership, safety, and the economic impact of green lanes in six major U.S. cities. The study, which kicked off in September 2012, will run through December 2013.

Because green lanes are relatively new in the U.S., more data is essential to determine their impact on society: Do they encourage more people to ride? Are they safe? How do they affect local businesses, drivers and pedestrians? This study will be the most extensive research project to date on these designs and will provide quantitative answers to these imperative questions.

The researchers will rely on video data collection in each of the cities – Austin, Texas, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, and Washington, DC. They will also design and implement surveys to develop their analyses.

The Bikes Belong Foundation’s Green Lane Project is helping to fund the research through a $75,000 pass-through grant from the Summit Charitable Foundation, an environmentally-focused philanthropic organization based in Washington, D.C. The Green Lane Project works with the six leading cities to catalyze the creation of world-class bicycling facilities in the U.S.

What is most important about studies like this is that they are then subject to peer review. If cycling is what we claim it to be (and specifically the installment of PBLs) then additional research can only bolster our view. But my guess is that there will always be some spin given by the folks funding the research to tailor it to their viewpoint. Fine, at least I have some data to begin my process of understanding.

We cyclists are sitting in a firestorm of propaganda. Every time a group like ATA (which by the way makes its living selling cyclists on anything that seems beneficial, even if they cannot prove it universally to be so.) And like Fox News I am wary of anybody who is peddling stuff that seems too good to be true. I keep hearing from them that the sky will fall if same-sex marriage laws pass. I keep hearing from that if we have background checks on individuals that the sky will fall or that there will be no measurable affect on gun violence. Where does all this knowledge spring from. Why would having a minimum sized clip be a bad idea for anyone not planning on mowing down a group of living beings in as short a time as possible?

Keep in mind that the Wicker Park issues were in fact brought before people who are small business owners. They were not as comfortable in accepting the propaganda being offered on the subject of reduced parking. Every thing we know about parking and business growth seems to suggest that you really cannot expect a retail shopping mall the size of Woodfield or Oakbrook without ample parking. So the question ought to be why would removing all that parking space and adding a modicum of bike corrals and bus stops inside the old parking lot increase sales?

Common sense tells me that doing this would drive people away to another mall. I have a hard time imagining that there are many consumers who like the fellow I saw trying to balance what appeared to be a mattress or perhaps a large screen TV on his handlebars in a high wind would find this preferable to driving a car. Merchants have a gut instinct about these things. Their experience tells them that people who drive have deeper pockets. People leaving a grocery store to board a bus with their weekly shopping are likely to either have no car or be poor enough that owning one is out of the question. Merchants do not feel as warm and fuzzy about such people as the do about the ones pulling up in high end cars. It’s a simple fact.

But we know that the people who live near and utilize Milwaukee Ave. want protected bike lanes. More than 2,700 people (including more than 500 who live in Wicker Park/Bucktown) have signed Active Trans’ petition supporting the city’s plan to make Milwaukee Ave. safer and better for everyone who uses the street.

The message from this overwhelming response is clear: Chicagoans want our streets to give priority to people, not just cars. Barrier-protected bikeways are one way we can make this vision a reality.

This is one of those claims that is a bit fuzzy. I want a tax holiday from real estate that will last for the rest of my life. And I suspect that I could find a few more nuts like myself who would want the same. But like the folks who signed that petition one has to ask what am I thinking?

When people say they want no taxes, then you have to ask how they expect social services like fire, police and water to be delivered. At this point they either reveal that they have a tin foil hat under that stocking cap or are simply crazy. Having had very little experience with protected bike lanes here in Chicago most folks are either reduced to thinking about ones they experienced in a different city or are simply visualizing what it might be like (having seen photos of ones in Europe). But beware the fact that 2,700 people have signed anything. Most of the activists in Chicago would sign just about anything because that is what they do. They like the fact that they can seem to have a social consciousness, especially if it means doing something as mindless as signing an online form.

Another thing that is interesting about this bit of propaganda is the notion that barrier-protected lanes make everyone safer. New York did not find this to be true last year. The PBLs we have here in Chicago are clearly not up to snuff in every respect regarding safety. You can read the Dearborn Street threads on ChainLink to discover that people riding that stretch this winter had all sorts of issues ranging from falling and damaging themselves on the bridge that sits at the far north end of the stretch to having shoddy snow clearing during blizzards.

The devil is in the details. Chicago’s cycling advocacy groups are quite good at reusing the same rhetoric each and every time they have some they wish to say. But if you read the threads of the ChainLink Forum you will get an eyeful of the reality of the situation on the streets. Many of those same cyclists who supposedly signed the petition for more PBLs have issues with the ones already in place. I know that I do. I several instances (most notably Jackson Avenue) the installation while sound has missing pieces. You can query this site for further information on intersections like Jackson and Morgan.

This Is Not About Being A Loyal Zombie

I say make the bastards prove their rhetoric. Ask them to explain away the disaffecting ramblings of their supporters on ChainLink Forum. Take the time to read what the real everyday commuters are saying. Sometimes they are exuberant, at other times they are telling the truth about the sad state of affairs even in places where we have already installed protected bike lanes.

Asking questions of the short guy behind the curtain is not being disloyal. If anything it is being smart. Make the folks do more than shove bullshit in your direction along with a spoon. Make them tell you why people who should really want a bike lane on Milwaukee because it is good for business are leery of their arguments. Trust that your common sense is capable of taking you into the reams of data and exiting with a better idea of what works and what does not. Nobody should ever yield their minds to find a place at the bar after a cycling rally.

Question cycling authority, twice a day, every day.

What About the Words ‘Share The Road’ Is Confusing to ChainLinkers?

Among the things that are always puzzling to me are the blatant acts of “verbal meanness” that plague the ChainLink Forum. The Cycling Movement is always on about ‘Sharing The Road‘ but some of their followers have no such idea in their hearts when they become part of the 2,700 petition signers mentioned above. Let’s listen in once again to the thread on ChainLink regarding Wicker Park:

Reply by Alex Z 3 hours ago

While I would love to just get rid of all parking on that stretch of Milwaukeethe road is too narrow as it is–I can’t say I -know- that no businesses would suffer as a result. But it would sure be interesting to see. I’d support trying it out.

James BlackHeron said:
Make it narrower, make it slower, make it unbearable to drive on in a big hulking gas-guzzling CO2-spewing car.   That’s the whole point.

What the general public needs to be aware of are the Fascist tendencies of many of these cyclists. Cyclists are clearly in some cases not caring people. It appears that for the sake of an experiment they are willing to play with the livelihood of a merchant. What is more cruel is the sadistic notion that by applying never ending pressure on Milwaukee you can choke off car traffic altogether. And this seems to be the Final Solution where cars are concerned. Perhaps Active Transportation Alliance should rename themselves to something equally hateful. If you really want to “Share The Road” then why do your followers feel that no cars altogether is “the whole point“?

Reply by James BlackHeron 8 hours ago
There might as well be no parking on Milwaukee as there is so little of it to begin with and there iare never any open spots. it might as well not exist at all for all practical purposes. Just rip it out and put in PBL’s instead.
More bikes riding up and down Milwaukee means more customers for the street’s businesses that can ACTUALLY STOP and frequent them. Because cars really can’t find parking anyhow the people in them aren’t likely to stop. Businesses need to wake up and realize that bike-riders and pedestrians from the L are their main base of customers -not car drivers parking out front.
I ride Milwaukee just about every day and the vast majority of car traffic is on the long haul (20 or more blocks) not stopping at local businesses. Why these people just don’t take the Kennedy to get in or out of the downtown is beyond me. It doesn’t always move well but it moves a LOT faster than Milwaukee. As a rider we pass car after car of stopped traffic on this road and I always wonder what special mental condition drives anyone to try and drive down these roads like Milwaukee to get anywhere. It’s Stupid.
But apparently it isn’t a painful enough experience for them to get them to change their ways and stop trying to drive their cars up and down narrow parking lot roads like Milwaukee to get places. In order to make them make better choices we need to make the wrong choices more painful -not easier. Make the roads narrower, make it harder to drive around on surface streets. Give them incentives to STOP doing this.
Making the roads wider and faster only brings more cars to fill them up. STOP doing that!

Sorry but this last bit of ranting by James is kind of an indication that his thinking is a bit addled. And at such a young age too. Here are some thoughts about the basis for his ranting:

  • Yes, parking is difficult along Milwaukee. When I travel to the Native Foods Cafe I usually park just across the street on Honore in a pull in section designed to handle shoppers who cannot find parking on the “main drag“. If that section is full there is usually some on Honore on the other side of Milwaukee. And if you wait about 10 minutes or less something usual opens up. Never fails in my experience. Much of what passes as parking glut is only short term. There is lots of turnover. The best way to get a handle on just how much is to ask the parking concession folks what they gross in a day from differing drivers.
  • Again this obsession (don’t know how else to categorize it) amongst ChainLinkers with making it impossible for automobiles to coexist with them on any busy thoroughfare is childish. The movement tolerates this kind of behavior because it needs the people numbers to move ahead with agenda. But this kind of thinking is clearly not well adjusted to the message of “Share The Road“. And that in itself means that longterm viability of the movement could be jeopardized. I plan to do my level best to alert motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to this problem. People of good will need to know that there is a very “dark side” to the Urban Cycling Movement.
  • Most traffic is indeed passing through the area. Or at least it would seem that way. But unless you could follow successive waves of drivers to their ultimate destinations it would seem unlikely that James statement could be verified. It might be safer to simply say that there is a mix of traffic that comes through the area. Judging from what I see much of it is pedestrian. I have no idea how many live in the area, but the pedestrian traffic is clearly monstrous in size. The smallest segment to my mind is probably cyclist. Motorists far outnumber cyclists in both transient and parking numbers. And I think that shop owners have judged this to be the case, so they are rightfully reluctant to toss away what is probably the second largest segment of their in-store traffic.
  • The myth that building parking lots and making streets wider accounts for more auto traffic is probably something that will die slowly. If you check the ChainLink thread on Cubs parking you will note that Lee Crandell offers up a gem of rebuttal to this myth. Evidently the City of New York popped for a parking structure which was created to anticipate increases in automobile usage when visiting the Yankee Stadium. It turns out that the level of usage of this parking lot dropped by (if memory serves) 40% or more! Clearly what draws automobiles is not wider streets or free parking but value at the destination of travel. In the case of Wrigleyville not only are there baseball games (the Cubs are the third most financially successful MLB franchise) but lots of restaurants, bars and soon to be hotel accommodations that make a weekend in the city more convenient. Motorists are not mindless idiots who seek out parking spots just for the pleasure of parking only to sit and stare at the concrete walls of the structure, there has to be a vibrant scene that attracts them in the first instance. What you see on Milwaukee Avenue is exactly that.
  • What limits automobile and pedestrian and for that matter bike traffic is exactly what you would expect, destination capacity. If the number of restaurants and shops to eat in and browse at is insufficient then people decide to find a different place to be. If you add more shops and restaurants and there is enough parking and the traffic is not horrendous then people will indeed come. But all of those things have to be in place for this to happen. Now if you dislike crowded streets at night and congested traffic, then I have a secret to share with you, “Move to the suburbs“. Some are pretty congested too. But you can find all sorts of sleepy little places where you can raise a family.

I’ll end this thread (I’ve updated it several times but now is the time to close it for good) with my usual admonition to the ChainLink Forum crowd, “Grow Up!” Cars are here to stay, until something better replaces them. Congestion is what basically characterizes every city on the planet. If you dislike congestion do not live in cities. The bigger the city the greater the congestion. So moving to Chicago is not seemingly what most ChainLinkers really wanted to do. Try Milwaukee or Madison instead. But when you finally decide that your petulant whines about too many cars is falling on deaf ears just remember not to give in to the urge to buy one when you suddenly find yourself needing to visit the grandparents with your brood on a trip that takes a couple of days by bus or train. Suck it up and keep being green.

I Know I Promised, But…

A very interesting rejoinder appeared tonight from Lee Crandell of Active Transportation Alliance for which I am thankful:

Reply by Active Transportation Alliance 52 minutes ago
I met recently with Ald. Waguespack to follow up on the petition for protected bike lanes on Milwaukee that many of you signed. He had already signed our statement of support for 100 miles of protected bike lanes, but he is also interested in what the community thinks about projects like Milwaukee before acting, and your support is making an impact! Groups like Wicker Park Committee do play an important role in the civic conversation in our neighborhoods, and it’s important for us to engage in that conversation outside the bike community too. More than 1/3 of the people in that room voted that yes, they’d support a potential parking reduction in order to install a protected bike lane — if more of us were engaged, that vote would shift. We know that Chicagoans want streets that prioritize safety and livability, so we’re on the winning side! If you live in Wicker Park, I’d encourage you to consider getting involved by actually joining Wicker Park Committee and attending their next member meeting May 1 to get to know them and share your support: . Then next time this comes up at one of their meetings, you may be there to speak up and vote too!
Active Trans campaign manager Jim also shared some thoughts about this on our blog:…
– Lee Crandell, Active Trans

Much, much better. This is the kind of responsible leadership that I know ATA thinks it provides, but frankly the messages of adult quality seem too few and far between to overcome the really “horrible press” that results when “stupid and childish remarks” are allowed to “hang in the air” unchallenged. Do this if not for the building up of the Urban Cycling Community and its necessary conversation with the rest of the community of roadway users. I do not ever wish to see us go down the path of the GOP where we get hemmed in by the bad behavior of interlopers from the Tea Party and the NRA.

There needs to be a clear message that gets out that does not continually get undermined. The real problem is that once these horrible comments leap into the ether and land on the ChainLink Forum server unless they are expunged they are there for all to see and read and seethe over. And unfortunately not everyone bothers to delve into every thread out there. I read far more than most and yet the “message of engagement” is lost more often than not.

It is very disturbing to come away from the ChainLink Forum time after time with that feeling that somehow you managed to stumble upon an Aryan Brotherhood Forum where all references to Blacks, Jews, Gays and Catholics have been transposed into “automobiles and their drivers“. And frankly I do not think I am overstating the case.

Parents of young children often have the horrible experience of listening to their children interact with a stranger and use the kind of pejorative references commonly overheard at home where no one anticipates anything being repeated away from home. But kids have a way of crushing that delusion and making you aware of how terribly bigoted you really sound. That is somehow the sense I get when I read some of the things said on the ChainLink Forum. And unless there is “pushback” in close proximity to the offensive language it is like listening to someone call a person a “faggot” and no one in the room bothers to speak out against it. So the newcomer decides that such words are acceptable, when in reality no one seems to have had the courage to “call out” the offender.

We need to do much better than we are at staying on point and having our words (sometimes read long after they have been typed) reflect well on us, not badly.