Not Until They Show Themselves

Background Reading


There is an ongoing ChainLink Forum thread (one of many) on riding the Dearborn Street Protected Bike Lane (PBL). It has probably lingered a lot longer than its original poster (OP) intended. But it has served as a reservoir of information regarding rider impressions and frustrations at everything from snow clearance to bridge plate coverage. A good deal of it is whining (something ChainLinkers have turned into a “fine art“).

Bike Box Along Dearborn Street PBL

Bike Box Along Dearborn Street PBL

The whines are generally about either pedestrians standing in the Zebra Crosswalks along the route (where I might add they and not cyclists have the right-of-way). Another big one is the fact that quite often vehicles park or stop to unload in the bike lane. This appears to be one of the “hot button” issues for cyclists. It is considered (as with pedestrians standing in the crosswalk intersected by a bike lane) an “invasion of cyclist airspace“.

At any rate one rider posted the following this morning about her experiences along this route:

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 9 hours ago
I ride a part of it every day. It does not seem too narrow. Yes, alleys and driveways can be a problem, but they are a problem for cars and pedestrians, too. Common sense dictates that one slow down and watch for cars turning into or out of uncontrolled alleys and driveways. As time passes, I very seldom see a car turn against the red left turn signal. I do think there could be better signs for the cars with the red turn signals, but the drivers are figuring it out. Just today, however, I saw three cyclists ignore the red signal for the bike lanes. There are drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who are all very special and do not need to obey the signals. We just don’t know who they are until they show themselves.

Lisa had better be careful. Ratting out your fellow cyclists is a “hanging offense“. But she has a point. I ride this same route and like so many others of the vaunted PBLs it appears that Ron Burke of Active Transportation Alliance has it all wrong. Bringing increased bicycle infrastructure does not always bring better behaved cyclists (or for that matter greater degrees of safety to the other two segments of the transportation arena, pedestrians and motorists). Cyclists who consider themselves “too busy to wait for lights” have a very difficult time doing so. They have become desensitized to their scofflaw behavior. And besides they can hide behind the nascent “hierarchy of sins” that Ron Burke says exists in the transportation arena. At the bottom are the sins of cyclists who run red lights. Further up are those of motorists who do the same. Why, differentiate? Mass and momentum.

When you get run down by a car and you are either on foot or aboard a bicycle your chances of survival are not as good as perhaps when you are enclosed inside the protective structure of another automobile. So when a car breaks this particular law, the police (according to Ron Burke) should be more attentive to drivers than to cyclists. Okay, let’s run with that notion.

The Hierarchy of Traffic Sins

So if a vehicle is moving it is certain to warrant a greater degree of concern from the police. That makes sense. I suppose too that where pedestrians are concerned a cyclist plowing through them in the crosswalk is of greater concern than say two pedestrians colliding in the same crosswalk with each other. Am I getting this all right?

So what about a stationary vehicle, how far up do its sins rest? Take for instance an ambulance “parked” in the bike lane? Now obviously the idea of an ambulance actually being parked in the bike lane is inaccurate given the nature of ambulance use. These vehicles are on the roadways often during any given day and so it might be the case that the drivers are inside grabbing a bit of breakfast (with their radios turned on) or maybe just a cup of coffee.

Whatever their errand the positioning of the ambulance in the bike lane is not an immediate danger to the cyclist. In fact it is more like the situation where a pedestrian is in the Zebra Crosswalk as a cyclist approaches. The cyclist is of course annoyed but the law gives the pedestrian the “right-of-way” so all you can do is either slow down to let them pass or steer around them carefully. The same applies for a “parked” ambulance. Since it is not moving and presumably is not broken down but instead its occupants are grabbing nourishment (which is a good thing since I might be the next one they are to rescue and I want them alert and ready for the situation) it does not pose any imminent threat to my person.

Here is what actually happened:

Ambulance In Bike Lane

Ambulance In Bike Lane

Ambulance in Des Plaines PBL
Posted by Julia C 7.5 mi on April 21, 2013 at 1:08pmRather new to this forum, and not sure how to proceed on this:
I ride down Des Plaines most days of the week, and have come across this ambulance parked in the bike lane on more than one occasion (at Des Plaines and Van Buren). It’s always idling with no one in it, otherwise I’d stop, say hello, and chat with them.

I can usually get people to move out of bike lanes with a quick, friendly conversation; those that are parked I call into 311 (especially if they’re in dangerous spots). But… what does one do with an ambulance?? I don’t want to be a jerk, and I’ve got uncles that are firefighters, so I completely understand having your equipment ready to go, but… this can be really dicey to get around during rush hour or when there are CTA busses trying to get into that right turn lane.
Ideas? How do you generally approach drivers that are blocking a bike lane?

Okay, so we have a very considerate person complaining about an “idling” vehicle in the bike lane. And she points out that at certain times this sort of thing could be a problem when trying to maneuver around it.

Eventually the guys from Active Transportation Alliance decide to wade in on the problem:

Reply by Active Transportation Alliance 10 hours ago
Julia — I second H about needing more like you when it comes to friendly interactions on our streets! And I appreciate your eyes on the street an willingness to take action. While at times it might seem frustrating to jump through hoops to address one vehicle parking in the bike lane, it can also be an easy opportunity to help educate an entire company about their safe driving habits.

Active Trans has posted some tips for handling cars parking in bike lanes here:… .

Ambulances would fall under the “government or business vehicle” category. They may be run by private companies, so you should look for a company name and vehicle number, and ideally capture that in your photo. Otherwise, it may be a Chicago Fire Department ambulance ( Then you could send a friendly email to the company or Fire Dept., CCing the alderman, with the photo, asking them educate their drivers about street safety and explaining why parking in bike lanes is a safety hazard, since we’d hate for one of our emergency responders to cause a crash that gets someone injured. I’ve sent a similar personal email about police cars parking in a bike lane in the same spot repeatedly on Lincoln Ave., and while the police commander didn’t reply, I did notice the problem stopped right away.

Thanks for your efforts to make our streets safer!

Lee Crandell, Active Trans

So I hopped over to the very nice page put together by Active Transportation Alliance to see what they had to say. All good sound advice. What makes it work is one very essential thing, “vehicle identification“. As Lee Crandell points out you need to look for at least three things:

  • Company name
  • Vehicle Number
  • Ideally capture a photo with your camera (paying special attention to the license plate)

Now this makes great sense. It is the threat of being identified either at the corporate or personal level that gets people to cooperate. Is this something we could apply to our three scofflaw cyclists? Lisa Curcio says “We just don’t know who they are until they show themselves.” So once they do “show themselves” to be scofflaws what is our next move?

Well try as I might there is not a single page devoted to reporting scofflaw cyclists at all. Very curious. But it stands to reason that this would be true because there is no means of identifying cyclists except via “a photograph” and even then you would require either a database of faces (something Homeland Security would have) or help from concerned citizens who see the photograph plastered across their television screens. Aside from this cyclists are as anonymous as blades of grass.

Active Transportation Alliance To The Rescue

Now before I begin let me freely admit that the chances of the folks at Active Transportation Alliance getting off their asses to do anything regarding scofflaw cyclists is about as likely as a snowball surviving Hell. They might go to very great lengths to help you catch an ambulance driver getting his morning coffee while idling in your precious bike lane, but catching cyclists who routinely run red lights is not in their wheelhouse.

But one has to ask why then do they go the extra mile to help nab scofflaw motorists? Both these kinds of road users cause problems for others and diminish safety. Why give one a pass and the other you have an entire web page for? My guess is that there would be “hell to pay” in the Urban Cycling Community even though you were “doing the right thing“. But my other guess is that Active Transportation Alliance really does not give a rats ass what happens to others when cyclists break the law, so long as there is no blowback on them. Cynical yes, but I have come to learn that the Urban Cycling Community is all about window dressing and very, very little else.

If you can get folks to drop a dime in the bucket for a given cause and not lose any riders on your two major fundraisers and get getting government handouts for yourselves and various municipalities, everyone who feeds at that trough is happy. So be it.

But Active Transportation Alliance has a perfectly good solution to the problem of lack of identification where cyclists are concerned. In fact each year I get a packet for the Bike The Drive Ride in which there are several small stickers bearing a number. If that number is in place you get easily identified by the photographers that line the route. But one year they went so far as to have the ride re-routed off the main surface of the Lake Shore Drive to several choke points where wonder of wonders they were checking for the presence of these badges with numerals.

Now get this, the same group that cannot be bothered to deal with scofflaws within its ranks (including the Ride Marshals who work for them and are vetted by them) shows very little trust of regular citizens who have come to do their ride and perhaps not paid. Tsk, tsk. For them there was a checkpoint and if you were not carrying that number you were routed off. I have noted that since then this policy has been dropped. But now I know that Active Transportation Alliance is no less against cheaters than am I, we just differ on where the “long arm of the law” should be applied.

When it comes to riding through red lights, they have no opinion to really speak of and certainly no way of helping to nab the baddies who are making it tough for the rest of us. It might even be the case that some of their employees are the ones I see routinely breaking the laws where traffic controls are concerned. But when it comes to their annual contributions from their charity rides, they are as uptight as any GOP Senator or Tea Party Advocate you could imagine. And like these two groups just as hypocritical.