How Do You Feel About Efforts To Get You To Follow The Law?

Background Reading


It would seem that the ChainLinkers are getting an opportunity to vent about the recent “crackdown” on scofflaw cyclists. Let’s listen in:

How do you feel about Bike Ambassadors / CPD safety outreach efforts?
Posted by John Greenfield on May 20, 2013 at 10:52am

For a Streetsblog Chicago post, on Thursday I interviewed staff from the city’s Bike Ambassadors and the Chicago Police Department while they were doing an outreach event at Armitage/Milwaukee. The ambassadors were handing flyers to motorists and bicyclists reminding them not to use cell phones while driving and to obey traffic signals while biking. The police were flagging down adult cyclists who were riding on the sidewalk or who ran a red light and giving them (seemingly polite) warnings that what they did is illegal. For the Streetsblog post, what are your thoughts about these kind of outreach events? Do you think they’re helpful in encouraging safe behavior by drivers and cyclists?
John Greenfield

Without even reading the thread I am going to predict that there will be a fair amount of angst from the kinds of riders who think of themselves as cycling activists or cycling advocates but who always have this chip on their shoulder when it comes to having anything occur that is as painful for them as the kinds of things they wish to see rain down upon motorists. Let’s see if I am wrong about this:

Reply by David crZven 10.6 7 hours ago
Yes and No. They are very good at following the party line and thus, for example, are insistent that things such as the Lawrence Avenue bike lanes are a “good idea” and they are unwilling to consider the alternatives. I am reminded a good deal of the Edsel and U.S. passenger train system in which critical thinking does not apply and the net result is the creation of too many layers of regulation obscuring the real purposes, (The “Accela” Train on the Northeast Corridor was called La Couchon (the Pig) by the builders. U.S. Trains are designed with the theory that they are going to crash and thus have heavy infrastructure to survive the crash. European trains are designed with the theory that a lighter train is far less likely to crash and that “crushability” will reduce injuries. The Pig was build with a European Design that was then “strengthened” to meet the US requirements. The net result was a heavy train that needs more energy to run the same distance, does not ride as well, and is harder on the rails. And the brake systems began to fail because they were not designed for the weight. )
And ultimately, that’s the kind of system advocated by the Bicycle Ambassadors.

This reply seems to have come “out of left field“. The train references I follow but I have the feeling that this is a continuation of a verbal conversation he was having with others and is unaware that the rest of us are clueless. Oh, well.

Reply by John Greenfield 7 hours ago
David, thanks for the feedback. Why are you opposed to the Lawrence bike lanes, and what alternatives are you interested in?

Reply by Mike Zumwalt 7 hours ago
Do you think they’re helpful in encouraging safe behavior by drivers and cyclists?
Read my comments on the Kinzie bike lane encounter a few years back.
Again if you run a red light on a cycle you’re risking your own life, if the intersection is clear it’s not a safety issue.

This is the kind of blather that I expected. Many of the Elmhurst Bicycle Club riders take this position and even use it to justify why our club rides are actually “scofflaw club rides“. To my mind this kind of thinking is exactly what results when you get into the “habit” of running red lights and do so on the basis of the current situation. As the number of riders increases and presumably the number of knuckleheads who will follow suit in this behavior you begin to envision a day when dozens of impatient riders will cross an intersection which was perhaps clear for the first few riders but by the time the stragglers get underway is dangerous to enter and someone will be killed.

I also wonder what Mike would say if a motorist used the same logic and sped through an intersection on a red light but then realized at the very last minute that a cyclist had been riding on the sidewalk (illegally) and had suddenly entered the roadway in his path? And suddenly the Urban Cyclist Community would be “up in arms” over lawbreaking motorists who need to be taught a lesson. And the LOOK Chicago! group would have yet another chance to print decals that they can pass out on street corners to keep those pesky motorists from breaking the law.

Reply by David crZven 10.6 7 hours ago
As currently constituted, the Lawrence Avenue bike lanes only put bicyclists at greater risk.

  1. They are badly painted and appear and disappear at random.
  2. They place bicycles in a part of the street which has tire-trapping grids (grids with openings wide enough to catch a tire running parallel to the direction of travel.
  3. The “bad” drivers (and the CTA buses) use the bike lanes as “express travel” lanes since the Police do not enforce the bike lanes. This puts the bicycles and the worst drivers together and often puts the “fast” drivers in the Right Lane.
  4. Lawrence has many left turns. Cars pass cars turning left by simply pulling through the bike lane without looking.
  5. Lawrence has lots of parked cars. This means dooring and cars pulling into parking places without looking.
  6. The pavement in the “bike lanes” is in bad shape.
  7. Cars turning left from the opposing direction, turn right through the bike lanes without looking.

The solution is pretty easy. Move the bike lanes off of the major arterials. For example, Ainslie is a one way East Bound which runs parallel to Lawrence for a large portion of its length. Get rid of parking on one side, auto cul de sac it at a few places (Bike can get through, Car cannot), convert the stop signs to yield signs on Ainslie, keep the lights at the major intersections, and run a bike lane down it. Find another street running west and do the same thing.

We passed a couple of accidents tonight on the way to get coffee. The first was on Main Street and there were at least two or more squad cars on the scene and a couple of ambulances, never a good sign. The second one was as we were passing St. Michaels Church. A couple of high school senior or college freshman had managed to drive their car up onto the sidewalk between a traffic signal and a light post on the left and a brick wall with wrought iron fencing on the other. I would hate to even guess how the driver managed to do this, but he would probably have told the cop that since the intersection was empty that nothing he did constituted a safety issue to anyone else, only to himself and perhaps his passenger. Sounds like familiar bullshit?

Reply by John Greenfield 6 hours ago
David, thanks for the info.
As you may know, Lawrence is slated for a road diet this summer between Ashland and Western that will remove car travel lanes to make room for left-turn lanes, wider sidewalks and bike lanes. That should help calm traffic:…
Also, Leland, two block south of Ainslie, is slated to get a “neighborhood greenway,” similar to what you described, between Clark and Clarendon next year:…

One thing is certain Liberals who are fond of Social Engineering have great faith in Traffic Calming and Road Diets. I take a little different stance on this issue. While not a big fan of Conservatives you have to at least admit that Ronald Reagan had it right when he said:

Trust, but verify.
— Ronald Reagan

We are uncertain about nearly everything in life. All the things we took to be truism a scant 100 years ago have proven to be wrong. Even things that are scientific in nature fall upon hard times. We now know that light is not limited to a constant speed. That one is a stunner but is what makes life interesting. Anyone who tries to talk bullshit about what they “know” to be true is either a snake oil salesman or worse writes for StreetsBlog.

Reply by JeffB (7+ miles) 6 hours ago
I can understand the good intentions behind such events, but ultimately think they’re a waste of time and resources. Those resources could be put to better use giving those polite warnings to the drivers of vehicles that are much more numerous and far more likely to cause injury or death.
As it is, they’re just picking on easy targets. Stand at the intersection during one of those events and count the number of motorists talking on cell phones, or rolling through stop signs, or speeding up for yellow/red lights, or failing to signal properly (you’re going to need some help to do this). If the police pulled over every car doing these things at an intersection, they’d cause a massive traffic jam trying to find spaces to pull over all the offenders. Its much easier to target a bike.

Ah, yes! More of what I expected from this crowd. It’s the kind of argument that brings tears of joy to my eyes. Imagine that the gunman at Sandy Hook had lived. And upon being approached by the reporters he announced that yes he had managed to kill a few folks, but his crime was nothing when compared to the mayhem that could have been wrought had he only been able to afford an fully automatic machine gun with a 50 round capacity per clip and 50 caliber ammunition. And you know he would have been right. The latter would have been more lethal. But is that the question that we really want answered?

Sure cars can be more lethal. But when you are a beat cop and you encounter a youth point a 22 caliber revolver at your head do you turn to your partner and remark that the situation is just fine, he only has a 6-shot revolver and the ammunition has not stopping power as compared with what you brought. Nope you pull your Glock 9 MM and perform a “double tap“. Leave the bullshit arguments about lethal weaponry to the kids parent’s attorney.

Jeff’s entire argument is what you would expect from a drug dealer who when caught started lecturing you about real danger to the people of the city from the Wall Street Bankers and crooked politicians who can do some real damage to peoples lives. Why bother hassling a guy trying to make a living selling crack cocaine? I dunno, maybe because it is illegal?

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 6 hours ago
Lawrence is an absolutely terrible place to ride, smack in the middle of several bike friendly neighborhoods. It’s probably the worst east/west street between Irving Park and Foster to ride on. Any map encouraging people to ride on Lawrence are doing them a huge disservice. Lawrence somewhat randomly alternates between two lanes with a bike lane and four lanes with sharrows with leads to aggressive drivers trying to pass on the right squeezing out cyclists. Traffic is heavy and times fast. The pavement conditions are terrible. Between Pulaski and the Lake, Wilson is a much better option. West of there, there really aren’t any good options until west of the expressways.

Reply by Cheryl 6 hours ago
Educational efforts are always beneficial, in my opinion. However, there can and should be more effort on placing signage around bike lanes and educating drivers (maybe via “sting operations”?) about bike lanes to reduce (mis)use, in addition to the efforts you describe. Efforts to educate cyclists about traffic laws, including pedestrians’ right of way, is not misplaced based on my observation and experience.

Clearly Cheryl is not long for the ChainLink. Gabe will wake up soon and decide her views are too extreme and have her banned as a bad influence. Good for her!

Reply by Rich S 6 hours ago
I think telling cyclists that running red lights is illegal is about as ineffective as you can be. We all know it’s illegal yet most of us do it anyway when we feel conditions are safe enough. And that’s the point. If someone doesn’t think what they’re doing is wrong even if illegal then you won’t change behavior. Giving a driver a speeding ticket for going 37 in a 35 will not change that driver’s behavior because they probably don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.

The very next time the assholes from Active Transportation Alliance ask you for money respond with this guys quote. I have been a member of the organization since it was named Chicago Bike Federation. But the crap that comes out of the mouth of Ron Burke about how much better things will be once we are given more bicycle infrastructure proves that either he is a liar or very deluded. Maybe even both. Rich is unfortunately “telling it like it is“.

Reply by Chi Lowe 12.5+ mi 33 minutes ago
I did. And it was a special morning where the lane was blocked by:

  • A lady in a maroon luxury car just N of Lake (Indignant: “I’m just dropping my daughter off”)
  • A cab in front of the “Whatever All The Cabs Stop At” just N of the bridge
  • A black luxury SUV (driver left his door open as he ran in Someplace to do Something Important)

I am a huge cheerleader for Dearborn; it’s an amazing and critical front line, but for G-d’s sake, City of Chicago, please start enforcing the law and training people not to park in it. Please.
It’s actually safer for me to ride in traffic some days, and I don’t think that was the intent.

This particular quote is from yet another thread on Riding Dearborn Streets PBL. I placed it here to show how utterly hypocritical Urban Cyclists are when it comes to somebody else’s wrongs. Then they cannot urge “enforcement and training” fast enough. So the next time you read how utterly useless this approach is with cyclists ask yourself why cyclist therefore think it will work with motorists? Are they by implication admitting that motorists are faster learners? Perhaps so.

Urban Cyclists are in no mood to be lectured to about their behavior. Some of the guys that volunteer to be Ride Marshals for the Four Star Bike Tour are people who evidently think like Rich. Unfortunately they are members of my own bike club and that really hurts. But the facts are as Rich says. So if you have better things to do with your money I suggest you consider alternatives.

Reply by Zoetrope 5 hours ago
With all due respect, John, why wouldn’t this be a good idea? All you’re doing is baiting the people with the stupidest opinions/most time on their hands and a desire to be “in the news”.
“Oh my gosh! Think of the children! These resources could be better served!” *Face fucking palm*
This isn’t a thread asking whether you guys think cyclists running red lights should be a ticketable offense, it’s asking whether or not you think the steps CPD and Bike Ambassadors are taking to make cyclists and drivers more aware of behavior they might think is not illegal/stupid (salmoning, texting, whatever) is a good idea or not.

Once again the situation is never going to change in the City of Chicago so long as cyclists and motorists feel arrogant and entitled to behave as they choose. And I just wish I could find the forum where motorists sit a perform mental masturbation while coming up with excuses for why their behavior is not unsafe and besides is nobody’s business but their own. Again, if you have a better place to put your money then perhaps you should realize that this kind of situation is endemic within the Urban Cycling Community. These expression are not those of “outliers” they form the heart and soul of the Urban Cycling Community.

Reply by John Greenfield 5 hours ago
Zoetrope, actually a local bike blogger had criticized the outreach events but wasn’t willing to be quoted in the article for fear of coming off as a crank, so I felt to write a balanced article it would make sense to check in with the Chainlink to see if there were many folks who share the same opinion.

Reply by Anne Alt 4 hours ago
In some cases, this may be helpful. Some cyclists are not aware that the following things are illegal in the city: sidewalk riding, wrong way riding (salmoning), riding at night without a headlight and rear reflector/tail light. Some drivers are not aware of the hazard they create by: passing at an unsafe distance (less than 3 feet), dooring, right/left cross, right/left hook, etcl. For those who are reachable through educational efforts, these outreach efforts can make a difference. Those who are already aware (and don’t give a s^&# about anyone else’s safety) will only be reached when it hurt$ their wallets (ticketing).

Reply by Zoetrope 4 hours ago
Ah, understandable. Wouldn’t want Rahmbo to show up at their door to taze them and drag them off to a cave in Siberia, never to be heard from again.

Amen to what Anne has written. Hit these guys in the wallet, cut down the money they have to spend on beer and maybe just maybe they will get the message. Or maybe instead they will decide to just print more LOOK Chicago! stickers to punish the “real bad guys”, motorists.

Reply by blair_ 4 hours ago
In theory, I could see how these types of efforts would be a good idea. The ones I’ve encountered have been poorly executed though.
I’ve been stopped twice in the Kinzie bike lane. The first time was after I came to a full stop under the Metra tracks. 5-10 cyclists blew the stop sign completely – no one said a word to them. I started to pedal through the intersection after stopping and a cop jumped out in front of me. “You! Pull over now!” He quickly assigned a bike ambassador to talk to me. She reminded me that bikes should also obey traffic laws.

Me: But I stopped…
Her: All cyclists must obey…
Me: I know, but I’m confused as to why you stopped me and not the cyclists that didn’t stop.
Her: It’s also important to signal when needed and…
Me: I stopped though. Why did he pull me over if I stopped?
Her: Sometimes cars aren’t stopping at this intersection either.
Me: I know! But I DID stop. And I’m not driving a car. Look – a car just blew through the intersection without stopping. Why isn’t anyone going after him?
Her: Would you like a bike map?

The second time was at the intersection near the East Bank Club. Again, a group of cyclists blow through the intersection nearly hitting a few pedestrians. A cop leaning against her bike shakes her head at them but then stops me. I had just stopped and began to pedal through the intersection. “Unless both of your feet hit the street, you’re not stopped!”
In my experience, they’re just yelling at whoever is easiest to stop. Which is usually someone actually obeying the law. Annoying.

Reply by blair_ 4 hours ago
Also, CPD constantly rides their bikes up and down the sidewalks on Michigan and Randolph.

I am going out on a limb here, but given that cops appear on horseback on sidewalks on Michigan Avenue and you and I are not allowed this luxury, there are permissions granted them in the execution of their duty that do not apply to anyone else.

Reply by David P. 4 hours ago
I saw these people at that intersection on my way home from work last week. I think that it is OK as far as it goes, but I don’t think that effort is directed where it most needs to be, which is with motor-vehicle drivers. Motor vehicles are what pose by far the biggest safety threat to cyclists, and I think that the burden of behavior modification should fall heaviest on those whose vehicle pose the greatetst threat. A cyclist can pose a danger to a pedestrian but none at all to a person in a car, whereas a car can be a deadly threat to a person on a bicycle.
I go through that intersection every working day in the afternoon, and what I see most are the following:
-cyclists northbound on Milwaukee who jump the light, crossing Armitage when the left-turn arrow is green and the main light is red.
-cars turning left from EB Armitage to NB MIlwaukee who run the red and take up about half of the left-turn cycle for cars turning off of SB Milwaukee
I also see cars going NB on Milwaukee who ignore the turn signals and run the red light when the left-turn arrows go green.
Advising cyclists not to do the above helps, but not as much as advising car drivers not to drive dangerously.

This is the favorite pastime of the Cycling Community. They learned this behavior in Junior High School.

Always deflect criticism of what you have done by pointing the finger at the other kids who are also doing the same thing or worse.

Reply by David crZven 10.6 4 hours ago
My Comment: Surely the “both feet on the street” standard isn’t real. I cleat on leg into my pedal. When I stop, and I do stop, the other leg will go to the ground, but I certainly do not uncleat at every stop sign or stop light. That would be tantamount to requiring each car to go to neutral at every stop sign or light. If, in fact, this is the “standard” the ATA needs to go to the City and get them to clarify this point. But yes, the “two feet is a the only stop” is sadly the kind of mindless drivel that I would expect from one of the Ambassadors.

I sense an opportunity for LOOK Chicago! to print more stickers. These should however be in protest to the idea of having to put your feet on the ground. And I suppose that motorists who do not come to a complete stop (so that their car rocks) will be given the same courtesy by cyclists when they roll through a stop sign at low speed? Fat chance of that.

Reply by Eli Naeher 3 hours ago
I hate this sort of thing because the police are using their authority with zero accountability.
If a cop thinks I’m breaking a law, let them cite me, and if I think it’s meritless, I can fight it in court. But when they just decide to harass me about imagined violations without actually taking any official action which would allow me to defend myself, to my mind, that is nothing but bullying. The kind of thing that blair_ described above would really sour my day.

If having cops perform a “crackdown” on scofflaw behavior is irksome, just imagine how motorists feel when they as a class are targeted for the involvement of a single one of them in the “door zone collision” of a cyclist riding a fixed gear bike without benefit of brakes.

Reply by Mike Zumwalt 2 hours ago
Speaking of bike lanes.
The Dearborn lane has 2 way traffic in it with signals for Salmoners.
Approaching an intersection with left turn traffic on a green are drivers/pedestrians aware that bikes will be traveling North and South “legally”. It’s also on the left side not the right as most other lanes are.
Inconsistancy makes it harder for both drivers and cyclists if we’re supposed to follow the rules.

Reply by Bob Kastigar 2 hours ago
Foster Avenue is becoming a speedway to the expressways and enforcing the speed limits, stopping at red lights, and ticketing passing on the right isn’t happening. Two lanes of traffic in each direction are not necessary. Traffic should be reduced to one lane in each direction, with a center divider for pedestrian crossing. A stop light should be added at Avers Avenue. Children are crossing Foster between and among Eugene Field Park and Gompers Park.…

Reply by David crZven 10.6 1 hour ago
This is exactly the kind of “anti-car” attitude which makes it impossible for real progress. Foster Avenue has become a major route for cars. Many of the cross routes are badly choked. What are those drivers supposed to do? People don’t die on request. Targeting popular roads that actually move at a good pace do nothing more than make enemies. Why Foster? Why not encourage the development of a good parallel to Foster that can be made more bicycle friendly. Like Bryn Mawr. All that choking down Foster would do would make Bryn Mawr more dangerous and less likely to become what it shoudl be… a major East West Bike route.
Cars are entitled to roads. Bicycles are entitled to roads. Cars are not entitled to all of the roads, but neither are bicycles. Compromise is the only way to make it work.

Let me guess, you also support Critical Mass…

Reply by Gabe 1 hour ago
David, so far I think you’ve said EVERYTHING is a cause for your perceived lack of progress in bicycling. And yet we continue to have progress. Thank GOD you’re not in charge of jack shit.

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km 4 hours ago
Ok, this may be too little too late, but let’s try to bring this back on track.
I for one think we need more education. Very few people wake up in the morning and decide to flaunt the rules. I think it is more a question of not knowing the rules. Unless you are an attorney specializing in traffic violations, it is nearly impossible to know all the rules that apply to you.
So education followed by enforcement for that small minority that refuses to follow the rules even after they have been explained. Yeah, I’m on board with that.

Let me end the listening here. But before we toddle off into the virtual internet sunset let me replay some of the conversation in another forum thread. The topic here is about where or not cycling is dangerous. What is important are the two speakers since these are bedrock members of the Urban Cycling Community.

Reply by Gabe 2 hours ago
It’s not the bike that causes injuries but it’s the bike that should be given up. People are fucking retarded.

Gabe tends to be a bit “silly“. He has found ample justification for remaining this way since he gets to have “free reign” over who stays on the forum or not. But clearly he is among the “fucking retarded“. How else would you explain his blanket statement about bikes not causing injuries. I guess he is unaware of the court case in California where a fixed gear cyclist riding a bike with no brakes managed to plow through a crosswalk of pedestrians killing an elderly Asian gentleman. But maybe given his often very racist views he does not count dead Asians when making that kind of statement. Just sayin’.

Reply by h’ 1.0 44 minutes ago
Seriously, i had opportunity to ride the bus a lot the past few days and there were coincidentally tons of cyclists sharing the routes, and looking very very vulnerable (and of course making poor choices in some cases but that’s another story) and I had opportunity to ponder this very question and I think thusly:
Our current system of having extremely destructive vehicles share travel space with extremely fragile and vulnerable road users just doesn’t work. I’d give this co-worker credit for at least being able to recognize that part of the equation, if not for being able to think outside the status quo in terms of who’s entitled to that space.

Howard Kaplan gets the last word. What he has to say carries a great deal of weight in the ChainLink Community and the Urban Cycling Community in general. He has a cozy relationship (to say the least) with the fellows at Active Transportation Alliance. So what he has said carries some weight.

At some point we all need to understand that these things are basic truths about cycling:

  • Helmets do not make cycling less safe. They do not however prevent concussions and need to be improved to do so.
  • Cycling like every other human activity is dangerous. Blathering about how safe it is to attract “newbies” is no less dishonest than telling the managers of retirement funds that Collaterialized Debt Obligations (CDOs) are safe and should be used to fund pensions.
  • Americans are being sold a “bill of goods” with the advent of “protected bike lanes“. They are too poorly implemented to be of much value and most importantly the folks who use them do not feel constrained to be law abiding riders who operate in as safe and predictable a manner as possible. That is simply the blather than Ron Burke likes to dish out to justify his job.
  • Door Zone Collisions” are a manufactured calamity. Move the bike lanes away from the parked cars and the incidences have an opportunity to drop. Trying to shove the blame onto motorists (including 6-year olds heading into school from the family van) is silly and unproductive. Having the “bike lane” situated in such close proximity to cars is a bit like putting a gun range on a school playground and blaming the shooters for not having better aim when a child is killed.
  • Trying to extrapolate the safety records of the Europeans onto Americans just because we are now painting our roads green and using up the world’s supply of PVC piping to make bollards makes about as much sense as assuming that because people who eat yogurt every day live longer than usual, that eating yogurt every day will increase your life span. Trends do not identify causation.
  • Americans will never really adopt the European way of life regarding bicycles because it is quite unlikely that we will ever see them as little more than vacuum cleaner appliances that you ride. We are and will no doubt always be obsessed with machines. It is in our DNA.