Evanston: Church Street – A Protected Bike Lane Gone Horribly Wrong

Background  Reading


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Last Sunday we toured Evanston by bicycle. There is a very nice sculpture garden just across the border with Skokie that runs for several miles and is rather delightful. We rode the length of the ‘garden‘ taking photographs and generally enjoying the ambience of the place. And while it is very interesting to see all the various statues it is probably best done on a cloudy day when the sun’s glare is less a problem for your camera.

They have the garden conveniently divided into four distinct sections (you can even see this clustering echoed on their website). For those who are coming to view the sculptures by automobile there are small parking lots along each section.

Turning In Towards Evanston

Heading back into towards Evanston was almost as much of a puzzle as reaching the sculpture garden had been in the first instance. We decided to try and take Dempster a part of the way back into town. That proved to be a frustrating mistake as Dempster is narrow with parking on both side and not enough room to safely allow bicycles to share the righthand portion of the lane. Dempster is south of the next street we rode which is Church.

As it turns out Church is a bit of a showcase lane for bicycling. The street runs one-way from west to east into the downtown section of the city. The formal bike lane begins around Ridge Street. The automobiles along the south side of the street have been moved in towards the middle and the bike lane runs along the curb space freed by this action. Pretty green paint has been applied to the lane and the usual PVC bollards have been installed. By comparison with our very recent experience of Dempster Street this is nirvana. Well almost.

Where American Socialist Traffic Design Falls Apart and Why

We do not like to admit that our headlong rush towards Protected Bike Lanes is a nod to Socialist Traffic Design from countries like Holland and Denmark. But they are in fact most successfully used in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. When you visit countries where these designs work best your brain tells you that if only you could install lanes like these everything that makes cycling stressful back in the US of A would be fixed. And so we have made it our mission to bring pretty green lanes with PVC bollards to every large city in America in the hopes that it will solve our problems. But Evanston is a shining example of why education and training are the missing ingredients in this grand scheme and lacking them the pretty green lanes are a ‘bust‘.

In both Amsterdam and Copenhagen every school child gets training at a very early age about how to safely travel by bicycle to and from school. Our Safe Routes to School programs are essentially designed after these examples. But such programs here are sporadic at best and so millions of Americans grow up past childhood never understanding how to ride a bicycle safely. Couple this with the fact that there is not enough money to provide PBLs on a universal basis and you now have cities all over the country where neither infrastructure nor education and training are available and cycling suffers because drivers (these kids who lack early education on cycling do grow up to become motorists) have little or no empathy with cyclists and vice versa. Talk about your Hatfields and McCoys. The only wider social gap between groups would be that experienced by black and whites in this country. Blacks and whites can grow up literally blocks from one another with a world of different experiences that are distinct enough that they could easily have grown up in different countries, not just different sections of town.

Trying To Look Socialist Without Understanding How

So our very first failure as would-be Socialists is in that we have mimicked all of the visual stuff that we could find the money to pay for but are left with people who frankly cannot and do not understand how to use it. Evanston shows this problem in spades. My original ride report of this particular day cited about 65% non-compliance by riders using Church Street. But frankly upon reflection I could not recall a single ride who actually passed us heading east. Every other person we encountered in the PBL along Church Street was a ‘salmon‘.

Racists are quite prevalent in the cycling community. You can generally tell who they are because they share a common dislike, ‘Salmons‘. In the cycling world this is the verbal equivalent of calling someone a ‘nigger‘ or an ‘illegal‘. Folks who are ‘salmon-haters‘ are quite generous with themselves however. They have elaborate explanations for why ignoring stop signs and red lights can be ethical (albeit illegal) but God himself ordained that white people should be able to do whatever the heck they want in their own country. And evidence of this sort of sentiment is rampant on the ChainLink Forum.

From where I stand we are either ALL SALMONS or HYPOCRITES.

From where I stand we are either ALL SALMONS or HYPOCRITES.

Harsh words indeed but when you live in a world of privilege it is easy to think this way. But some of these white riders try to do a little self-examination to get at the reasons why they ‘salmon‘ as well:

Wisdom Comes In Understanding Yourself...

Wisdom Comes In Understanding Yourself…

Of course the one thing that really sets cyclists apart is the hypocrisy of whining about ‘salmons‘ we encounter on our daily commutes but ignoring our own behavior on Critical Mass Rides:

Why Use Critical Mass To Break Your Own Rules?

Why Use Critical Mass To Break Your Own Rules?

So assuming as one must in a world of white privilege that ‘salmoning‘ is wrong we need to get at the reasons why all but four of the salmons we encountered on Church Street were white. But more important why is their ‘salmoning‘ in Evanston on Church Street at all? My guess is that there is some confusion among what is a largely untrained populace about how to use PBLs.

Education And Training Are The Key

You can erect all the PBLs that money can buy and people will still ‘salmon‘ if it is more convenient (from their perspective) to do so than follow the laws. Now you cannot imagine how happy I am to be writing this article because there is not a living breathing ChainLinker who can argue that I am being my usual ChainLink-hating self. Well maybe I am. After all I am taking great delight in trying to hoist these arrogant bastards on their own verbal and moral petards. But if any group ever deserved skewering these are they.

During that eventful trip along Church Street I encountered a set of twin brothers on bicycles riding against traffic. They were white and about 18 years of age. I encountered two black friends on longboards who were studiously ignoring my pronouncement that this was a one-way street and PBL. But the icing on the cake was when a mother pulling a bugger emerged from Maple Street and turned left onto Church Street and seeing me riding right at her warning about the one-way nature of the lane decided to try riding out in the automobile lane (against traffic)! Yikes! She was white and probably college-educated. But that attempt to ride in automobile traffic was stupid. There simply is no justification for bringing a child in a bugger along for the ride while you are acting stupidly.

What all of these folks lack is education and training. If they have read about or seen pictures of the Dearborn Street PBL in Chicago they might have gotten the notion that just about any PBL could be used in either direction. In fact the last half dozen riders we watched entering that lane heading westbound were college students probably heading somewhere blissfully ignorant or defiant of the law about using one-way streets. But can you blame them?

My question to the folks who operate the Evanston Department of Transportation is where the heck were you when you wisdom was needed? The ‘big lie‘ that keeps getting repeated all over the Urban Cycling Community is that we need more bike lanes to create a safer infrastructure. We my response is a ‘big maybe‘. You need both the infrastructure and the education and training to pull it together to help people (especially cyclists) to understand how to use this stuff.

Governmental agencies and groups like Active Transportation Alliance are frankly lazy. They want the recognition for having lots of infrastructure and are frankly unwilling or unable to do the hard work of education and training a population of adults on how to use that same infrastructure. Somehow the word has gotten out that Vehicular Cycling is verboten and going forward all we have to do is create more pretty green lanes and all will be sweetness and light.

The ‘Dirty Secret’ of Infrastructure

But the sad fact is that the newbies coming to cycling are as clueless as they are shown to be in Evanston on Church Street. They either do not know how to use PBLs or are willfully ignorant of their use but either way they are doing exactly what white cyclists say is verboten. They are ‘salmoning‘ up and down Church Street as if it were perfectly legal, morally ethical and most of all the safest thing to do. White America you cannot have it both ways. You cannot condemn blacks and hispanics for the ‘sin of salmoning‘ while you are practicing it because it simply suits your purposes on Critical Mass Rides or when toodling along Church Street.

Get your heads out of your collective asses.