In Search of ‘More Room’ for Cyclists

Background Reading


If you want to understand something you often have to ask a child what it means. Children are not stupid or ignorant individuals, just given to that uncommonly simple trait of taking things at face value. It bugs the heck out of adults who have all sorts of nuanced understandings about this or that issue. But kids see with a very clear lens what a thing is and focus on it with laser-like precision. Take for instance the issue of an article on bicycles:

Interesting article in Law & Order magazine
Posted by Skip Montanaro 12mi on July 31, 2013 at 3:46pm

Saw the attached article from Law & Order magazine referenced in the internet BOB mailing list. Good, short read about bike placement within the stream of traffic from a police expert.

One respondent wrote:

Reply by SlowCoachOnTheRoad 10 hours ago
I liked the article a lot, especially its emphasis on our right to the full lane when we need it for safety purposes. It also highlighted how frequently cars are tempted to turn right right in front of us if we fail to get into that lane as we approach corners. I’ll have to remember that more frequently as I approach corners on busy car days.

My hairiest location, the one I dread the most, and the one where I have had the most near misses, has been turning left off Clark onto Kinzie (when heading south on Clark). I turn into Kinzie as it is the street that allows one to hit the very beginning of the two-way bike lane on Dearborn heading into the Loop. The first challenge is getting from the right bike lane into the left side of Clark – when there is a lot of traffic that is quite a challenge! The other challenge is that between those two streets (Clark and Dearborn) Kinzie has a bike lane drawn in the middle of the road. Cars often don’t see it and think you are hogging the road so try to slice close by in anger. Driving aggressively in that area is important but also may invite trouble, so it is hard to figure out the safest way to do it.

An honest reaction to the article with personal anecdotes that is immediately followed with a rather ‘wonky’ explanation for things that are a bit muddled (if you as me):

Reply by Steven Vance 10 hours ago
Clark Street within blocks of Kinzie has no bike lane.

Kinzie neither has a bike lane, but an “enhanced marked shared lane”, AKA “sharrows with lines on the sides”. These aren’t bike lanes and offer no privileges over a street without the sharrows.

I’m not a fan of CDOT’s treatment of these few blocks of Kinzie with the “sharrows with lines on the sides” as they are invisible most of the time because there are vehicles atop them. They also don’t provide what bicyclists need on this part of the road: room.

Anyone else sick and tired of these baby steps?

Remove on-street parking from Kinzie. There are like three publicly-accessible parking garages with space available.

I am not tired of the ‘baby steps‘. Kids use them all the time to get things ‘right‘. We could suffer ourselves to relearn what we knew as children.

I Think Steve Is Feeling Slighted

You see just before answering this thread Steve may have been reading another:

“Willens Law Office Unveils First Real-Time Bike Accident Map”
Posted by h’ 1.0 on July 31, 2013 at 4:31pm

Sacramento Bee apparently among the first to run with this press release……

My internet is barely functional here at work at the moment so I can’t check this out, but I’m interested to hear others’ opinions.

Steve did not care for the snub implied in the headlines for an out-of-town paper on a Chicago-based database tool. So he wrote:

Reply by Steven Vance 10 hours ago
Mine and Gin’s Close Calls website is still around.

But at least he got some press here, right?

Look Who Made Chicago’s Best Bike Blogs and Media!
Posted by Julie Hochstadter on July 31, 2013 at 1:43pm

I see a lot of familiar faces including The Chainlink! Read the article here:…
Anything they missed????

At least he wrote to pronounce the list ‘more or less complete’:

Reply by Steven Vance 10 hours ago
This is a pretty exhaustive list. It almost has everybody.

Ok, So Back To Our Discussion

Steve said something rather revealing. He complained that:

They also don’t provide what bicyclists need on this part of the road: room.

Every Lane Is A Bike Lane © Wheel and Sprocket

Every Lane Is A Bike Lane
© Wheel and Sprocket

Room? What the heck is ‘room‘? The Cycling Community is full of little quips about this or that. When I read the word ‘room‘ I thought about this bus wrap that was launched in Milwaukee a short while ago. It reads “Every Lane Is A Bike Lane“.

Now being a kid at heart that says to me that no matter where I ride I can take up as much room as a car if I choose to. Every lane is mine to use as I wish. So why then is poor Stevie worried about ‘room‘? By extension his worries would point to the fact that this supposed ‘truism‘ about bike lanes isn’t. And if it isn’t what then is it?



Well my guess is that Steve is laboring under some notion about ‘room‘ that is closer to this one:

Bicycle Skitching

Bicycle Skitching

It sounds great when you read it but cyclists frankly do not give a rats ass about 3 feet or room. What they really care about is ‘fun‘.

Slow To Recognition

Driving home from the Chicago Loop I watched without realizing what I was seeing that bicyclists love to ‘skitch‘ on moving vehicles. Usually the riders I was watching were on ‘fixies‘ and were hanging onto the wheel wells of CTA buses. Now you have to drink in the irony of all this. First of all we cyclists love to rail against everything automotive. We in fact keep asking aloud on the ChainLink why people do not climb out of their ‘cages‘ and join us on our bikes. But if they all did, how would we ‘skitch‘?

Stop On Red Light Warning

Stop On Red Light Warning

And how exactly does one skitch and keep 3 Feet between yourself and the vehicle you are using to transport you? After all ‘it’s the law‘. But frankly cyclists give even less thought to the law than most motorists. We have to write signs like the one above to remind each other that ‘the man‘ might be looking. And heaven forbid that anyone bring up the subject of drunk driving and the number of cyclists who have been killed by intoxicated drivers. Whew!

That will get you an earful until you suddenly realize that cyclists don’t give a hoot about biking drunk either. They defend it mightily as one of the perquisites of being on a bicycle. One has to wonder what the proverbial child listening to all this adult talk must be thinking of us.

Ninja Riders Glorified

Ninja Riders Glorified

We even like to blather on and on about how much better a bike ‘looks and feels‘ when unencumbered by lights, fenders, noisy bells and horns or reflective clothing worn by its driver. It is important that you realize that the poster above is actually being sold on the ChainLink to help raise money to make our streets ‘safer‘. After all with everyone dressed in black and riding around without benefit of reflectors, lights or reflective clothing we will need to sell quite a few posters to bring greater ‘safety‘ to our streets.

Yes, we give lip service to that stuff that kids like to call ‘safety‘ but as adults we know far better than they do. We need ‘room‘!

Back Where We Began



So as Steve mentioned before we bicyclists need ‘room‘. Yes we hang off of moving cars while cycling southbound on Jefferson each and every day. But when we ‘skitch‘ that is our own business. Besides we need ‘room‘.

3-Foot Law for Pedestrians As Well?

3-Foot Law for Pedestrians As Well?

We need room to avoid those pesky pedestrians in the zebra crosswalk. These people ‘cramp our style‘. We are more than a little tired of ‘baby steps‘. What we are looking for is ‘full blown acknowledgement of our maturity‘. In essence we need ‘room‘.

Dearborn Street Scofflaw Figures from the CDOT

Dearborn Street Scofflaw Figures from the CDOT

Dearborn is OK. But man we need more ‘room‘. I’m so glad we had this little discussion. It feel ‘roomier‘ around here already.

Oh, Wait. I Get it Now!

After coming back from luncheon I was reading another thread and suddenly understood Steve’s request for more ‘room‘:

Passing on the right
Posted by Elizabeth M. on August 1, 2013 at 10:58am

This morning I was riding east on Cortland. I stopped at a red light at Ashland. Since there is a right turn lane there and I was going straight I stayed in the center lane but to towards the right side of it. After the light changed I started making my way through the intersection when someone on a bike came flying past me on the right and almost hit me as I headed towards the bike lane. Am I wrong to think this was kind of a dick move? Should I have done something differently?

See being a ‘nigger‘ has its drawbacks. You simply cannot think as rapidly as your white counterparts:

Reply by J.A.W. 2 hours ago
Which came first: The chicken or the egg?

Take it as you want it. Cars do it too. Don’t mean it’s right, though.

If you don’t want to be passed on the right, then move over to the right and make it unsafe for them to pass on the right – then they’ll have to pass on the left.

Fact of the matter is, if I were starting from a stand-still and is still getting up to speed, and there’s a person trying to pass me, but is unsafe to do so on the left, then by all means, pass me on the right.

Now, if I were moving and there’s plenty of space on my left and they still pass me on the right, well, that’s another matter. Unless I was the dickhead who’s just taking the left side of the lane without a care in the world.

And to think it was all so very simple. There’s a bit of Randy Cohen cropping up in this explanation. In essence you can be an asshole when passing and still be ethical, right? But you need extra room for all this rudeness.

Reply by Skip Montanaro 12mi 2 hours ago
Definite dick move.

A few weeks ago, I was travelling southbound on Clark in the Gold Coast area. I’m putting along in middle of the bike lane, cars parked at the curb, traffic in the traffic lane. Some jerk blows past me between me and the parked cars.

Either there is some fellow by the name of Richard who is roundly identified with bad manner or someone has a thing against penises. Hey, so what if someone blows being you and the parked cars. From my point of view that just saves you from being in the Door Zone, right? But you probably will have to have more ‘room‘.

Reply by Brock T 37 minutes ago
I’ve definitely experienced some of these shenanigans myself. If a fellow rider is going to do something like pass on the right, the least they can do is express that by saying “on your right”. We are programmed to pass on the left so no one really expects to be passed on their right side. Its unnerving to say the least. Another riding style that’s been irking me this summer is when these speedy riders will be tailing you on the streets, pass you on the left within inches, and not say a goddamn word. I guess getting a mirror for my helmet or handlebars is in order just so I can be aware of these phantom riders. Be safe and considerate, comrades.

Can you truly be a ‘soldier in good standing‘ with the Urban Cycling Community and call folks out in this fashion? It did not work for me. I know because Lee Diamond decided that calling out Gabe was a bad thing so I had to go. Why are any of these guys still here? And do they really need all this ‘room‘?