Playing Both Sides of the ‘Safety Street’ When It Suits…

Background Reading


Desi Arnaz

Desi Arnaz

The Urban Cycling Community is really in need of a “playbook” when it comes to their Collective Narrative. Of late the theme has been that emphasis on “safety” is actually impeding the move towards increased bicycle infrastructure. What it is now fashionable to insist on is that more infrastructure increases “bicycle comfort“. This new red herring is to help in dealing with agencies that require that there be “scientific proof” of the things we attribute to bicycle infrastructure.

From the outset we have claimed that having more infrastructure will bring “safety” to all three of the segments of roadway travel (i.e. pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists). But when a group like IDOT asks that we postpone updating their streets until such time as we can “demonstrate” that there is increased safety it makes us a bit sore.

John Greenfield gripes:

The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t all bad, but it sure seems that way sometimes. Earlier this year Steven Vance broke the story that IDOT has been blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads. The motives behind the ban aren’t clear yet, but documents the Active Transportation Alliance obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that, contrary to the state’s explanation, concern for safety isn’t one of them.

And just how was this determined? At best it “seems” to the readers (who bring their own baggage) that IDOT is being imperious. But can you blame them. The Urban Cycling Community has been griping about the work of CDOT just this past week:

I rode southward through there last week during morning rush. I have no problems with taking a lane if I need to, however, when cars have no traffic control southbound from Montrose their speeds are higher than mine. I pulled over before hitting that island and waited for a break.  Whomever advocated the sentiment that we’re “supposed to take a lane,” I say go for it at during travel times and see how long ya last.

It’s a goddamn god awful design.

And keep in mind that these are the folks who are supporters of the type that Steve Vance and John Greenfield rely on for financial contributions to their efforts. I am certain that the IDOT folks can read (and do on a regular basis) all of the negative comments from folks who actually live in or use on a regular basis the neighborhoods where these kinds of efforts are made. Just as a casual observer I would have to wonder just how competent the CDOT team really is.

When a fellow like myself “disses” something that the Urban Cycling Community is pining for you have to take my comments with a grain large block of salt. But these remarks are being made by the “faithful” of the Church of Urban Cycling. Their remarks should count for something. In short they think that at the very least CDOT has not a clue.

The Ramifications

First of all it is important to understand that the basis for clamoring for more bicycle infrastructure is because it is indeed “safer“. And even if you slap my face and ask me to mind my betters and understand that “bicycle comfort” is the new aim, I still have to ask whether even that aim is being achieved. If you cannot get the ChainLink Faithful to fawn over your newest creations, then certainly you cannot blame IDOT for being a bit circumspect.

Evidently just throwing up infrastructure is not enough. There has to be some thought behind it. And given that CDOT is in the business of “giving thought to bicycle infrastructure” and then implementing it, I would have to say all bets are off that any of the money spent in the next few years on behalf this somewhat “arrogant cabal of fan boys and girls” from the ChainLink and Active Transportation Alliance is likely to be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Mind you too that the complaints against the Berteau Greenway are often about the fact that it made the situation worse in terms of both the actual and perceived safety of its users. Now that my friends is more than a cause for IDOT to keep its hands tightly on the reins all the more so. Stay tuned, it turns out that all the blather about increasing bicycle infrastructure is just that blather. This is a more involved thing than even CDOT seems to be able to handle. And they are the ones who are “touting” the efficacy of moving in their direction.

Keep your hands tightly on your wallets, friends.

 Why Can’t The Danes Eliminate Right Hooks In Protected Bike Lanes?

If you are certain that the solution to “safe cycling” here in the United States lies in following the lead of our fellow cyclists in places like Copenhagen, then boy do you have ‘some explaining to do Lucy‘. Take for instance this news report:

A cyclist was killed by right turning vehicle on Saturday. It is the seventh such fatality this year and more than double the number in 2012

It might be more meaningful to stop grousing over having lost the Illiana Highway vote and instead turn your attention to why a place in Bicycle Heaven with all the Protected Bike Lanes you can eat is unable to fix the problem of those pesky “right hooks“. But keep in mind folks, that this is not me saying there should simply be ZERO RIGHT HOOKS and stamping my feet while holding my breath until I am purple. This is me asking what IDOT is asking:

Why does not a “proven system” like that owned by the Dutch and the Danes stamp out these more than 200% increases in a known issue like “right hooks” in a single year?

The folks at StreetsBlog should be hot on the trail of this one since it speaks directly to their contention that where they want us to go (i.e. more Protected Bike Lanes) turns out to not be the panacea their side is claiming. Perhaps the use of the term “their side” is a misnomer. We are all presumably (CDOT, IDOT, ATA and yes ME) looking for some sense of whether these “magic bullet” theories are meaningful. We humans have a history of telling each other that our particular priest or priestess has the answers to all of life’q questions and why not shut up and follow our dictums?

But frankly no such panacea actually exists. We all know this but we still act as if we have all the answers. Every bit of good data that crosses the desks of Messrs. Vance and Greenfield will find its way into one of their columns. However the embarrassing stuff like this more than 200% increase in right hooks in a single year will be left like an unwanted baby on the doorsteps of the firehouse because no one wants to admit that a mistake in judgment was made.

Protected Bike Lanes are evidently not a panacea to "Right Hooks"

Protected Bike Lanes are evidently not a panacea to “Right Hooks”