A Near Miss: In The Shadow of the Hector Avalos ‘Ghost Bike’

Background Reading

Summary

Urban Cyclists are all about ‘victimhood‘. There is a database on ‘Near Misses‘ that is being maintained in an effort to have a data-driven way of getting a handle on remedies to traffic problems here in Chicago. Steven Vance even has a database in which these events are captured. But evidently the problem of “near misses” is a bit more complicated than one might imagine. And as usual it takes a bit of understanding of the rather lax attitudes of cyclists to understand how they get themselves into predicaments that are harmful.

But this is the week and last when groups do the Ride of Silence. It is meant to honor the fallen cyclists but is generally a means of pointing out the dangerous nature of urban cycling, presumably because motorists are reckless. What is really never talked about is the recklessness of cyclists themselves.

Hector Avalos Died Along This Stretch

I was sitting in the rightmost lane heading into the Loop today when I noticed a “near miss” in progress.

Bus Merge Point Across from Mt. Sinai.

Bus Merge Point Across from Mt. Sinai.

Couple in late twenties (lean and about 5’10”) riding along the outer section of boulevard on Ogden. A bit east of this intersection the buses which had been in the center section of Ogden move right into the outer section because just beyond California is a bus stop. That stop is in Douglas Park. This area is largely Hispanic and Black. So when “elites” ride through they stick out like a sore thumb.

The light was red as I approached and then turned green. As you can see from the Google Street View there is no bike lane here. Cars park along the curb on the north side of the street. And just a scant half or quarter mile east of this location is where the ‘ghost bike‘ of Hector Avalos is mounted on a street lamp post (at Ogden and Campbell). My guess is that any rider reaching this corner (having ridden along Ogden) has probably passed his memorial dozens of times.

Bus Stop Up Ahead On Right (Douglas Park)

Bus Stop Up Ahead On Right (Douglas Park)

With the changing of the light to green the CTA bus begins to move heading directly ahead towards the bus stop I mentioned earlier.

Suddenly a tall pale-skinned “elite” wearing a white Bern-style helmet with either a messenger bag or a backpack on emerges from the right side of the bus.

No Bike Lane at the Corner In Question

No Bike Lane at the Corner In Question

He is trying to ride straight ahead as well to get in front of the bus before it crosses the intersection. To do this he rides first into the crosswalk and then darts in front of the bus. The lady driver of the CTA bus is livid and ‘lays on the horn‘. The cyclist balks for a moment and then forces himself to ride ahead having performed his own ‘left hook‘ on a bus! I could hear the bus driver screaming out as she honked. She was angry that this stunt had been performed and most certainly was angry that it would be her record that would be blemished as a result of this stupid maneuver.

Then to my further astonishment a female “elite” riding in a bright orange Bern-style helmet was bailing on the maneuver of her male friend and not having the legs to sprint around the bus in time decided to let it pass her before she sprinted around the left side of the bus.She was doing all of this dressed not in cycling shorts but a long dress!

If you look at this Google Street View photo to the right you can see that there is not much room (on the right) for a bicycle to squeeze past a bus that is preparing to cross the intersection to reach the bus stop.

So why on earth would anyone riding a bicycle not simply fall into line behind the bus and cross that way? They could then swing around the left side of the bus as it began its slowing to make its stop. Was there some fire sale that I am not aware of that necessitated this silliness?

Are Cyclists Basically Greedy and Selfish?

I Share The Road

I Share The Road

Screw this notion that we all Share The Road. That is for suckers, right? At least that is how it seems to me. Urban Cyclists have gone to the other side of reality in terms of how they handle themselves on the roadway. If a motorist were to have attempted to execute that same maneuver and in the process have struck a pedestrian in the crosswalk in the process, Active Transportation Alliance would be churning out press releases at a steady rate to point out just how unsafe streets are for pedestrians and cyclists.

There would probably have been a long letter asking you to sign a petition, cupcakes would be sold if the pedestrian had been a relative of a cyclist on the ChainLink and of course you would have been asked to send in a donation to rid the roadways of the scourge that is the automobile.

But I cannot imagine a scenario in which this kind of silliness would elicit anything of interest from the ChainLink crowd. In fact I imagine that the couple in question are indeed members of the ChainLink. Why should a poor schlub working a 9-to-5 job driving a bus have to sit up half the night answering questions about a collision that they could not anticipate or caused. All because some half-assed bicyclist wants to get the ‘jump on a bus‘? Randy Cohen was dead wrong. When you do something stupid, ‘you are not the only one with skin in the game‘. Somebody else’s driving record gets a ding. Somebody else might lose their bus driving job. Somebody else might have to answer questions in a deposition about having run your sorry butt over, when it was absolutely unnecessary. Wake up, cyclists.

There are other people in this world who have lives to live, even if you don’t. Nobody who drives a train or truck or bus wants to run someone over. That is the very last thing on their minds. Putting yourself in ‘harms way‘ and then rushing to the ChainLink to vent on the Missed Connection thread is stupid, counterproductive and most of all hypocritical. I am more than tired of all the ‘victimhood‘ that passes as ‘righteous indignation‘ on the ChainLink. Grow a pair and act the way you say drivers should. Wait a few seconds and live to tell everyone about it.

If this kind of riding is not an indication that we need Vehicular Cycling training then nothing else could be. There was no need for the risk taking at all. It is simply a cyclist trying to ‘get the jump‘ on a bus that is traveling some 150 feet ahead before it comes to a stop. So why bother?

Just A Scant Few Miles Later

I continued on to Jackson and turned east into the Loop area. At Peoria the traffic was backing up a bit as we approached Halsted. A businessman wearing a long sleeve maroon plaid shirt and and tan slacks (sporting a dirty grey ponytail under his blue helmet complete with sticker on the back) comes riding at a gallop from the south and without either slowing or otherwise breaking stride powers around the corner as cars are moving through the intersection.

The problem of course is that the ‘bike lane‘ at this point on Jackson is on the north side of the street. So he takes the crosswalk (through which pedestrians are moving) and dodges a few of them before making it to the ‘bike lane‘ with cars honking their disapproval at being surprised by his presence. At least three cars were turning left onto Jackson from southbound Peoria.

I was stunned at the maneuver. This guy was clearly in his late 50s or early 60s and did not have the skills to try to emulate a bike messenger. But given that he was riding with a briefcase I got the feeling that I was probably witnessing the activities of an attorney hurrying back to his office. At any rate he rode the block or so from Peoria to Halsted and made a left at the light. I was very thankful that he had not deigned to run that light.


TakeAways

Everybody makes mistakes. But Urban Cyclists are among the most vocal denouncers of poor road etiquette on record. Let a BMW owner drive like an idiot and there will be a couple of days worth of remarks castigating anyone who owns a high-end European vehicle. And add to that the parade of anecdotal stories about ‘near misses‘ while on Chicago streets. But I see far too much of this sort of stuff played out on Loop streets and indeed anywhere in the Bucktown/Wicker Park Area to not realize that there is nothing unique about these incidents I just related. This stuff happens all the time and with regularity.

Chicago’s Urban Cyclists are a menace to society. Yep there are stupid drivers of automobiles. But you would think that having spilled one’s guts about them that your own behavior would be different. It is not. And never will be.

I simply refuse to shed tears for them.