By Greg Hinz
June 16, 2014
Source: Crain’s Chicago Business
Before there was Uber or Lyft, I had my bicycle. I’ll probably have it well after one or both of them end up in the corporate graveyard.
It’s been affordable and fun, a vehicle that can travel almost anywhere in a world too often stuck in traffic. It’s simple to operate, providing you avoid broken glass and open car doors. And, not to brag, but it’s healthy: How many of you guys out there north of age 39 have 31-inch waists?
Given that, you’ll understand that I arrive with a certain perspective as Bike to Work Week begins and the debate over whether bicycle commuting is worthwhile or an annoying hobby gets even hotter.
The recent scrapping has been over Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s move to build 100 miles of protected (more or less) bike lanes designed to keep motorists and bicyclists out of each other’s way.
Some have hollered at the cost: $67,000 per mile. But at 100 miles, that’s, golly, all of $6.7 million—about what City Hall spends to replace a few blocks’ worth of sewer tunnel or the Chicago Transit Authority spends on preliminary engineering when it rebuilds an el stop. Relative peanuts.
Other critics get more personal.
One pal pointed to a recent study by Portland State University that found the typical protected-lane rider is “white, male and rich,” as he put it (see the PDF). Indeed, the survey of five cities including Chicago found that 89 percent of riders were white. But 81 percent of the residents of the surveyed neighborhoods also were white. Ditto “rich”—with “rich” being defined as having an income of more than $100,000 a year.
So “poor” residents haven’t picked up the habit. Big deal. Overall bicycle ridership rose by an average of 72 percent in the first year after new bike lanes opened, according to the study, and 56 percent of those riders were under age 35, so that could change. And good for the third of riders who are women.
more than tripled,
to 26,000 a day,
Another local journalist, a cultural warrior of the right, keeps making snappy comments about Spandex people. Well, my Spandex days are long over. And looking around the office, that’s true for many of my co-workers, too. Nevertheless, nearly a third of them report that they ride their bike to work at least once a week in the warm weather, with a few up to four times a week and one die-hard relying on two wheels pretty much 12 months a year. And I guarantee you, they’re not wealthy. “Rich journalist” is an oxymoron.
Speaking of morons, some fellow bike riders still fit that definition. Though more and more riders stop at red lights—miracles do happen—it’s still not unusual to see some 22-year-old zip by on the right, roll past a few seniors on the sidewalk and then bounce through three lanes of traffic to get ahead of that other 22-year-old nearby. We still have to clean up our acts.
But something has changed when it comes to how people get to work, and it’s neither small nor temporary.
According to a new report by the Active Transportation Alliance here, the number of daily bike rides in Chicago has hit 125,000 (here’s the PDF). The group, which advocates for biking, walking and public transit, says the number of work trips more than tripled, to 26,000 a day, between 2000 and 2012.
For good and bad, bicyclists and drivers are going to have to learn to live together. And if that offends those who view every inch between the curbs as the automobile’s turf, I say: Stick it up your carburator. We’re not going away.
Before we can ‘all just get along‘ the narrative will have to change. If by definition you believe that ‘marriage is between one man and one woman‘ then there is very little room for debate on ‘same-sex marriage‘. The same holds true for lots of social stereotypes that persist to this very day.
For instance if you truly believe that automobiles and the people who pilot them are ‘bad for the environment‘ or that ‘cars kill and bikes don’t‘ we have a problem. I doubt seriously that car drivers have a ‘world naked drive‘ each year to celebrate the demise of bicycling. But cyclists do have the ‘World Naked Bike Ride‘ and are indeed planning and hoping for the demise of gasoline engines.
This narrative has been put into written form by the Chicago Cycling Movement and is a declaration of war. The funny thing is that most drivers are unaware of the ‘disconnect‘. In fact the money that powers the movements organization units like (Active Transportation Alliance or League of Illinois Bicyclists) comes largely from the suburban areas of Chicago.
These places are populated by that despised class of cyclists who get no respect from their Urban Cycling counterparts because they sport Lycra™ riding kits in very bright colors. But their biggest offense is that they do not commute to work as often as their Urban counterparts. Instead they spend those countless hours in the saddle in either pelotons or club groups for purposes of recreation (gasp!)
There is sometimes as much cultural estrangement between Urban Cyclists and those in the suburban cyclists as there apparently is between ‘drivers and cyclists‘ in the city.
The Urban Cyclist narrative is one of ‘collective victimhood‘. The only lifeline they feel comfortable with is that tossed to them by City Hall. They scoff at the very notion that both ATA and the Auto Club are trying to recharge the ‘Share The Road‘ theme of years past.
So yes there is a problem and no there is little chance that it will be remedied anytime soon.
Stuff That Has To Go
The first place to begin is by coming clean with the Suburban Cycling Community. Urban Cyclists are disdainful of trails. In fact they have openly stated that the only reason to bother with the hassles of commuting-by-bicycle is to get from Point A to Point B faster than cars can in city traffic. Trails would require a bit of meandering and worst of all would be multi-user by definition. Having people on skateboards and running and strolling hand-in-hand and walking their dogs and walking the family babies on fat short legs is simply not in the cards for these speed demons. They can barely bring themselves to wait at lights and for all practical purposes have put the rest of the world on notice that ‘stop signs‘ mean nothing to them. So if you were thinking that contributing money to a cycling cause in the city was the same as giving to Rails-To-Trails you have a second thought coming. To understand the divide imagine your local suburban bicycle club arriving at your local commuter train stop each year and passing out coffee and donuts wearing only a smile. That is what the World Naked Bike Ride signals in terms of the world view of the Urban Cyclist.
Cyclists have to get over the idea that no matter how much better cars become they will always be evil. Automobiles this year are being sold which have collision avoidance systems, are fully electric or hybrid and will soon be capable of driving themselves. But the Urban Cycling Community will not allow that series of improvement to deter them from demanding that highways been torn down, urban parking be abolished and everyone be forced to follow their example by riding a bike. Perhaps the chief reason to be wary of this crowd is the overriding arrogance they have about their personal choices.
You are not supposed to use gasoline engines because they harm the environment. But they will never cease to have meat on their plates. Some of them are vegans but the majority are eaters of meat and would be outraged if anyone tried to force them to become vegans because it was the ‘right thing to do‘ for the environment. When it comes to other people giving up their ‘sinful ways‘ by not wearing helmets and using bikes then fine. But they are suspicious of anyone suggesting that their ‘sins‘ be atoned for. If you are an Urban Cyclist you are part of a Holy Cult that cannot do wrong. Just ask them.
What Will Happen Is This
It will take the kind of long and drawn out suffering that befell the Civil Rights Movement before things change. Human Nature is what we all share. We will not give up our sense of Divine Right until we are hit hard in the gut by reality. One would have thought that the deaths of three individuals this past year (killed by bicyclists) would have laid to rest that old notion that ‘cars are the only deadly inhabitants of the roadway‘. Instead Urban Cycling Movement organizations have simply refused to address the problem and instead asked for more money.
If we never confront Urban Cyclists with the reality of motorists and pedestrians sustaining higher mortality rates than do they it will continue to be the case that they console themselves with a personal narrative that does not match reality. At some point a political party or a strong political leader will stand up to them and say:
- We welcome the addition of new infrastructure like cycle tracks and protected bike lanes, but
- You will need to be licensed and tested
And if BikeShare is to ever truly become a sustainable transportation alternative then the personal bicycle will have to take a back seat to Divvy. We will have to ‘encourage‘ you to either ride a Divvy bike or have outrageous parking fees for on-street usage of bike racks. After all bikes take up space too and if tearing down parking spaces to open up the public landscape is good for drivers, it should also be good for bikers.
We need to require bicycle serial number registrations as part of this package of conformance with the Rules of the Road. And perhaps Driver Education in schools should include a section on ‘bicycle driving‘.