By Geoff Ziezulewicz
August 18, 2014 11:43 AM
View Video here.
Demain March, the owner of Lakeshore Bike, discusses some of the problems he sees with the lakefront bike path and tips to being a considerate trail user. (See Video)
Nice weather is no given in Chicago, so I put on a helmet that’s too small for my head and bike down to the lakefront path every chance I get.
Nothing beats the verdant cityscape to my right and the oceanlike expanse to my left as I head south from Uptown.
These rides push away thoughts of the inevitable darkness, ice and dark ice that will soon resettle upon our fair city. One day during that last hellacious winter, my car got stuck in an alley snowdrift. As I fruitlessly attempted to rock the car out, a gust of polar vortex made its way under my jacket and snapped at my bare back. “Why didn’t you ride your bike along the lake more when it was nice?” I asked myself.
So I hit the path a lot, and I’m not surprised that hordes of other people do as well. I am confounded, however, by the lack of awareness that many of them show.
I’ll admit that at times I have not been the most patient path rider, precariously zigzagging through the crowded path instead of just coasting along until the herd thinned.
But I try to be aware of others. One night just north of Belmont Harbor, a woman was not, and she crossed the path with nary a look to her left or right.
“Heads up!” I yelled, but she didn’t look my way. “WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA!” numerous other cyclists yelled as I hit the brakes and nearly caused a two-wheeled pileup. Some profanities flew, but I wasn’t sure if they were directed at me or at the heedless walker.
Whenever I encounter such thoughtless path co-habitants, I wonder: Is it just me? Am I being way too first-world, too put out by the trivial failings of strangers?
To get a better sense of whether my lakefront path frustrations were legit, I turned to Demian March, 38, owner of Lakeshore Bikes, an 11-year-old operation that sells and fixes bicycles at two locations along the shore.
“If you use the path enough times, you’ve hit a runner, you’ve hit a walker,” he said. “Just about everyone has.”
Folks not looking both ways before they cross the path are old hat to March.
“We have people who park here and just walk across the path like it were a public sidewalk, not knowing that someone’s coming down the path at 25 mph,” he said. “It’s kind of like watching a 3-year-old cross the street for the first time.”
From his shop just north of Belmont Harbor, March said he sees at least a couple of ambulances arrive each weekend for path-related injuries.
And “every couple hours” he has people walking up with damaged bikes or damaged body parts.
“Tacoed wheels, where the wheel is bent irreparable,” March said. “Road rash on the elbows, knees.”
Surprisingly, he said cyclists are more often on the losing end of collisions with joggers or walkers.
“Usually the runner or walker is able to walk away,” March said. “It’s the cyclist who gets hurt. Maybe that’s why you see cyclists more upset on that path when somebody exhibits poor etiquette.”
March and I discussed the cyclists I call Serious Bike Guys and he dubbed the “pathletes.” They’re the overly fast, overly self-serious cyclists in spandex uniforms with team jerseys sponsored by some craft beer company.
“LEFT!” they scream, whizzing their way in and out through the great unwashed at dangerous speeds. One pathlete I see regularly rocks a flashing strobe helmet light that blinds me and could easily throw someone else into a seizure.
March said he is a part-time runner and part-time pathlete, so he sees things from both sides and thinks the Serious Bike Guy is one of the more careful species in the path’s diverse ecosystem.
“They’re riding between $5,000 and $10,000 bikes,” he said. “It’s the spandex-clad, team-sponsored riders who are probably the most careful because they have a lot more to lose.”
March and I will have to disagree on that point. Pathletes make bike riding less fun.
I have spotted some other lakefront path phyla that intrigue. Catching a glimpse of “guy running in regular clothes” is a joy to behold: a dude jogging on the path, working up a proper lather in jeans and a polo shirt, as if he just suddenly decided to take a long run.
March and I agreed that people tend to get easily annoyed by others on the path.
“We live in a very stressful city,” he suggested. “If you’ve got time to get on your bike or on a run … the last thing you want is an interruption.”
I had originally penned a manifesto, with both mandatory and optional provisions, to make the lakefront path more pleasant. But March pointed out an easy solution: Act like you’re driving in your car on the highway.
“You wouldn’t be in traffic on a highway and just stop your car to look at something,” March said. “If you’re going to make a U-turn, you’re not just going to make a U-turn. And that’s usually what the (path) accidents are. A runner or walker just stops in the path and turns, or makes a left and the cyclist plows into them.”
The city is looking at ways to improve Lake Shore Drive and its lakefront path, but for now we must police ourselves.
As we jostle with the pathletes, path urchins, stroller pushers, guys jogging in normal clothes, oblivious tourist Divvy riders and the like, there’s a danger we’ll overlook the majesty of the lakefront, March said.
“We’ve got the most beautiful bike path in the country, and we forget that,” he said. “We’re too busy focused on ourselves as opposed to using this public way and enjoying what our tax dollars are going to, this gorgeous lakefront.”
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