Where Is ‘Broadway Joe’ When You Need Him?

Background Reading

10) Broadway, Chicago (Published in December 17, 2014)

Broadway Protected Bike Lane

Broadway Protected Bike Lane

Photo: John Greenfield, Streetsblog Chicago.

After Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, his transportation team whirled into action, laying down 12 miles of protected bike lanes almost immediately. Three years later, Chicago is … still building protected lanes faster than almost any city in the country. Emanuel’s team added 3.25 miles in 2014, and a quarter-mile stretch of Broadway that offers one of the city’s few protected lanes through commercial districts is arguably the most useful of those. If the country’s embrace of bike transportation keeps accelerating, it’ll be because cities like Chicago turn solid projects like these into standard operating procedure.

Is your favorite protected bike lane in our nationwide inventory? Check it out and send an email (with links to news coverage or photos, if possible) to maryam@peopleforbikes.org if we’ve missed anything.


Then earlier this year I read a piece that said (paraphrased):

The Broadway bike lane is a pathetic

There is not enough parking enforcement of this alleged bike lane. He goes on to cite the make and model of the cars he found in the lane. That’s approximately one illegally-parked or -stopped car every 500 feet.

At that rate you’re better off riding in the car traffic lane than constantly having to weave in and out around all these vehicles.


There is an attitude that is all-pervasive within the Urban Cycling Community. It is the notion that we deserve ‘room service‘. That is to say, given that we represent less than one percent of all the folks using our roadways, we think ourselves far more important and numerous than reality would suggest.

Further we have little or no remembrance of our own behavior’s regarding parking.

Parking In The Bike Lane Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Parking In The Bike Lane
Do As We Say, Not As We Do

We are in short ‘spoiled brats‘. Part of the problem is that we see lots of hoopla much like that rather fluffy piece that Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer put together. And he is not alone in his willingness to cater to the mentality of the ‘elite cyclist‘ that we so often possess.

Lots of well-meaning ‘buzz pieces‘ like this video are being produced. This is by way of creating a mindset in the general public that welcomes bicycling rather than suffering its arrival. It is a smart thing to do.

But Let’s Get Real!

Social change is never easy. I grew up at a time when the Civil Rights Movement had just begun. It’s leaders were killed one after another. We now know the names of Viola Liuzzo, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, Jr. because of that movement.

My generation was under the impression that integrated schools and Affirmative Action were supposed to ‘fix the problem‘. But that was our mistake in assuming that anyone could snap their fingers and provide ‘room service‘ on our behalf. That is not how things really are.

Stop The Whining

We are dealing with a lapse in memory of how things were in the African-American Community. For that reason it becomes difficult for young people to understand that ‘change is really created from within your community and never is it handed to you‘. To the extent that you are willing to ‘join the community‘ rather than stand outside it and whine you will have success.

Bicyclists are a bit like the folks in Ferguson, MO. For the most part people behave when riding on streets. But like gang-bangers who ‘fracture a few rules‘ there are those who simply refuse to obey any laws. Those charged with enforcing the rules (namely the police) begin to get a sense that dealing with Black Folks is a bit like entering a war torn quarter of the city.

For one thing the gang-bangers are essentially lawless. Their parents are unable (or perhaps unwilling) to demand of them some sort of respect for Law and Order. And more to the point the gang-bangers are often the only ones making any money. Poverty is the root problem because it leaves people destitute and hopeless and they no longer take pride in their communities, feeling instead that it is a place to which they have been banished rather than a place to call home.

Bicyclists are afraid of the lawless element in their midst. As in Inner City areas where lawlessness is more often a reality than police protection you eventually get the feeling that you are ‘swimming upstream‘ by simply asking questions about why we no longer seem to want to follow the Rules of the Road.

In fact in Inner City neighborhoods young people look at you as ‘The Enemy‘ for asking why riot and tear down your neighborhood? After all most of the merchants in your neighborhood are simply other Black Folk trying to run boutiques, food stores, barber shops and funeral homes. Just trying to make a living and bring services that people need.

Bicyclists who tend to want to do the right thing sometimes end up feeling helpless and hopeless. The bike lanes created in their behalf are ‘dissed‘ by drivers. In retaliation cyclists ignore the Rules of the Road. They openly defy the very sanctity of the sidewalk (e.g. Michigan Avenue) in the same way that young people in Ferguson were willing to stand toe-to-toe with police.

What is lost however is the fact that standing toe-to-toe with gang-bangers is never done. They get a ‘free pass‘. Kids playing on the sidewalk often die from gun fire. Nobody wants to speak up and identify the ‘bad guys‘. And so the black-on-black violence continues and is punctuated only by police-on-black violence, which immediately gets rebuked. This is not how things should be.

Breaking The Rules Is Stupid

Whether it be drivers who park in the bike lane or cyclists who decide to retaliate by acting up on the roadways, none of these things moves society forward. We cyclists spend far too much time debating such things as:

  • Whether to wear helmets
  • Whether to wear bright clothing
  • Whether or not to ride bikes without brakes
  • Whether to ignore stop signs and red lights

The last two in that list are important because we seem to be agitated every time someone wants to remove red light cameras and speed zone cameras from out streets. Given our nonchalance about obeying traffic controls, I wonder why we even bother.

But this is more like the behavior of people in Ferguson than you might expect. The parents role in the Urban Cycling Movement is supposed to have been filled by advocacy groups that are always standing with their hands out asking for money. But instead of them really offering any kinds of guidance they stand mute when they should speak out.

They sidle up to the problem areas in the Urban Cycling Movement and never speak bluntly. You simply cannot lead from the rear. You cannot try to find out what issues will bring the least negative reaction and choose those to speak about. But that is precisely what is going on.

We have a sham memorial ride each year called the Ride of Silence. It is supposed to be a way of demonstrating to the motoring world that their actions are creating suffering and death. We dress up our streets with pretty white bikes and adorn them with flowers and such. And in the process we hope to ‘shame drivers‘ into doing the right thing.

But since we fail to even acknowledge that we too have killed people (most pedestrians) it is a spineless display at best. And yet every so-called leader of the Urban Cycling Movement rallies the troops to come out each year and do this ride. We should be ashamed of ourselves for not having the decency to be honest about the carnage we too are causing.

It Is Time For Plain Speaking And Real Leadership

Our lanes are not every well made. They are in fact nightmares of maintainability. For that reason alone we should be speaking out about their design. And about those scofflaw drivers. Forget them for now. Ask yourselves what the heck would it take to get police to take our concerns seriously?

Well I can tell you that as in Ferguson, it will take the ‘law abiding citizens‘ to turn the tide. There are going to have to be marches and demonstrations against gang-bangers who ruin communities. Failing that no one will take any demonstrations against the police seriously.

Consider what would happen when a majority of the police force were itself ‘African-American‘. Who would you demonstrate against when a young person wielding a gun gets shot and killed? It would of course have to be a person of color, who is in office and the police chief. You would no longer be able to ‘play the race card‘.

So in the end it will take the adults in the African-American Community to stand up to black-on-black crime and violence and root out the folks who are dealing drugs and smuggling guns into the neighborhoods. When that happens things will change for the better.

Likewise until the advocacy groups ally themselves with the Law Enforcement officers who patrol the streets and demonstrate that they are as upset about scofflaw cycling as they are about scofflaw driving nothing can happen for the better.

On the Matter of Alcohol

The consumption of alcohol is a problem that is accelerating in our country. It is a problem not because of the drinking alone, but rather what happens after a person drinks. If they climb behind the wheel of their car or the handlebar of their bicycle and attempt to get home using the roadways problems result.

We know for certain that the number of serious injuries and deaths caused on our roadways is largely associated with alcohol consumption. Consuming alcohol is going to get easier in future because we are bringing back Happy Hour here in Illinois.

I can promise you that the number of deaths per capita will rise. And what is truly ironic is that while cyclists are clearly on board with the idea of Vision Zero, they are woefully out-of-touch with the fact that drinking and cycling do not mix, safely.

We will either see a rise in our own deaths due to DUI motorists. Or we will be right there in the midst of the mayhem killing pedestrians (or ourselves) as we BUI. We are conflicted on this point and we should not be. We know what alcohol does, and claiming that we know how to drink responsibly does absolutely nothing to control the intoxication of drivers or other cyclists.

Alcohol consumption rates are inversely proportional to our chances of achieving Vision Zero. It is that simple.

Stop Living In The Past

Finally it should be pointed out that bicycles are not just things you pedal around using muscle power. We are on the verge of being inundated by e-assist bicycles flooding our bike lanes. So what the heck does that mean?

Well first off it will mean that the ‘margin for error‘ when BUI is narrower than ever before. These bikes can attain speeds of 20-25 mph without any effort from you. That is going to change the entire dynamic of interaction between cyclists. No longer will it be just those pesky cars that buzz past you without three feet of space, it will now be bikes doing the same, right in the bike lane itself!

Alcohol consumption and reaction time are going to be key factors resulting in injury and even death. So stop thinking about bikes in the way you did in 1970. Those days are long gone.

Ask yourself what it will be like if more than 50% of the people traveling along in the bike lane with you are BUI and doing twice your speed as you both ‘filter‘ through stalled traffic to ‘reach the front of the line‘. This is not your father’s high wheeler chum. This is going to be serious stuff.