It Takes More Than A Uniform…

Background Reading



Negro League Baseball


I was waiting on Jackson just west of Des Plaines when a young white woman on a bicycle came riding up the red light from the west. She had a front handlebar bag and two rear panniers on her upright.

There were perhaps two cars waiting at the light. She decided to squeeze between me (waiting at the curb) and the car next to me. She had to carefully pass my driver’s side mirror by turning her body sideways while almost track-standing her bike. She finally made it through by forcing her panniers through the gap between cars.

I felt the front end of my car shake as she finally burst through! Then instead of doing her usual stop in the pedestrians crosswalk she proceeded into the intersection on the red light. She had to track stand there as well before getting past cars heading southbound along Des Plaines which either passed in front of her or turned left onto Jackson.

Then she sped off on Jackson eastbound to reach the next intersection.

Your Reaction To Urban Cycling Commuters

I was tempted to get out of the car to see if her panniers had done any damage to the paint. What I found incredulous was the effort she displayed in order to cross an intersection on the red light.

I have seen her do  this sort of thing with articulated buses waiting to turn right onto Des Plaines. And I simply shake my head and wonder what on Earth is going on in that blonde-haired head of hers. Evidently, not much.

But this is not an isolated situation that is rare of city streets. It is happening all over the planet and is escalating. And as the lawlessness increases so does the stridency of Urban Cycling Commuters who are outraged at either pedestrians or motorists who either manage to violate their space (i.e. passing closer than 3-Feet) or react negatively to their typical ‘filtering‘ through pedestrians who are using the crosswalk at the moment.

And if I have to read one more ‘whine‘ from the denizens of the Chicago ‘Whine and Jeez Club’ Bicycle Forum I will probably pass out from exhaustion. It is not enough that they break the law endless times during a single morning or evening commute, but they rage against everyone else on the road. They evidently see no allies.

And this behavior is not relegated just to busy urban streets. They are either dismissive of pedestrians on the 606 Trail or threatening to retaliate when a black family walking along the Chicago Lakefront Trail has had entirely enough of the close-call passes that hipsters love to execute in an entirely silent manner at speed.

I know this to be the rule for these knuckleheads because they do it to fellow cyclists who are riding along enjoying the scenery and taking in the fresh air.

Being A Transportation Cyclist Is Either A Joke Or Sorely Misunderstood

I listen to the blather from cyclists who are attempting to tell why they want bicycles in every neighborhood of the city. And invariably they point to the fact that ‘bicycling‘ in their minds is a form of ‘real transportation‘. There never seems to be a wink-wink-nudge-nudge tone in their voices so I take them at their word.

Their message is that ‘bicycles are not toys‘. They are serious forms of transportation which should be given a serious treatment on the roadways. That means ‘bike lanes‘. And I get all that. They want the next generation to be able to ride around town safely with dignity.

But every one of these kids who represent the next generation is likely to also receive a bit of Driver Education Training as well. There is nothing in that training which will lead them to assume that stop lights and signs are mere suggestions. There is nothing in the literature for this kind of training that suggests you should ‘filter‘ around stalled traffic.

So when then do bicycling advocacy groups rush to the defense of illegal behaviors by their membership. Why do bicycle forums try to deflect criticism of themselves by redoubling their efforts to find ‘bad behaviors‘ exhibited by pedestrians and drivers?

This is the classic school ground ploy called the ‘So’s Your Old Man‘ comeback. Your classmate points out something that your Dad did wrong so you cite something that his Dad did wrong as well. But what is missing in all this ass-covering activity is the basic understanding of the damage being done to the reputation of the Urban Cycling Community.

You Cannot ‘Happy Talk’ Your Way To Dignity

If you are a baseball player you have to play the game by the rules set for all. If you were a black player breaking into the Major Leagues before it was integrated you were obliged to not only follow the rules but do so scrupulously. And that might mean overlooking a pitcher who intentionally threw at your head or a runner sliding into second with spikes high to scar your legs.

Urban Cyclists are essentially hipsters. Their movement is largely white which is sometimes an embarrassment to them. So they often have to try and find people of color who are willing to mouth their platitudes about ‘transportation cycling‘ and help make them look less selfish by joining them in demanding more cycling opportunities for their neighborhoods.

But it is their ‘whiteness‘ that gives them the freedom to act out on the roads with few consequences. If children from the south and west sides of Chicago were as apt to be breaking the law on the streets of Chicago (especially intimidating white pedestrians in crosswalks), there would be the kind of crackdown on them that is only reserved for people of color who ‘break the law‘.

But hipsters are seldom black. So when criticism rises from journalists in Chicago about their behavior their reaction is to get their lapdogs to flood the media outlets with ‘happy talk‘ about cycling.

But what is missing in all this is the fact that the respect that people have for cyclists gets eroded in ways and to degrees that are hard to repair.

Baseball Takes Effort

When a player of any color makes the ‘big leagues‘ he gets to wear a uniform worn by many before him. He has to honor that uniform because it is what gives dignity to the game and the player in turn.

That means you hustle to first base even when you know you will be thrown out. It means you work on your running hitting and throwing because that is what you do to make yourself better. When you are a pitcher you refrain from using shortcuts to ‘doctor the ball‘ and instead ask the veterans who have done this for years to help you improve your pitches.

It’s hard work being a baseball player. But if you respect the uniform it will earn you respect as a human being. And maybe one day you too can have a bust in the Hall of Fame.

Bicycling Is Also Going To Take Effort

Baseball players who begin to have success get bigger contracts. Bicyclists who move to big cities learn to expect lots of ‘new bike lanes‘ and ‘cool things‘. Sometimes a ball player who gets more money suddenly decides he no longer has to work as hard. The same thing can happen to cyclists.

They get new lanes and suddenly they feel invigorated. They pedal with a new swagger. And they often begin to believe that theirs is a Messianic Mission to ‘save the world‘. Cutting corners is something that they begin to take in stride. But why?

Like baseball players, we cyclists have a uniform. Our names might not be emblazoned over the shoulder blade area of the jersey, but we are on bicycles. And like black baseball players people do not see an individual, but rather a class of people who should never have been admitted into the big leagues if they do not know how to behave.

This is a lesson that we are currently not learning as cyclists. The problem is that we are largely white hipsters who enjoy the privileges of society. We have friends in the press who can help us keep the luster of our reputations in tact.

And if that were to fail, they can go after motorists or pedestrians to divert the anger people are feeling back onto themselves. It works quite well, if you are largely white. It would fail miserably if most urban cyclists were black.

Rolling Slowly Towards Our Mutual Futures

So let’s assume that blacks do become much more active in the bicycling movement. What will that factor mean for the movement as a whole? We it will mean that any ‘bad behavior‘ by our black compatriots is going to put at risk the ability of white cyclists to keep maintaining a demeanor of ‘willful ignorance‘ regarding the general behavior of urban cyclists in general.

Perhaps this is exactly what is needed. Perhaps it is best if we get to understand the dynamics of a ‘real minority group‘ instead of the pseudo-minority group status we have been trying to clutch to our bosoms for years. Maybe then and only then will it become clear that how we behave on the pavement is as much a reflection of who we are as people as anything else we are likely to do.

Maybe it is time for us to understand that ‘being jerks is not cool‘. Maybe it will suddenly dawn on us that the Rules of the Game are as important to us as they were to those who preceded us and to those who will follow. In fact they are in essence ‘the game‘.

Trying to cut corners is unseemly in an athlete. You earn respect on the field by the level of commitment you show to your workouts and how you prepare your body. We as cyclists have a very long way to go in that department.

We spend an inordinate amount of our time drinking in binge situations and take make matters worse we video tape the stupidity and even have groups that are devoted to the practice. And as usual we rain down indignation on motors who behave likewise. We tell ourselves that when they do it and then command the steering wheels of 2-ton vehicles this is morally wrong.

We on the other hand are blameless because our bikes we less than 50 pounds and thus do not kill. But this is a lie of the worst kind. It is still widely perceived as truth in the Urban Cycling Community. We are seemingly clueless about how very little effort it takes to hit and kill a pedestrian. And our forum discussions bear this out.

Patience Is Wearing Thin

If you are a baseball player who made it to the ‘big leagues‘ and Heaven and Earth were moved to make that happen you owe it not only to yourself to show progress but to all those who supported you. Your coaches and fellow players deserve your best efforts. Your parents who sacrificed to make your life easier also need to see some dividends.

And every rookie who is ‘supposed to have promise‘ has felt the pressure of producing on the field. The drive that gets you out onto the running track in bad weather or into the gym to do you weight training is not something that happens overnight. It is developed by long months of ‘keeping at it‘.

Right now the Urban Cycling Community is petulant. They show signs of being inappreciative of the fact that while schools are being closed and people are losing homes all because money is tight, they are the recipients of $100M trails that are less than 3 miles in length. Rather than being thankful, they are finding ways to display their disdain for mere pedestrians who clog up a perfectly good race track by teaching their kids to ride a bike or are pushing stroller with the progeny aboard while cyclists have to wait and wait and wait to pass these people who are ‘in their way‘.

We cannot even bring ourselves to manage to keep a good reputation on roadways like the Dearborn Street PBL. We have developed a reputation amongst the pedestrians who know us for what and who we really are.

How long can we keep up appearances?