There is something very seductive about idea behind ‘stop nowhere‘. It appeals to the wanderlust in us all. Somewhere along the way the cycling movement developed a notion that ‘Protected Bike Lanes‘ were the equivalent of the motoring superhighways that run outside the center cities of America. But that this is very last thing they are.
Bike Lanes Versus Bike Trails
The closest thing we have in Chicago to what most of us want is the Chicago Lakefront Trail. I generally start on the south end at either La Rabida Children’s Hospital or the South Shore Cultural Center. You pull the bike out of the van and pump up the tires. And then for several hours you can wind your way north to the turnaround point near Hollywood Avenue.
Lots of bicyclists use this trail as their workout area. We Chicago riders are lucky that way. But very few cities have such trails as this. Ours runs almost 20 miles in one direction making for a full 40 mile ride. About the only thing that ‘spoils the fun‘ are the crowded areas where pedestrians overwhelm the trail.
They are either on RollerBlades™, pushing strollers, thumping volleyballs or jogging. And there are the occasional seniors who live nearby taking their daily constitutionals. But if you get out early enough you can enjoy the place long before the throngs have arrived.
Just make sure you never use the trail when Lollapalooza or even worse the Chicago Air Show are in town.
Why can’t our on street bike lanes be this cool? After all there are no pedestrians who should by rights we walking down the bike lane. There should not be RollerBladers™ or wheelchair riders either. So why is the experience so much less fulfilling?
In a word, ‘stopping‘. There is nothing quite so seductive as never having to actually stop. You can actually enjoy Dearborn Street’s Protected Bike Lane if you visit it before the pedestrians start to become a problem. In the early morning you can ride its entire length never touching the brakes and never having to worry about cross traffic t-boning you because there is none! It is a glorious feeling.
Stop Signs Are A Wet Blanket
There are two situations on protected bike lanes that rankle me. First there is that constant threat of bodily injury caused by a motorist exiting their vehicle on the driver’s side just as I am approaching and whamm-o I can get ‘doored‘. I know that I could ride a bit further to the left but then I would not be hugging the side of the street furtherest from the rush of cars to my left. So I ride ‘hard and fast‘ with my iPod soundtrack blasting away and before you know it I am no longer caring about anything. I am pedaling to the rhythm of the back beat and you could almost imagine that this on street bike lane was the Chicago Lakefront Trail.
My buddy got hit the other day and died when a mom was dropping off her children at school. He was riding on a fixed gear bike and when he tried to veer around the open door on the driver’s side a truck passing on his left grabbed his bike bag and he got swept under its tires.
At the local watering hole that evening everyone agreed that the problem here was that ‘people do not look‘. When you are rocking along and enjoying the ride the very last thing you want to do is have to either get out of the Door Zone or worse yet come to a complete stop to avoid a collision. Our solution to the problem was to print up some stickers that made it clear that they should look out for us, not the other way around.
But what really ‘frosted my puppies‘ was that cop who stopped me this morning to hassle me about my earbuds and how wearing them with the music turned up loud was a dangerous distraction. And then the dude proceeded to lecture me about stopping at the stop sign. This is what bums a fellow out on a Monday.
I’ve been running that stop sign for years. Never got hit. And besides when you ride a bike (and not one of those nearly two ton motorized behemoths) you are essentially never going to hurt anybody. How could you? Heck you weigh less than 180 pounds including the bike! Man, ‘the fuzz‘ is really bringing me down. All they want to do is hassle the very folks who are ‘bringing the future‘ to the city.
Once we get everybody on a bike the city itself will be transformed into a Utopian Dreamscape.
Running Red Lights Is An Art Form
One of my buddies pointed out that a new video from RedBull has dropped. It features one of the guys from the ‘hood who is racing a cabbie across town. He nearly wins! What was really sweet was watching him ride amongst the buses and trucks that snarl the city with the grace of a gazelle. Who needs a 3-Feet Rule when you have mad skills?
The dude hung on to buses and hitched a ride. He would come up alongside trucks and literally caress their side panels. It’s sweet to watch this guy slice through crosswalks full of pedestrians without slamming into anyone. Sure those mopes who lumber along with their heads down plodding off to do boring jobs might get a bit ‘spooked‘ when a rider passes within inches of them. But even I can ride like that (and do nearly every day) as I ‘amber gamble‘ along Des Plaines at Jackson.
The Moral Imperative of Vision Zero
Now the way the guys were telling it this ‘Vision Zero‘ thing is all about ‘sticking it to the man‘. We are putting them on notice that we are a force with which to be reckoned. We won’t stop until every single person who rides a bike is able to do so without having to worry about being injured.
We are going to let the ‘fuzz‘ know that they cannot stick their guns and badges in our faces any longer and demand that we pay fines for not obeying traffic controls.
Man, don’t they understand that those things were never intended for bikes, just cars!
And maybe when we get things done right we can skip having to deal with these pedestrians too! Nothing bums me out like having to stop to let some old lady stumble past me when I could have made a light. Doesn’t she know that stopping is not cool?
In fact do any of these folks have an inkling just how much trouble it is to stop a fixed gear bike using just your pedals? And then you have to manage a track stand until the light changes. So not cool, man!
When Is The Mayor Gonna Give Satisfaction?
These politicians are always saying that they want us here. So why not make our stay as ‘welcoming‘ as possible? I mean all those lanes on Kinzie are faded dude. The paint is peeling and the little bollard thingies are missing in many places. How is a guy supposed to feel safe in their absence?
The ‘Whine and Jeez Club‘ Cycling Forum is planning an act of ‘civil obedience‘ in which we ‘stick it to the man‘. We are gonna tie up traffic like the brothers did in SF and make the bastards wish they never messed with us. If they think that a Critical Mass Ride that using ‘corked intersections‘ is gnarly just wait until they get a chance to sample what we have in store for them. And there will be nothing they can do because we will be following ‘their rules‘! Peace out, man!
The ‘Real’ Moral Imperative of Vision Zero
Bicycling is often viewed as a kind of experience in ‘room service‘. Our cycling advocacy leaders tell us to keep asking for more, more more. So we do! They keep dragging out new designs and spending millions of dollars to keep us happy! Sweet!
But Vision Zero is not about social handouts. It is how a transportation system declares that ‘all lives matter‘. What each of us does or does not do has an impact on the rest of us. When we run stop signs and red lights the measure should be not whether we managed to do it without killing someone, but rather does it make anyone more endangered when we behave in a similar fashion.
Bicyclists Aren’t The Problem, SUVs Are!
A cop pulls up to a rowdy street party in white part of town. Folks are setting off M80s and firing the occasional AR-15 burst to celebrate the holiday. He notifies the hosts of the party that they are in violation of city ordinances. And notices too that just about everyone there has been ‘over-served‘. And that of course contributes to the belligerent attitudes of a few of the participants.
He handcuffs two of them and walks them over to the ‘paddy wagon‘ that has arrived on the scene. The wife of one of the guys in handcuffs explains that they are wasting their precious resources hassling her friends and neighbors when they should be working hard to curb the violence on the south and west sides.
Things are touch and go for a while. But eventually the crowd is dispersed and the system takes over. Lawyers are unwilling to concede that their clients were a threat to the city. They too feel that the dangerous areas are the place where all the police presence should be focused, not hassling the very folks who actually pay taxes!
The ‘Broken Windows’ Theory of Policing
Bicyclists are a bit melodramatic in their own way. They spend the bulk of their time tracking down news reports of this or that driver who has managed to injure or kill someone. They studiously avoid however any discussion of situations where a bicyclists manages to kill a pedestrian.
When they have their annual Ride of Silence it would seem that the only people worth memorializing are those killed by motorists. They never ride past the ghost shoes of pedestrians killed by one of them.
From the view of your average cyclists there is nothing wrong about their behavior. They do not intend to harm anyone. And they seldom take into account the staggering differential in numbers between their less than 1 percent of the transportation landscape and all the others. And yet they have managed to kill far more than their own numbers would warrant. Why is that?
Underestimating Your Negative Impact On Society
There are two things that cyclists do in spades. They overestimate their positive effect on society while at the very same time are willfully ignorant of their negative effect on traffic. It is as if you have the most powerful spin-machine going to prop up your view of yourself while sparing no effort in tearing down others.
Every one of the recent instances where a pedestrian was killed by a bicyclist took place at an intersection in a crosswalk. For some reason we bicyclists seem to be unable to slow down and come to a stop when danger is being threatened by our presence. We seem fixated on ‘holding our line‘ and hoping to steer between pedestrians in the crosswalk before we discover that we are ‘out of control‘.
What is even more startling is that we can kill when going at very low speeds! Bummer! I thought that it took a two ton automobile to do that kind of damage, you know to kill someone!
Nope! And what is even more startling is that few of the people hit and killed by cyclists die on the scene. They most often die a few days later from brain trauma.
It is hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that something as seemingly innocuous as rolling through a stop sign at an intersection with pedestrians could result in the serious injury or death of one of our neighbors. But there you have it. We are as dangerous in practical terms as any SUV.
So when a journalist from our ranks starts blathering about how much greater the risk is from automobiles, we need to stop and gather up our wits and as of him, whether it really matters to the family of the person killed whether they care about how high the risk was when we struck and killed their loved one?
Vision Zero is that stubborn concept that says that there are no benign bits of behavior. It all counts. All lives matter!