Stay Strong Young Cyclist!

Although the temperature is dropping, students will not stop riding bikes to and from class. Because of this, bike safety is more important now than ever, as drivers may not expect bikers to be on the road alongside them.

Bike safety requires a little help from the surrounding communitysomething Northwestern and Evanston are not providing for residents that live off campus. To be fair, once you reach campus, it is fairly easy to navigate on a bike, but getting across Sheridan Road or traveling down it is a test in and of itself.

In the 10 minutes before every hour, Sheridan’s sidewalks are notoriously packed with students walking from class to class. This creates a hazardous environment for bikers and pedestrians alike, as it is too crowded for bikers to navigate. At this point, biking is no more effective than walking on the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, that’s why you ride a bike: to travel more quickly and more effectively. But bikers are unable to do that when there are hordes of people on the sidewalk and constant swarms of traffic on the street. This creates added danger, as cyclists have to avoid running into students on the sidewalk and getting run off into the grass.

So, Sheridan Road has to have one of two things: two-way bike lanes on the street or assigned lanes on the sidewalk. This way, bikers have their own space to freely move up and down Sheridan Road without having to worry about hitting a pedestrian or being hit by a car.

Part of the Sheridan Road/Chicago Avenue Improvement Project will create these bike lanes, but this project has been deferred to 2017. There are innumerable bike racks all over campus, so it seems like NU knows and encourages bike traffic. Because of this, the delay on the project is ill-advised.

And the problem isn’t just limited to Sheridan Road.

Sheridan Road is not a designated bike route, according to the city. The city’s Code of Ordinances makes it unclear as to what that means, only stating that certain streets can be designated as bike routes and/or may prohibit bike traffic. Never does it state whether cyclists can only ride on those routes or if the routes are supposed to have special accommodations for bikers. I have ridden on both these “bike routes” and non-bike routes, but there is no noticeable difference between them.

In November, I even had an accident on one of these said bike routes: Noyes Street. I was riding toward campus and had just passed under the “L” when I looked over my shoulder to check that no one was coming behind me (University Police deem this “a very important skill” on their website for bicycle safety). No cars were approaching, so I looked forward again, and to my dismay I had drifted to the side of the road, straight toward a parked car. I swerved to the middle of the road, narrowly avoiding the back of an SUV. When I swerved back to try to stay on the right side of the road, my bike slipped out from under me.

Face, meet pavement. I didn’t knock myself out, but I hit my chin, chipped off half of my front tooth and opened up a cut on my eyebrow.

Now, had there been a bike lane, would this accident have happened? Probably not, seeing as cars wouldn’t be parked in it.

That’s not to say I’m blaming this accident entirely on the lack of a bike lane. I messed up, too; I made a mistake and lost control of my bike. That was human error.

But, I had to check behind me so I wouldn’t be hit from the rear. The likelihood of having to swerve out of a car’s way because of this would have been drastically reduced had I been riding in a bike lane. I also wouldn’t have had to get a total of seven stitches for my eyebrow and chin wounds, nor would I have had to Uber to a dentist for an emergency filling in my tooth.

I was lucky; I had no serious injury, no concussion. Only a small scar on my chin. But accidents happen, and they can be a lot worse than mine. They can be avoided, though, with the help of bike lanes.

The sad thing is, only two roads in Evanston have protected bike lanes: Church Street and Davis Street. Only portions of 11 streets have bike lanes, which safely separate bikers from other street traffic, and none of them even come close to NU’s campus.

Evanston officials need to change this, especially where NU students live and bike. If they don’t, worse injuries will occur when they really don’t have to, leaving cyclists with more than just unnecessary scars.

Corey Mueller, Columnist January 19, 2016

This is an interesting column. Some of the information presented needs to be addressed singly:

  • Northwestern University and Evanston are both failing cyclists in terms of their safety. I have ridden along Sheridan Road many times and even crossed it as well. The columnist feels that interacting with this environment is ‘a test in itself‘. My suggestion is to confront these two entities and explain to them that you want bicycle infrastructure as ‘fool proof‘ to use as your favorite iPhone App. We cyclists are far more important in the ‘transportation food chain‘ than others. We should not be expected to have to deal with moving traffic that frightens us.
  • During the passing times between classes the sidewalks of the campus are simply flooded with people on foot. When this sort of thing happens it frustrates cyclists. You should let the university know that this is unacceptable. Perhaps the students who prefer to walk could be routed along ‘different paths‘ so as to prevent the inevitable frustration that builds up for cyclists.
  • Make certain that the University and city know that cyclists expect to be able to travel more quickly and effectively than those on foot. This means that the experience a cyclist expects is not being provided. What is striking is that the experience of cyclists during these passing times between classes is not unlike that experienced by motorists when dealing with much slower traveling bicycles.
  • The University needs to find an effective way of keeping people on foot off of the sidewalks and out of the way of cyclists who are trying to move at a more hurried pace.
  • A good beginning was mentioned in the article. This was to provide an on-road bi-directional bike lane that allows cyclists ride around pedestrian traffic. And into the bargain we need to re-think the purpose of sidewalks on college campuses. Bicycles should be given pre-eminence over all less efficient traffic modes. To accomplish this pedestrians should be segregated into a lane of their own. And campus police will need to patrol the sidewalk bike lane to look for students who might be violating its use.
  • Among the problems that might occur will be:
    • students who are stopping to talk in the sidewalk bike lane
    • students who might be reclining alongside the sidewalk bike lane with their feet dangling on the bicycle portion of the sidewalk bike lane
    • students who are carrying things that might extend into the bicycle portion of the sidewalk bike lane
    • students who are crossing from the grassy portions of the campus to the pedestrian side of the sidewalk through the bicycle portion of the sidewalk bike lane and not moving fast enough to avoid slowing the progress of cyclists
    • because students are not forced to wear name tags it is important that some sort of identifying tag be affixed to their clothing so that cyclists can photograph them and then notify the campus version of 311 about infractions in the sidewalk bike lane by students on foot
    • When the sidewalk bike lane crosses a driveway we expect the campus police to enforce the removal of vehicles that might be blocking the progress of cyclists who are forced to swerve either onto the grass or into the pedestrian sidewalk lane so as to avoid having to slow down
  • Bike racks are another problem that must be addressed. We need enough bike racks to which to secure our bikes as possible. But there is the likelihood that someone will want to cluster bike parking into areas away from the front doors of the various buildings in which classes are held. A good thing to consider is turning the right half of each building stairway into a ramp up which bicyclists can ride. At the top of these ramps there should be doors which open automatically so that bicyclists can enter the building without having to stop, find a bike rack and secure the bike to it.
  • Inside each building there should be areas along the hallways that lead into classrooms where student cyclists can hang their bikes by the front or rear wheel. It is anticipated that the hallways themselves will also be divided into bicycle and pedestrians sides so that cyclists who wish to rush to the bathroom before leaving he building can do so without being hindered by students on foot.
  • At present streets which are designated as bike routes have little in the way of special bicycle accommodations to encourage riders to use them. Perhaps a nifty color scheme could be chosen by a panel of cyclists that would create a more inviting environment for cyclists. And as a final really nifty touch it would be wonderful if senior citizens and young school children could be stationed along specified bike routes to cheer on these heroic users of the bicycle.
  • Finally we are treated to a passionate plea to fix the problem of injuries suffered by the columnist while trying to look over his shoulder to check for traffic (presumably automobiles) approaching from the rear.
    • There are devices like helmet-mounted rear view mirrors that could be used to provide a glimpse to the rear of the cyclist but these cost money.
    • You can also find handlebar mirrors on some bikes that are also available in bike shops for the same purpose. But again they cost money.
    • We are asking that the city and the University consider providing rear view mirrors ‘free of charge‘ to help students riding bikes avoid entanglements with the bumpers of cars.
  • I know that some will suggest training from the campus police in how to properly execute and over-the-shoulder glimpse of traffic approaching from the rear. But we should warn you that the Vehicular Cycling Movement is fond of this sort of thing. No cyclist should have to submit to any training or licensing ever. And especially if that training is designed to make you think about your actions while riding.
  • Bike lanes should be a ‘mental dead zone‘. Regardless of your level of bike-handling proficiency you should be able to ride without regard to traffic signals, stop signs, or pedestrians in the crosswalks that intersect with the bike lanes.
  • Furthermore it seems utterly absurd to have bicyclists begin to consider wearing helmets, reflective or high-visibility clothing when all that is required is for pedestrians and motorists to ‘simply look‘.

It is really glorious to see that young cyclists at Northwestern are being groomed to understand their place in the world. As one group puts it ‘The Bike Comes First‘. Perhaps in some future articles we can discuss the type of training that both motorists and pedestrians should under to learn to behave in a manner so as to avoid interfering with the forward progress of cyclists.