The Chainlink

In todays' Editorial section.

I can't be the only pedestrian hoping for an early snowfall after months of dodging bicycles, Chicago's version of the running of the bulls at Pamplona.

It's an increasingly popular sport, at least with the city's cyclists. It offers the cachet of paying respect to the environment while keeping physically fit. Bicycles don't pollute. Pedaling is good for the cardiovascular system. There is even a small health benefit to walkers. Nothing gets the juices flowing like crossing a street and seeing a two-wheeled vehicle homing in on you like a heat-seeking missile.

That happened to me while crossing Lincoln Avenue this summer. I had a green light, and while conscious of a bicyclist coming down Lincoln, I assumed she would stop for the red light she was facing, or at least slow down. But she kept on coming, and I hate to think of the resulting damage to her bike and my body had I not jumped out of the way. Without so much as looking back over her shoulder, she flipped me the bird. I guess she thought that, even though I had a "walk" light, I should have deferred to her right to go through a red light unimpeded.

  • Agreed! I often do not see cyclists obey the traffic laws, I almost hit one flying across a street off a sidewalk going the opposite way where trees blocked my vision of the sidewalk. You are so correct they aren't accountable to obeying the law and feel entitled demanding more and more...
    at 1:06 PM October 06, 2014
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That sense of entitlement has been given a municipal stamp of approval, at least to judge from a sidewalk sign at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Randolph streets: "LOOK!" it reads, with a stick figure bicyclist perched between the two O's. "BE SAFE BE ALERT," it cautions, a message carrying the imprimatur of "CDOT," the Chicago Department of Transportation. The warning is repeated just off the curb, where the pedestrian-crossing lane intersects a bicycle lane: "LOOK BIKES."

Logically, a more appropriate warning sign would face the flow of bicycle traffic, reminding bicyclists that they have an obligation to obey the law.

In effect, the CDOT warning signs for pedestrians are disclaimers. To my eye, they are the city's way of saying to its non-cycling citizens: "You are on your own. Don't look to us to protect you by enforcing the traffic laws." It spells out what long has been going on. Think about it: When is the last time you saw a cop write a ticket for a bicyclist who failed to heed a red light or a stop sign? I never have, despite living just around the corner from Wells Street in Old Town. Sitting on my deck, I see dozens and dozens of bicyclists blowing through the stop sign all day long. At rush hours, all the spinning spokes and chains blend into a virtual scofflaw cloud.

I took the CDOT's sign as a personal affront. I've long derived an enormous pleasure in walking the city's streets, It began when, as a pre-adolescent, I made the wondrous discovery that, just the other side of a railroad viaduct, or across a major thoroughfare, there was another neighborhood — in some ways different from mine, in other aspects, comfortingly familiar. Collectively, all those nuances of neighborhood cultures make up a street-level kaleidoscope matched by few other cities.

But it's hard to enjoy when you have to be prepared to evade a bicycle with a quick move worthy of a toreador.

I take some solace from having a second home alongside a lake in a small town, where the wife and I walk along the shore. It's as peaceful as Thoreau's Walden Pond. Yet something is missing. There is no sidewalk. Having concrete under foot is part of my comfort zone. Also, the air is too pure. There are no Chicago smells: onions on a greasy spoon grill; the pungent smoke of a rib joint; a perfume of spices wafting out of an Indian grocery.

Would that I might again walk Chicago streets enveloped in those aromas — without keeping an eye out for bicyclists riding like competitors in the Tour de France. It's not an impossible wish. Cyclists ride civilly elsewhere. The Dutch ride slowly and stately. I've seen New York's police pull over cyclists for weaving dangerously through slow-moving automobile traffic. Why can't our cops do the same? Holding our cyclists to the rules of the road could be a bonanza for city coffers.

Chicago has given cyclists 230 miles of bike lanes and provides rental bicycles at rock-bottom prices. Lake Shore Drive is annually closed to cars so bikers can have it all to themselves for a few hours. Why not give pedestrians a similar holiday by periodically closing the streets to bicycles? Maybe not all of them. But arteries like Milwaukee Avenue, Halsted Street and Devon Avenue that knife through the city's patchwork quilt of ethnic communities.

Streets where walkers can eavesdrop on immigrants gossiping in languages transplanted from dozens of Old World homelands and hear English flavored with an Irish lilt, a Yiddish singsong, or the rolling cadences of the rural South — a joy to the ears, especially if the eyes need not keep watch for approaching bicyclists.

A day without bicyclists on the road could be a boon not just to pedestrians. It also might tempt some riders to walk streets that, perched on bicycle seat, they see as little more than a blur. Strolling down those same blocks, they might just realize that Chicago is like a fine wine: Its streets offer a rare treat that should be leisurely tasted, not rushed through, nonstop.

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As both a cyclist and a frequent walker (an hour every morning with my dog), I can proudly say that it is not cyclists that are a danger to pedestrians. It is terrible drivers. Almost every morning someone blows through an all-way stop in a car.

The editor speaks about Dearborn. Have any of you noticed how many times you almost get drilled by a jaywalker? Someone running across Lake street because there are no cars? That's what I worry about.

Can some cyclists be better at following the law? Sure. In general, are cyclists awesome? Very much so.

Wow, I want to join Ron Grossman in his alternate dimension where bikes are actually the worst things pedestrians fear in Chicago. Sounds a lot better than dodging all the cars like we do in the Chicago where I live!

I really wish bikers in Chicago would do a better job looking out for pedestrians, but the author's petulant whining borders on parody. At least it's not the same old war-on-cars bullshit.

+1   And I wish he'd consider the number of times that peds crossing illegally create a hazard for cyclists. It goes both ways.  

Jeff Schneider said:

I suggest the editorial writer take a walk on any of our expressways, where he will be unperturbed by rude cyclists...

Most people are at some time pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.  Some (too many) behave uncivilly.  When they do it as pedestrians or cyclists, it is really annoying, but it is rarely fatal.  When they do it as drivers, tens of thousands of us are killed.

A day without bikes is actually a good idea. Let's see if pedestrians actually feel any safer. Let's also try a day without motor vehicles and then ask the same question. It's no less absurd of an idea and at least I'll get to work without being worried about being creamed by some jerk in a car for one day of the year. I'll take that trade.

Very complex issue here to be sure and the author brings up some valid points. Traffic laws, like any laws, are best answered by experts. I think we have (2) in this forum. Jim Freeman - Brendan any input her would be well rewarded in killer good beer that Kenton just brought to our bike shop. 


Eric & Linda Puetz

Smart Bike Parts

Agreed, Anne. I've had two collisions with pedestrians in the past few years. Both times were with peds walking out in traffic against a light and without checking for bicycles. I don't mind people bending the rules - cyclists rolling stop signs or peds crossing against a light - so long as you are paying extra attention, knowing that you are taking a risk and would be at fault. Paying no attention when bending the rules, that is asking for it.

Tribune FAIL... Will not let me read without a subscription.

Fran Kondorf said:

Click the first link and no subscription required.

Tom Z said:

Tribune FAIL... Will not let me read without a subscription.

Fran Kondorf said:

Thank you!

BootsyC said:

Click the first link and no subscription required.

Tom Z said:

Tribune FAIL... Will not let me read without a subscription.

Fran Kondorf said:

Odd. It depends on which search engine you use.  Google always returns you to a readable page, but some search engines take you back to the Subscribe-to-read page.

BootsyC said:

Click the first link and no subscription required.

Someone please call the Whambulance!!



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