Backseat view of drive to Oak Park

We have a lot of power from the backseat to influence our drivers to drive better. We only have to speak up.  Photo: John Bracken

I’ve had a lot of experience with a major “transportation network company” this weekend. TNCs are also known as e-hail car services, and, inaccurately, “ride share”, because a car arrives at your location after pressing a button on an app.

I rode in one four times from Friday to Sunday because my visiting friend had a broken bone and couldn’t ride a bike – that was our original plan. Instead we had a multi-modal weekend and relied on walking, public transportation, another friend’s personal vehicle, and the TNC to go out.

These experiences reminded me that advocates for safe streets and better active transportation service and infrastructure – including myself – must directly battle entrenched norms about the “plight of the driver”.

In our final ride, on our way to the airport to drop off my friend, the TNC driver asked about the timing of our trip, if we were in a rush so the driver could know if they needed to drive a certain way.

I said that we were not, that we had budgeted plenty of time, and that Google Maps showed green lines on the local streets and highway between where we had dinner in Ukrainian Village and O’Hare airport.

As he was driving the car northbound on Western Avenue toward the Fullerton Avenue on-ramp to the Kennedy, my friend asked him about the app he was using that was speaking the turn-by-turn directions, and how it knew what the road conditions were.

The app uses the Waze service, which collects data from transportation departments, other drivers, and databases of upcoming road closures. The driver said he liked that it warned him of the locations of red light and speed cameras, too.

“I’ve gotten four speed camera tickets in the last year”, he said, “and they were all $100 each.”

I have written about Chicago’s speed cameras several times in Streetsblog Chicago, and I thought the cost was different so I asked, “Isn’t it lower for the first time?” Nope, he said.

When I looked it up at home I remembered why I was mistaken: The fine is $100 if you are traveling 11 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. The fine is $35 for traveling six to 10 miles per hour or more over the speed limit, but the cameras aren’t enforcing this range currently.

That was the end of our conversation, but I should have kept on.

The conversation we should have had would have questioned his driving behavior. I should have asked, “Why are you driving so far so often?” and “Why aren’t you slowing down? Don’t you know that speeding is dangerous to you, your passengers, and other people outside the car?”

I was spineless and didn’t challenge how he was contributing to unsafe streets in the city. My silence was tacit agreement that four $100 speeding tickets – for driving 41+ in a 30, or 31+ in a 20 in a school zone if a child was present – was a personal burden and not a necessary enforcement tool to try and reduce the number of injuries and deaths in car crashes in Chicago.

Later, on the Kennedy Expressway, he was traveling a bit over 70 miles per hour, or more than 25 miles per hour greater than the speed limit. Again I said nothing.

Another of the TNC drivers this weekend was likely high on marijuana. I shouldn’t have accepted any of these situations.