TagChicago Magazine

When did everyone start caring about bicyclists dying?

A Plague of Cyclists appear to run cars off the road on The Weekly Standard’s cover.

A couple weeks ago a bunch of journalists from major international news outlets were having drinks somewhere (maybe The Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago’s basement) and wrote the same story.

Actually, they didn’t, but it’s surprisingly weird how close they were.

On Sunday the New York Times published “Is It O.K. To Kill Cyclists?”. Next, on Monday, Crain’s Chicago Business published “Why everyone hates bicyclists—and why they hate everyone back”.

Daniel Duane’s op-ed in NYT garnered a lot of response (7 of them are linked here, which doesn’t include Crain’s or The Weekly Standard). The Economist responded to the NYT article with “Cycling v cars: The American right-of-way” saying we should adopt laws like the Netherlands and gave several examples there of who’s liable for a crash between a car and bike (nearly always the driver). Bike Snob wrote the response I most agree with. Karen Altes of Tiny Fix Bike Gang got pissedTwin City Sidewalks (in Minneapolis/St. Paul) wrote that “bicyclists need to stop blaming themselves for dangerous roads”, referring to the bicyclist in question, Daniel Duane, the NYT op-ed contributor.

Tanya Snyder, writing for one of my employer’s sister blogs Streetsblog Capitol Hill, headlined her own roundup post, “The Times Blows a Chance to Tackle America’s Broken Traffic Justice System”. Andrew Smith at Seattle Transit Blog said that he gave up cycling to work in the first week he tried it. Brian McEntee wrote on his blog Tales from the Sharrows about two scenarios to consider about “following laws” (which isn’t what cyclists or drivers should be aiming for).

David Alpert, who runs a Streetsblog-like blog called Greater Greater Washington, said that it’s not okay to kill cyclists, “but if a spate of other op-eds are any indication, it’s sure okay to hate them and the facilities they ask for in a quest for safety”. BikeBlogNYC later published myriad examples of how streets continue killing everyone who’s not driving a car.

Then The Weekly Standard published something very similar to Duane’s piece. I don’t know when – it’s in the issue marked for November 18, but I believe it went up Monday, with a sweet cover. It went by two names. On the cover, “A Plague of Bicyclists” (by Christopher Caldwell) and on the site, “Drivers Get Rolled: Bicyclists are making unreasonable claims to the road—and winning”.

Most of the proceeding discussions revolve around “who’s right”. And the Economist skirts discussing the answer and instead just gives the answer: the bicyclist, because they’re the ones who die.

When you are driving in the Netherlands, you have to be more careful than you would when driving in America. Does this result in rampant injustice to drivers when accidents occur? No. It results in far fewer accidents. As the ANWB [Royal Dutch Touring Club, like the AAA] says, some drivers may think the liability treatment gives cyclists “a blank check to ignore the rules. But a cyclist is not going to deliberately ride through a red light thinking: ‘I won’t have to pay the damages anyway.’ He is more likely to be influenced by the risk that he will land in the hospital.”

I like what Evan Jenkins, a sometimes urbanist blogger studying mathematics at University of Chicago, wrote on his Twitter timeline:

That’s encouraging. He linked to several of his past articles about cyclist murder.

 

What’s also funny about this weekend’s bike-journo-fest is that Whet Moser, writing for Chicago Magazine, interviewed me two weeks ago about bike infrastructure and penned this uncomplicated, unruffled but comprehensive article saying “drivers and cyclists don’t have to be angry and fearful…with smart planning, a city can design safe roads for all.”

Chicago has started on that path. You know what might influence more change than any bike lane built? Speed cameras. And no, I won’t let them be removed.

Updated multiple times to add more responses to Duane’s op-ed. 

Divvy overtime fees and most frequent trip distances

Two people check out a Divvy bike in front of 3565 N Pine Grove Avenue, home to residents who sued the Chicago Department of Transportation and Alderman James Cappleman to have its installation prevented. That failed. Photo by John Greenfield. 

Kaitlyn Jakola interviewed me last week for the Chicago Magazine blog, The 312, about how newcomers should deal with Divvy bike sharing. I think I gave some good answers. Stick to the bike lanes by using an app (although that’s hard because so many of them don’t link up) and think about the rules you would follow if you were driving a car (which assumes you know how to do that). Two of the commenters called this a scam. The first stopped there but the second commenter showed some understanding of transportation and economics so I thought that I could reply and it would be taken seriously. They said:

It seems to me like the system is designed to create extra or ‘overage’ fees. Having to stop every 30 minutes and ‘redock’ your bike is prelude to a ripoff. By the time you get comfortable riding and determine where you’re going to go, it’s time to ‘redock’ then…

It doesn’t seem like the commenter knows how bike sharing works: think of a taxi that you drive yourself. The bike taxis are available at predetermined stands around the city. It’s there when you need it and you don’t need to own the vehicle.

Regarding overtime fees… The average trip taken on Divvy bikes is only 18 minutes long, which the Chicago Tribune – part of the same parent company as Chicago Magazine – reported on. That coincides with the average trip distances Americans and Cook County residents take. The Southern California Association of Governments, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the nation’s largest regional planning area, found that 80% of trips residents in that region were less than 2 miles long (.pdf). This matches what the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the local MPO, found for Cook County that the average trip distance was 3.0 miles and the median trip distance was 2.3 miles (.pdf). Both studies’ figures aggregate trip mode, so this includes all trips people make by bus, personal automobile, walking, or bicycling. All of the distances are bikeable in 18 minutes.

Best comment ever from someone who probably drives a car

Whet Moser mentioned recently in the Chicago Magazine blog that he’s more afraid of spiteful comments from readers than new data that may show there’s a huge number of dooring bike crashes going on in Illinois.

Whenever an article about some modest improvement in the lives of bicyclists is published, in this case news that the state of Illinois is going to start tracking when bicycle accidents involve doorings, the comments section will inevitably be filled with vitriol, and I can’t help but read it. There’s no other public forum in which people wish death on their fellow citizens like the comments to a story about biking. And I find it grimly fascinating, like a moral gapers block.

In line with a story that aired Thursday night about doorings and this new rule about collecting data, WTTW channel 11 (Chicago’s PBS affiliate) started a discussion thread title, “Should drivers be more courteous and mindful of bikers?” I think WTTW has a wildly different audience than those who read the Chicago Tribune online. And the comments, so far, reflect this.

A fairly respectful (and unidentified) commenter suggested a great idea that may have a positive impact on visibility of bicyclists:

Perhaps bikers should be required to have a daytime running lamp on the front of their bikes so that they are more visible in a motorist’s side mirror?

I often ride my bike with my headlight on. This is not a half-bad idea!

Outfitting Chicago bicyclists with bike lights in Wicker Park.

© 2021 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑