John Kass Returns to Bike Baiting: “I Can’t Stand Those Divvy Bike People”

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J.C. Steinbrunner and Amalie Drury at the Pine Grove Divvy station. Photo: John Greenfield

After a series of anti-bike columns in the Tribune, designed to tick off cyclists and rack up pageviews, John Kass crossed the line last May with a piece that implied motorists shouldn’t be expected to watch out for bikes before opening their car doors. Dustin Valenta, who sustained a cracked skull, fractured pelvis and shoulder blades, 23 broken ribs, a punctured lung and a lacerated shoulder after he was doored by one driver and then run over by another, responded to Kass with a statement on Streetsblog Chicago:

I just think that it’s sad that he’s drawing a line in sand, as if there’s a difference between human beings in cars and human beings on bikes, and that we should be at enmity with one another. I think what he’s doing here is creating a conflict between humans that doesn’t need to exist. Ultimately if you’re riding a bike or driving a car you should be trying your best to not destroy the lives of other people around you and your own life.

After Valenta set him straight, Kass was blessedly silent on bike issues for several months. During that time, his Trib colleague transportation reporter John Hilkevitch took up the slack with a couple of articles suggesting that the city’s new Divvy bike-share system was a ripoff, and a dysfunctional one at that. Hilk changed his tune last week with an article that acknowledged the system’s impressive early ridership numbers, but Kass returned to his bike-baiting ways Friday in a video interview that puts him squarely on the wrong side of history again.

Two days earlier, married couple David Kolin and Jeannine Cordero, both lawyers, filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Department of Transportation and 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman, demanding the removal of a Divvy station in front of their condo at 3565 North Pine Grove. They argued that the facility is “hideous,” attracts garbage, and could be a magnet for strangers who might follow their kids into the building. As a Streetsblog commenter pointed out, if one intended to abduct children, a giant blue bicycle explicitly tied to one’s identity and location might not be the best choice for a getaway vehicle. On Friday, a judge dismissed the couple’s request to have the station removed immediately; the next hearing will take place at the end of September.

In the video discussion with Trib reporter Jen Weigel, Kass expressed sympathy for the NIMBYs’ plight. “Would you want a Divvy bike station in your courtyard?” he asked. “I still can’t stand those Divvy bike people. You know why? Go outside on Michigan Avenue… Reporters going in and out of this building almost get killed. ‘Cause you’ve got some little old lady from Denmark… and she’s on the sidewalk, and she’s almost smashing into the Polish pedi-bike guys.” He later referred to the pedicabbers as “Polish, Russian, whatever.”

“I almost got killed by a grandma,” the columnist complained. “I wanted to give her an elbow, like [hockey player] Eric Nesterenko. 85 years old. I don’t want ‘em in my neighborhood. Go to the other person’s neighborhood. Don’t be here by the Tribune.”

Ethnic stereotyping aside, if I was John Kass and had previously gotten called out for blaming dooring victims for causing their own injuries, I wouldn’t even be joking about violence against bicyclists, let alone seniors. Perhaps some of his disdain for Divvy is sour grapes. Kass would have had convenient access to Divvy at work, but 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly vetoed a docking station proposed for the plaza next to the Tribune Tower.

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Rules of the road printed on a Divvy bike's headset.

While it’s true that adults should walk their bikes on sidewalks, a rule that is printed in big letters on the middle of the Divvy cycles’ handlebars, people ride bikes on the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue because they’re afraid to ride in a multilane street full of speeding motor vehicles. The best way to solve this problem is to provide safer conditions for biking by installing more bike lanes on downtown thoroughfares, especially retail-rich corridors like Mag Mile. Enforcing the rules of the road on scofflaw drivers, a much more serious threat to pedestrians, is essential as well.

As for Kass and the condo owners’ assertion that Divvy users represent a negative element, here are a few of the shady characters I encountered when I dropped by the busy bike-share station on Pine Grove Friday after work. Juliann Cecchi, who works in higher education, had cruised up the lakefront from Lincoln Park and was checking in her bike to avoid getting a late fee before returning home. “I’m out on leisure trip, just ‘cause it’s a beautiful night,” she said. “Divvy is great. I love it.”

Nearby residents Amalie Drury, a writer, and J.C. Steinbrunner, a painter, were grabbing bikes to go out for dinner and dessert; they planned to go for a spin on the lakefront the following morning. They had heard about this particular station because of the news coverage of the lawsuit. “We live nearby here but we came out of our way to come to this station, even though there’s one right by our house, because we had to see what these people are making a fuss about,” Drury said. “So we’re checking it out to see if it’s really intruding on their lives.”

“I don’t see how it could be,” Steinbrunner said. “It’s a pretty handsome set-up. I don’t see what all the hubbub is about.”

“The bikes are pretty,” Drury agreed. “We first rented Bixi bikes in Montreal a few years ago. There were the bike stations in residential areas and commercial areas, everywhere you looked, so it’s kind of expected that they would set it up that way here too.”

Luckily for Kass, he doesn’t have to worry about Divvy riders coming to his real neighborhood, since he resides in the western suburbs. That said, perhaps he should keep his nose out of Chicago bike policy and let those of us who actually live in the city enjoy this useful, efficient and fun transportation system.

  • I’m trying to be honest: I haven’t seen evidence that bike sharing stations have done any of the things that the plaintiffs allege. And honestly, I don’t think any evidence exists, in a way that shows a bike sharing station a less desirable (very local) investment than any other transportation investment.

  • You know, one thing I don’t think we’ve discussed is that the condo owners’ main reason for opposing the station is likely the fact that they lost two car parking spaces in front of their home, but I assume they realized that instead stating concerns about garbage, crowds, stranger danger, etc. makes them more sympathetic plaintiffs.

  • Chicago South

    I also bet that it’s not any different than other transportation investment, although I’d like to see the evidence. Still, keep in mind that that’s not the issue for the residents at hand, the issue is adding transportation investment verses no investment.

  • Aw, thanks Alex. No one’s ever called me an inspiring cheerleader before! Seriously, thanks for your support.

  • Chicago South

    John, of course we can’t know, but that seems unlikely because they actually have garage parking in the back.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    The BRT NIMBYs offered a ludicrous alternative and thus cannot be seen as negotiating in good faith and deserve all the ridicule they get. If you come to the table and say, “I’m concerned about no left turns,” or, “I’m concerned about trash near the Divvy station,” then you get to be listened to. When you start off with, “No BRT. Instead let’s do the old X9 bus that was barely faster than the regular 9 bus to begin with,” or, “Even though 3/4 of child abductions and 2/3 of sexual abuse are committed by someone the child knows, we’re concerned that strangers who come to our neighborhood anyway will now use giant blue bikes explicitly tied to their identities and locations as a means to follow and harm our children,” then you need to be ridiculed until you admit your real concerns so we can negotiate in good faith.

  • Anonymous

    “…and they’re being dishonest about their goals.”

    How can you claim that people who have views counter to your own are being dishonest while in the next sentence admit that you are not willing (nor evidently able) to report about these matters accurately or objectively?

  • Howya doin’ bedhead1? For the umpteenth time, it’s pretty ironic to be accused of inaccurate reporting from a person who has posted misinformation on this site on multiple occasions.

  • Anonymous

    Should’ve figured you wouldn’t try to respond to me. I guess when there’s no intelligent defense this is what to expect.

  • OK, bedhead1, I’ll bite. Here at Streetsblog we don’t claim to be “objective” in the sense of not expressing an opinion or having a viewpoint, but we do work hard to make sure our statements are factually accurate, unlike some commenters I know.

    “How can you claim that people who have views counter to your own are being dishonest?” I can claim that the members of the anti-BRT Ashland-Western Coalition are being dishonest because 1) they’re promoting their watered-down alternative proposal as “Modern Express Bus” service when it would actually be slower than the old express bus 2) they’re pretending to be transit advocates when the main purpose of the MEB proposal is to derail the BRT plan so that they won’t have to change their driving habits 3) their materials include misinformation about the BRT plan 4) and the members won’t take responsibility for their own views.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, we have a garage. It is the neighbors that are objecting to the parking.

  • Anonymous

    That’s not right. Bicycles can only park where cars can park and tow zones are not places where cars can park.

  • Anonymous

    ok that is not the point. When the city was asked why the station wasn’t located on Addison (away from the front door), the city said that Addison was deemed unsafe for the Divvy station. So it is safe for the residents? and people who deliver things to this residence? FedEx, UPS, groceries, etc?

  • Anonymous

    You inaccurately state that the condo owners state that Divvy bike users are a negative element. They are supporters of the program. Listen to the discussion on Kass’ radio show. This is simply an inappropriate placement. There are many other places that make more sense and don’t disrupt people’s privacy, property devaluation, etc.

  • ChicagoJ

    The haven’t been able to make any legal claim that the station intrudes on their privacy. The judge made that clear the other day when she denied their request for an injunction.

    There’s no evidence to suggest that the station’s placement will negatively impact their property values.

  • Anonymous

    Not yet, but the person trying to sell his condo across the street had a prospect abruptly conclude his tour when he looked out the window and saw the station.

  • ChicagoJ

    That’s not evidence. That’s an anecdote.

  • Thanks for chiming in. Assuming this is Jeannine Cordero, what are your thoughts on the Divvy station now that it’s been there a few days?

  • Hmm, where are you getting that from? I sure hope cars can’t park on the sidewalk like bicycles can.

  • How is having a Divvy station parked in the street in front of your house any less safe or convenient for residents and deliveries than having a couple of cars parked in front?

  • From the lawsuit: “Residents are concerned that minors can easily follow children through the front doors of the building.” Who are these hypothetical creepy strangers the lawsuit refers to? Encyclopedia salesmen? No, Divvy bike users.

    Bike stations raise property values. You saw all those Craigslist apartment listings mentioning proximity to Divvy as an asset, right?

  • Sounds like you dodged a bullet there!

  • Anonymous

    Not Jeannine, but a resident.

    The station needs to be moved to a more appropriate location.  As another poster said, most placements are 50 feet from an entrance — even look at placements near commercial enterprises.  There are many more appropriate locations within a half a block of this intersection that are quieter, roomier and safer.  This placement seems arbitrary and capricious.  Removing any ability to access the throughway to Pine Grove.

  • Anonymous

    A court is highly unlikely to find that the city’s reason for installing a Divvy station was “arbitrary and capricious.” It’s an extremely deferential standard.

  • Yes, the side street is safer for all those things because the cars are moving less swiftly and with more care for who else might be in the street. Like a bicyclist or a pedestrian. That’s the point …

    Bicyclists and pedestrians accessing the Divvy station are no threat to residents, FedEx, UPS, or other delivery people, because they of necessity are moving slower and watching where they’re going.

  • John Montgomery

    John didn’t say he wasn’t willing to report about the matters accurately, just not objectively. Big difference there.

  • John Montgomery

    I never ride on Michigan — I always take one of the parallel streets nearby. Seems sensible (and safer) to me…

  • Anonymous

    Six of one, half dozen of the other.

    This is why it’s so critically important for real news organizations to report events without bias, because bias inherently is inaccurate due to selective disclosure, spin, etc. I dont mind that John writes with a strong bias at all. What I do mind is him calling other people who disagree with him “dishonest”, which is laughable. When you report on stuff with an admitted strong bias, you forfeit the ability to make those claims imho.

  • People who disagree with me aren’t necessarily dishonest. For example, Mike Brockaway, who writes the car-centric blog The Expired Meter and also writes news stories for DNA, blogs from a pro-driver perspective, and I think he’s often on the wrong side of the issues, such as speed cameras. But he’s a hardworking journalist and generally gets his facts straight, so his writing is usually worth reading. I often disagree with him, but he’s honest. The anti-BRT folks, however, aren’t being honest.

  • Joshua Nathan

    John Kass represents everything the Chicago Tribune is about: right wing, ignorant, complaining. Unfortunate this slender LImbaugh gets a pulpit.

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