Troubling Lack of Compassion for Endangered Divvy Rider on Lake Shore Drive

Riding a Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive
Screenshot from the YouTube video by James Burns.

What would you do if you were driving northbound on Lake Shore Drive near Ohio Street and pulled up on a young woman riding a Divvy bike by the median of the high-speed highway, obviously lost and terrified? I’d like to think most of us would slow down, roll down the window, ask the woman if she’s OK, and offer directions on how to safely exit the drive at Chicago Avenue.

That wasn’t the response from some people in a car who recently found themselves in this situation. Passenger James Burns instead recorded a short, NSFW video of the woman and posted it on YouTube, where it has gone viral with over 30,000 views. “Who is this dumb b—- on the expressway?” Burns can be heard saying, while the female driver laughs hysterically. “This dumb b—- is trying to pedal fast, like she’s a car.” The vehicle passes the cyclist. “We missed you,” says Burns. “Dumb b—-.”


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Lake Shore Drive and Chicago Avenue, where the cyclist likely exited the drive.

The woman, possibly an out-of-towner, surely didn’t intend to ride in the middle of an eight-lane highway, and the people in the car should have offered help, not verbal abuse. It’s not clear how she got on the drive in the first place, but it was almost certainly a mistake. The woman likely exited the highway at Chicago, an at-grade intersection with a stoplight. Perhaps police officers in a squad car escorted her off the drive, but Officer Mike Sullivan from News Affairs said cops generally don’t file reports on this type of incident.

Several YouTube commenters, as well as Chicagoist contributor Lisa White, joined Burns in ridiculing the young woman. Other commenters called him out for his heartlessness. “Whether or not it’s legal or illegal, clearly this woman didn’t know,” commented Kurt Gowan. “Calling her a ‘dumb b—-’ while driving past her, laughing at her, just shows how ignorant you really are. How about slowing down and popping your head out the window to tell her, ‘This isn’t legal, you should get off the road as soon as you can?’”

A tweet from 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly suggests he doesn’t share Gowan’s empathy for the endangered cyclist:

Now, Reilly has done some good things for cycling in his ward, such as using menu funds to bankroll bike lanes on Grand and Illinois Street, and he’s been generally supportive of Divvy, although he did veto stations at the Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building. However, the woman in the clip didn’t ride a bike on an eight-lane expressway because she was unaware it was dangerous to do so; she got lost and wound up in a life-threatening situation. The alderman is blaming the victim here. I had a brief Twitter conversation with him on the topic:

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Unfortunately, I made a typo here – I meant to say drivers have wandered onto the Lakefront Trail and struck path users. Reilly may have thought I was still talking about the drive, or maybe he caught my drift. However, I think I got my point across in the final tweet.

For example, a quick Google search located a 1998 Tribune article about a “confused” 84-year-old man named Joesph Landi who drove onto the path near North Avenue, killing a female trail user named Moon Pae, 26, and injuring several other people and a dog. Police charged Landi with negligent driving and driving a vehicle in an unsafe manner. Steven Vance also found the following photo of the aftermath of a July 2010 crash on Flickr. It’s not clear whether any path users were injured by the taxi.

let's replace Lakeshore Drive (HWY 41) with green space
Crashed taxi on the Lakefront Trail. Photo: Ciscel

While wider access to bike safety education would certainly be a good thing, these examples make it painfully obvious that rhetoric about “public frustration” with lawbreaking bicyclists distracts from the exponentially more important issue of dangerous driving. In the future, it would be great to see the alderman spend less Twitter time griping about cyclists and more time addressing the problem of more than 100 people being killed and hundreds more seriously injured in Chicago each year by reckless motorists.

  • Nathanael

    Believe it or not, Lake Shore Drive is a city street and it’s legal to bicycle on it or walk across it. It’s NOT an expressway.

    Surprised? Yeah, it is surprising, but remember that Lake Shore Drive is full of random intersections with stoplights! It isn’t an Interstate, it isn’t a Thruway, it’s just a city street with too many lanes and too high a speed limit.

    Lake Shore Drive is incredibly dangerous, and frankly an abomination. It should either be made an expressway or downgraded to a normal street.

  • Nathanael

    Ah, very Chicago-specific.

  • Nathanael

    Ah, I see from below that the City of Chicago has a *city-specific law* specifically prohibiting bicycles from Lake Shore Drive.

    No way for your average out-of-towner to know that!

  • Karen Kaz

    I don’t see this as a “battle”. No one’s using this as a springboard to ban cars from LSD or add a bike lane to it or anything like that – all we’re asking is to not make fun of and humiliate the woman. Is asking for some compassion and understanding in a single rare instance waging a battle? I hope not.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Black Ice on Lakeshore Bike Path

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDIQqQIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcchicago.com%2Fweather%2Fstories%2FCrashing-Waves-Wreak-Havoc-for-Chicago-Bikers-231596121.html&ei=kemHUobqBYnwyQHki4HQBg&usg=AFQjCNFVcFyYzBGZDRwwcKQ-n0bzkGrlMw&sig2=fkUFKcbbuSzkLjN_IbQV3Q&bvm=bv.56643336,d.aWc

    A lot of people here have raised objections and outrage over why people didn’t stop and help this woman riding her bike on Lakeshore Drive.

    If you take a look at the video on this NBC story about black ice on the lakefront bike path one has to stop and wonder “why did some of these BIKERS stop and WARN other bikers OF THE DANGER of the Black Ice?”

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Hey even with an ambulance there, the bikers didn’t slow down.

  • What’s clear from much of the reaction of media people and the general public is that there’s an assumption that this woman chose to ride her Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive, and I doubt that’s the case. For people who live in Chicago and have only a windshield perspective on transportation, it seems perfectly clear that one doesn’t bike on LSD and they can’t fathom mistakenly entering it on bike because most of the time it would require going up or down a large ramp that gives a visual clue that it’s probably not a good idea to bike there. However, I can definitely see where a person less familiar with Chicago could mistakenly enter it in two places.

    The first is if someone is riding north on Michigan Avenue, crosses over Oak Street, and then continues on. The entry to LSD here dips downward and looks like it just might be a regular viaduct instead of the on ramp that it is.

    The second place is where Chicago Avenue meets inner LSD/outer LSD. When there’s a green light for motor vehicles to enter outer LSD from Chicago Ave, I could see a bicyclist following them, thinking there would be an entry onto to the Lakefront Trail there. In fact, there is a (crappy, dark, rusty, dingy, unlit) pedestrian underpass that leads to the LFT right there on the NW corner of Chicago/Inner LSD, but there’s no sign alerting people of its presence or directing people to use it.

    However, this woman was three blocks south of Chicago Ave and riding north, so it doesn’t seem that she entered at either of those two points, and I’d also like to know how she found herself in the unfortunate predicament she was in.

    This incident has also highlighted how most people assume Lake Shore Drive is an “expressway”. Because of the way it’s designed with limited access, few stops and wide lanes, drivers certainly treat it as such, but it was originally part of our boulevard system and even now has a set speed limit of 40 mph and a ban on trucks. It’s not intended to be an expressway. I’m happy to be serving on the Residential Task Force for the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project (eight-year timeline!), and will do everything I can to help bring about positive change for all kinds of problems that affect people using it via all modes of transport.

  • More like, why didn’t the camera person, who was hanging out nearby that whole time, warn people instead of standing by and documenting their crashes?

  • What an unfortunate statement. Like in so many other cities, the bike-sharing program Divvy was installed without any meaningful infrastructure downtown. This incident points out is how hopelessly inadequate our bike infrastructure still is, and the reactions, including yours, are a testament to the general attitude that the bike is a toy, and not a meaningful means of transportation.

  • The following isn’t pertinent, but it’s in the same neighborhood: I still can’t get over how your proposal for a meaningful river-crossing was poo-poo’ed.

  • Those [shameful] reactions are even stronger in the boibs… Found myself on Golf road by mistake once. I’ve never made the mistake since, and there at least there was a bit of a shoulder.

  • Abby C

    I’m confused. There seem to be a lot of assumptions in the post and in comments about how the woman got on there (accident or not) and whether she was panicky/terrified/lost/out-of-towner. Has anyone been able to interview her? She does seem awfully serene in the video.

    Regardless of the circumstances, which are pretty unknown, it does seem like this naturally leads one to consider how this can be used to think about the whole North Lake Shore Drive redesign and the fact that the drive was originally meant to be a boulevard, not a highway.

    I am pretty disappointed with Alderman Reilly’s tweet. Not only is he making a blanket statement about bicyclist knowledge, but he’s also lumping the entire public’s frustration with bicyclists (some of which could be legitimate) in with this cruel, expletive-ridden tirade. So, apparently James Burns represents us all (as the public) in our frustration with bicyclist safety confusion?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    When you pose that there is a “troubling” lack of compassion for a confused bike rider on LSD, this video also shows the bike riders having a “troubling” lack of something for their fellow riders. Now to place the burden of warning riders on the camera man alone, is also “troubling” in my mind. I would have to imagine that someone standing in the middle of the bike path warning people would have had less effect than if one of the bikers had placed their bike across the path. But either way it is “troubling” that no one bothered, especially the fellow bikers because someone could have easily slid into the lake.

  • Lilithcat

    And then there are the cyclists who DELIBERATELY violate the rules of the road, and fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians on the lakefront trail (NOT “bike” trail) despite clearly posted regulations.

  • Lilithcat

    Well, they’d know if they exercised common sense.

  • Lilithcat

    That’s not a stereotype. I am constantly having to tell cyclists to get off the sidewalk (seriously, one woman said she was busy “thinking”!), not to mention avoiding the idiots running stop signs, going the wrong way on one-way streets, riding in the middle of the street, etc. I can’t count the number of times a cyclist has nearly run me over.

  • WestLooper
  • I think it’s a safe assumption that the woman was lost and terrified. I wrote that it’s possible she’s an out-of-towner. No one in their right mind would intentionally bike on LSD by herself. Granted, in the Oughts, it was commonplace for Critical Mass to take over the drive, but that’s a different story. It’s pretty clear the woman didn’t intend to ride on an 8-lane highway, so she must have made a wrong turn, got stuck in the middle of LSD during a light change, or some other mishap. She does not look serene in the above screen shot – she’s knitting her brow and frowning. At any rate, I was a Chicago bike messenger for six years and I’d be terrified if I was in her shoes.

  • BlueFairlane

    Judging by the viewing angle, the camera person is on the wall at North Avenue Beach, about a mile away. I would think it reasonable to assume when you observe this sort of thing happening a mile away that people near the scene will take action before you could get over there.

  • Oh boy. I’m not even sure that one is even worth responding to. Kass is right about one thing. Chicago is “A city made for people who want to go from point a to point B.” That’s what bike-share is all about.

  • LSD fails to meet the expressway standard because it has at-grade intersections at many streets (Chicago, Monroe, Jackson, Balbo, Roosevelt/Columbus/McFetridge, 57th, Hayes, and Marquette) many of which lack bike facilities (some of them have underpass trails) or clear demarcations or indications of where one on a bike should travel / use the corridor.

    I was not accepted to be a member of the any task force for the NLSD project…

  • Do you know about the North Lake Shore Drive project? It’s a corridor-level approach (meaning it’s not just about the road, but about the trails, access paths, intersections, ramps, parks, etc.).

    This is the best opportunity to get involved on how the Lakefront Trail should look and operate in the future. Go over here to read and comment about that: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/07/25/north-lake-shore-drive-will-get-rebuilt-but-will-it-be-a-great-street/

  • m.

    It’d be very easy to get on LSD by mistake at Grand from the lower level heading north. I suspect she got on there using the inner (west) northbound on-ramp because she was in the left lane, but it’d be easy from the east ramp too. The lighting down there is so poorly designed and the dual on-ramps only add to whole clusters of anomalous decision points at both Illinois & Grand. There’s very little marking to clarify and a sort of odd mix of inexperienced visitors hesitating their way through the intersections and regulars who drive through very fast… I could definitely see someone feeling pressured or turned around, making a split decision, and accidentally heading up on the Drive at that point.

  • forensicgarlic

    I’m really excited about getting fewer alderman. Anyone know of a group, campaign, or project that’s trying to get this made reality?

  • Nope.

  • m.

    As someone who almost slid into the lake there in the past and was helped from the edge of the lake by pedestrians and cyclists, I can assure you that it’s unlikely that the people visible in that video were laughing at those who were falling, much less calling them names. People took a real risk grabbing me and my bike when I slid and I’m grateful.

    In my experience, the usual practice when ice forms along that stretch—a problem at some point pretty much every winter—is to call in the ice hazard, after which the stretch is closed with barriers.

    Ideally there’d be an easily accessible, protected alternative on the inner side of Lake Shore Drive through the east side of Streeterville, but right now the only option is to exit the Lakefront Trail via the tunnel opposite the chess pavilion at North and head pretty far inland.

  • (Someone on Twitter said she noticed the camera person at Division Street.)

  • BlueFairlane

    Optics would disprove your random Twitter person. The image looks down the length of Lake Shore, so that you can see the staircase at Chicago appearing a considerable distance to the left of the Oak Street curve. Assuming you could see the stairway from Division–which you can’t, because it’s hidden behind the curve and a number of buildings–it would appear to the right of the curve. The closest point on land to get this view at this angle looking down Lake Shore is where the shore juts back out into the lake at North Avenue. My abilities at optical calculations are fairly primitive and I don’t have fancy mapping software, so I would say my margin of error is around 20 feet or so, but I’ve included a screenshot of where I think the camera has to be, about 100 feet due east of the second point where the path splits. At a minimum, walking distance from the camera to the curve is about 4,500 feet.

  • :)

  • Karen Kaz

    Yeah I misspoke on Twitter (riding the path it’s hard to say what the cross streets are at different points; my apologies). It was north ave just south of that area where the two lake shore path trails meet.

    I’m also in the video, one of the few people who stayed upright. I stopped, turned around, and asked if everyone in my “group” of 5 or so people was okay. I offered assistance and tools, but no one seemed to need any so I went on my way.

    People can fault me for not turning around, going back across that very slick black ice, and being late for work so as to warn other bikers. I’m not sure if that’s a reasonable thing to expect of people. I did warn someone who was approaching from the other direction as I rode on.

    I do however wish I had called 3-1-1 or something sooner, but I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that by the time I arrived at work someone else already had. I will act differently next time.

  • BlueFairlane

    To clarify my point, I wasn’t making the claim that the bicyclists had any responsibility to do anything here. That came from longnameinvolvinglotsofw’s. I was replying more to John’s implied assertion that the camera person had a similar responsibility, despite the fact that he/she was obviously much farther away. This was one of those situations where “doing something” meant standing around warning people until the ice melted, when really everybody had some place to be. In some cases, it is simply incumbent upon the traveler, whatever their mode, to take note of conditions and take the appropriate actions for themselves. The lake trail at the curve gets icy when it’s cold and wet, so slow down for 50 feet.

  • Lynn Pounian

    Curious: Why did you describe this cyclist in the YouTube as “obviously terrified”? I don’t see there being any information in that passing glance of her on the video to comfortably infer that, much less to assume she “likely” did anything.

    No doubt, the videographer displayed a lack of compassion – not to mention concern for his fellow drivers – by not offering assistance to the woman. He made a series of negative assumptions about her. But his rudeness doesn’t give you license to make your own set of assumptions and offer them as truth.

    You have no idea why she was on Lake Shore Drive. Maybe she’s lost or maybe she does it everyday. You don’t know if she was scared or resolutely making a point about her rights as a cyclist. You have no idea if she is a tourist or a local, if she was getting off at Chicago Avenue or maybe jumping the K-rail at Oak Street Beach or maybe driving all the way to Hollywood Avenue.

    You don’t know. And yet you wrote as if you do.

    Your piece would have been as effective – maybe more so – if you had just told what you know, rather than offer as “fact” what you think (or hope) you know.

  • As I explained elsewhere in the comments, no one in her right mind would intentionally ride in the middle of an eight-lane highway, so this woman was almost certainly there by mistake. She looks anxious in the screenshot, and I know that, as someone who worked as a bike messenger here for six years, I would be scared witless if I found myself in her position. So I think it’s safe to assume this woman was lost and terrified.

    I said she was possibly an out-of-towner, which would help explain how she got lost, and that she likely exited at Chicago, the first safe, obvious place to do so. Since she almost certainly didn’t want to be on the highway in the first place, it’s logical that she would get off it as soon as possible. It’s unlikely, if not impossible, that she could have made it to Hollywood without the police intervening.

  • That’s a shame. Your ideas are well thought out and I’d love to see them implemented but they probably don’t cost enough—like that Chicago bridge design of yours…

  • Lynn Pounian

    I’m trying to see how you continue to assert “obvious truths” despite your possessing little or no information to support any of it.

    Your response is beginning to resemble a photographic Rorschach test.

    Has it occurred to you that you just might be displaying a deep bias towards women? That in your mind she would have had to be making a mistake and that she would naturally be “lost and terrified.” Ask yourself honestly: Would that be your description of a male cyclist in the same situation based on that screenshot? (She doesn’t look terrified to me or to anyone else I showed the photograph to – but none of us know because she didn’t do a single thing that would prove any of us right or wrong.)

    And is the reason you continue to assert she’s an out-of-towner because she’s brown-skinned and you know the overwhelming majority of native Chicagoan Divvy cyclists are white? What other reason could there be? Maybe because Chicagoans are as a group so very much smarter than the rest of the world and not one of the 2.7 million of them would ever get lost or make a mistake or decide to take a shortcut?

    My reference to Hollywood Avenue was an exaggeration used for effect. But it’s grounded in as much known fact as your assertion that she got off at Chicago Avenue. (Which you include a map of as if somehow that makes it more true!)

    Here’s the thing: you wrote an interesting piece about a clueless, arrogant jerk whose first inclination was not to see if this woman needed help – or at least make sure his fellow motorists were kept safe from her – but to pull out his phone and make a YouTube. Everything you needed to tell this story was in that moment. It stands on its own. Instead, you went for the NY Post approach – embroidering the tale to make it more dramatic, adding buzz words to inflame emotions, and just plain making up what you don’t know.

    So think about it. Unless of course you aspire to write NY Post style pieces in which case, nice work!

  • I’m a guy, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my life navigating Chicago traffic on a bike, and I have would been terrified in her situation, as would any sane person, male or female.

    I didn’t assert she’s an out of towner. I said it’s possible she’s an out-of towner because that would help explain how she got lost. We don’t know the demographics of Divvy riders yet, but it certainly makes no sense to assume someone is a non-local because they’re a person of color. After all, 69 percent of Chicagoans are people of color.

  • Lynn Pounian

    I was just trying to figure out what made YOU think she was a non-local. There is not a single reason for you to reach any conclusion about the rider other than she’s a female and breaking the law.

    My point was simple: We disagree on approach. For me, your piece was not better because you created a back story for this cyclist out of whole cloth. (You’re an otherwise good writer; I probably wouldn’t have been as annoyed if you weren’t.)

    What we do agree on is that there is abundant evidence that the guy in question is a self-involved jerk.

    If I go on any more, I’ll probably start eating tapioca pudding and yelling at the evening news, so…. enough from me. :)

  • Vince

    Sorry, shes stupid, not terrified. You get PLENTY of warning before getting on Lake Shore. This woman shouldnt be allowed to be by herself, ever.

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