Correcting Konkol: South and West Sides Received the Bulk of New Bike Lanes

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Mark Konkol

Just because you’ve won a Pulitzer Prize doesn’t mean you always get your story straight.

DNAinfo’s Mark Konkol posted a column today arguing that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bike initiatives are a frivolous distraction from the city’s pressing crime, education, and budget issues. He also claims that Emanuel’s administration hasn’t been giving low-income communities their fair share of bike facilities. As is often the case when Konkol writes about cycling, he turns the truth into roadkill.

He argues that Chicago’s increasing bike-friendliness is only good news for the people who live or work in the city’s wealthier areas:

That’s where you’ll find most of Emanuel’s protected bike lanes and Divvy Bike stations. It’s another example of the growing economic divide that splits Chicago into two cities — one where the rich get pampered and the other where the poor suffer under Emanuel’s administration.

When the first 300 Divvy stations debuted in 2013, the service area was spread fairly evenly north and south of Madison Street, and a number of low-income communities got stations. However, it is true that the city installed a higher density of stations in the densest parts of town in an effort to make the system financially sustainable. These areas, including downtown and the North Lakefront, do tend to be relatively affluent.

But when the city added 175 more stations this year, they used uniform half-mile station spacing and expanded service to many more low-income areas. While the station density is still higher downtown and in North Lakefront neighborhoods, 23 percent of residents who live within the current service area are below the poverty level, the same as the city’s overall percentage, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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Divvy users in East Garfield Park. Photo: John Greenfield

As Konkol’s DNA colleague Tanveer Ali mentioned today, CDOT plans to add 75 more stations next spring, largely in low-income West Side neighborhoods. They’re also considering installing more new stations on the South Side.

Konkol wonders aloud whether stations installed in South Side neighborhoods with a relatively low rate of biking may have been “put there to create the illusion of fairness or to meet an unwritten South Side quota.” But in the next paragraph he gripes that the Divvy service area hasn’t been expanded fast enough. That is to say, “The food is terrible — and such small portions.”

More importantly, while arguing that the Divvy system shortchanges poor people, Konkol ignores the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) equity initiative, which offers $5 annual memberships to qualifying Chicagoans, and waives the usual credit card requirement. Almost 1,000 people have signed up since the program launched in July. Before claiming that Divvy has little benefit for people in low-income neighborhoods, Konkol should talk to D4E members like LaTonya Brown, a United Center Park resident who recently told me she uses the system to commute to work at Navy Pier.

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60 percent of bike lane mileage installed since 2011 (purple and green lines) went to the South and West Sides.

While Konkol’s Divvy analysis is ill-informed, his claims about bike lanes are downright erroneous. “Take a peak [sic] at a map of Emanuel’s highly-touted protected bike lanes and you’ll see most of Chicago’s new, bike-friendly streets… are located in the wealthy parts of Chicago.”

It’s true that, largely due to lobbying efforts by North Lakefront and Northwest Side bike advocates, a higher proportion of bike lanes were installed in those parts of town prior to 2011. However, the current administration is doing a good job of closing the bike lane equity gap. Most of Chicago’s new, bike-friendly streets are actually located in the less wealthy parts of town.

Sixty percent of the total bike lane mileage installed under Emanuel has gone to the South and West Sides (official definitions from the city’s data portal here), which have also gotten the bulk of the physically protected lanes. In fact, save for a quarter-mile stretch in Uptown, no physically protected bike lanes have been built north of North Avenue.

The worst aspect of Konkol’s piece is that he implies that efforts to build a safe bike network network divert resources from Chicago’s most serious challenges, such as gun violence and wealth inequality. Slow Roll Chicago, an African-American-led group that promotes bike equity on the South and West Sides, argues that the opposite is true.

They note on their website that more bike infrastructure and education in underserved communities will make it easier for residents to access work and school, and will make the neighborhoods more socially cohesive. “We envision bicycles as effective forms of transportation contributing to reducing violence, improving health, and creating jobs in communities across Chicago.”

In other words, bike initiatives aren’t a distraction from our city’s most important problems. They’re part of the solution.

  • JKM13

    The thing with Konkol is, besides being incorrect, he’s not really interesting.

  • Right, at least when John Kass goes bike trolling, he’s usually entertaining. I gotta hand it to him, his “Rahm Pass” proposal for taxing cyclists was pretty funny.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Konkol could have worked up a better stream of resentment if he’d attacked the DePaul basketball arena TIF giveaway in the southloop.

  • JKM13

    Right.

  • Anne A

    He’s not interesting at all. Sometimes a troll is just a troll.

  • Elihu Blanks

    Cycling throughout all of Chicago-land would make life better in many ways. However the elitists of our broken society suggest they are better and thus deserve more of our democracy. but they are elitists so what should I expect… I’ll bike through their pessimism as I bike over our low quality streets…

  • Chicago South

    Yet another piece that intentionally obfuscates the disparities of the city in order to pretend Streetsblog is interested in equity. As usual, Streetblog forgets that the South Side on its own accounts for 60% of the city (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_areas_in_Chicago#South_Side). Consequently, saying that 60% of the bike lanes installed during the Emanuel administration went to the South _and_ West Sides isn’t evidence the sections of the city are being advantaged. Instead, it’s evidence to the contrary: the portions of the city are being underserved. Nearly every other item in this editorial makes a similar mistake.

    It’s a shame that every Streetsblog article needs a “Correcting Streetsblog” column. I’ll be waiting for a correction and apology, but I know it will never come.

  • Konkol wrote “most of Chicago’s new, bike-friendly streets… are located in the wealthy parts of Chicago.” The South and West Sides, as defined by the city’s data portal, are predominantly low-to-moderate-income. Therefore, Konkol’s statement was incorrect. It’s also true that almost none of the physically protected bike lanes have gone to North Side areas north of North Avenue.

    However, whether 60% of new bike lanes going to the South and West Sides represents equity merits further discussion. On the one hand, while those areas represent the majority of Chicago’s landmass, they don’t necessarily represent the majority of its population, since downtown and much of the North Side (as defined by the data portal) generally have a higher population density.

    On the other hand, the bicycle equity group Slow Roll Chicago has argued that true equity means providing LMI South and West Side neighborhoods with the bike resources needed to bring their mode share up to North Side levels. That means that these areas would get more bike lanes, Divvy stations, education, etc.

    Since you’re interested in bike equity for the South and West Side, I invite you to show up for a benefit for Slow Roll that Streetsblog is co-hosting on Saturday, November 7, from 7-10 p.m. at Ancien Cycles, 688 N. Milwaukee Ave. We’ll post more details on Streetsblog tomorrow.

  • Chicago South

    You’re being deliberately pedantic. Your whole point of challenging Konkol on this point is that he characterizes the Emanuel administration’s alternative transportation policy as unequal. You cite that 60% of the new lanes go to the South and West Sides as evidence that it’s not unequal. Yet you intentionally gloss over that the South and West Sides are more than 60% of the city, which means that Emanuel continues to under-develop the South and West Sides.

    The reason I chose to point out your mistake/deliberate mischaracterization in this way is that you reference mileage, not density or population size in your point. It is true that the continued neglect of the South and West Sides has left them less dense and less populated than other parts of the city, so you could make a per capita argument for investing elsewhere. By that measure, they’re only 45% of the city population, so who needs equity, right?

    Oh, and thanks for the condescending invitation to the Slow Roll event and the suggestion that I talk to Slow Roll members … other than myself, I suppose.

  • You’re a Slow Roll member yourself? Great. If you attend the fundraiser, please be sure to say hello. Face-to-face discussions are a lot more meaningful than anonymous exchanges on the Internet. Hopefully, we’ll see you there.

  • Chicago South

    Way to dodge the substantive issue again.

    After three years of intermittent reading, I think I’m done with Streetsblog. It is getting too hard to find the 5% content that’s been sandwiched between the 60% unsubstantiated opinion and 35% shilling for the growth machine.

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