How Quinn Staffer Sean O’Shea Blocked Chicago’s Protected Bike Lane Efforts

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A man rides by the “ghost bike” memorial to Bobby Cann in one of the Clybourn protected lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

On the evening of May 29, 2013, 26-year-old Bobby Cann was bicycling north on Larrabee from his job at Groupon, heading home to catch a Blackhawks game. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Ryne San Hamel was driving southeast on Clybourn. He’d been drinking in Wrigleyville after watching the Cubs defeat the Sox.

Just after 6:30 PM, the two men’s paths tragically collided. Police said San Hamel had been driving his Mercedes at least 50 mph when he struck Cann at the Larrabee intersection. The cyclist suffered horrific injuries and, despite the best efforts of bystanders and paramedics, he was dead within the hour.

San Hamel was found to have had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit. He’s being prosecuted for aggravated DUI, but the case hasn’t yet gone to trial.

Near the crash site, there’s a shrine with flowers, photographs, and a white-painted “ghost bike” that bears a placard with Cann’s image. On November 20 of this year, officials from the city and state transportation department cut the ribbon on curb-protected bike lanes on this stretch of Clybourn, plus a segment of Division.

These bike lanes, which are separated from traffic by wide concrete curbs that provide extra protection for riders, double as a memorial for the fallen cyclist. Friends and coworkers said Cann was always encouraging others to bike, and to do it safely.

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Sean O’Shea

Clybourn is only the second road in town to get this type of bikeway. Most Chicago protected lanes are located curbside and are separated from traffic by a striped buffer zone, flexible plastic posts, and parked cars.

The Clybourn lanes are also noteworthy because they’re the first protected lanes built on a state route within the city. That’s because in 2011, soon after the Chicago Department of Transportation opened the city’s first protected lanes on Kinzie, the state government began quietly blocking the city from installing protected lanes on state roads.

Forty percent of Chicago’s arterial streets are under Illinois Department of Transportation jurisdiction. These wide roadways generally have high crash rates, but CDOT is required to get approval from the state before making safety improvements to them.

The former heads of CDOT and IDOT, plus the director of the Active Transportation Alliance, now indicate that the chief architect of the three-year ban was ex-governor Pat Quinn’s deputy chief of staff Sean O’Shea.

The state claimed the reason for the prohibition was a need for more proof that protected lanes are safe. But former city transportation commissioner Gabe Klein says the ban was motivated by “political and personality issues.” (For full disclosure, Klein is currently a board member with the parent organization for Streetsblog Chicago, which I edit.)

It’s not certain what would have happened if the moratorium hadn’t been in place, or had been lifted earlier. But data suggests that Cann’s death, as well as other crashes, might have been prevented if protected lanes had been installed sooner on Clybourn and other state routes.

Here’s a timeline of how the ban occurred, and was ultimately overturned with the start of the Clybourn project, three years later.

Read the rest of the story on the Chicago Reader website.

  • kastigar

    Last Tuesday, 12/1 there was another hearing in the ever-going case against the alleged criminal San Hamel who allegedly was driving drunk and allegedly killed Bobby Cann.

    What is happening in all these court appearances? Is anything getting done, or is this story fading in complacency?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here’s an update on Turesday’s hearing from Active Trans victim advocate Jason Jenkins

    “Wanted to send an update from yesterday’s proceedings. Went pretty much as expected, brief but signs of progress. It’s been decided that the judge who signed the warrant will need to testify, so he will be subpoenaed and testify at the next hearing which was set for January 26th. This will all be in regard to the defense’s motion to throw out the search warrant and the corresponding blood alcohol evidence. This will be an important hearing so if you are able to attend it would be helpful.

    However it will be at a different time than usual, I’ve only received word that the hearing will be held at the end of the day. I am currently finding out what the exact time is that it will be scheduled for and as soon as I know I will pass that on.”

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Video Shows Bobby Cann Crash Happened at the Intersection

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View Larger Map The crash site from the driver’s perspective. Security camera footage recently obtained by the State’s Attorney’s Office shows that motorist Ryne San Hamel fatally struck cyclist Robert “Bobby” Cann at the intersection of Clybourn and Larrabee, according to victim advocate Sharon Johnson. Previously the authorities did not know if the crash happened […]

An Update on the Bobby Cann Case

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While the criminal case against Ryne San Hamel, the motorist who killed cyclist Robert “Bobby” Cann while allegedly drunk and speeding, slowly progresses, attorneys for the victim’s family are getting ready to file a wrongful death lawsuit against San Hamel, said Kate Conway, an attorney with Power Rogers & Smith. The firm is investigating the […]