Reckless Drivers Kill Four Cyclists, Trib Warns Bike Riders to Be More Careful

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A memorial to Lisa Kuivinen, at the site where a truck driver swerved into the bike lane and killed her. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, in response to four recent Chicago bike fatalities apparently caused by reckless drivers, the Tribune ran a well-meaning but wrongheaded editorial that largely puts the onus for creating safer streets on people who bike.

It’s clear the editorial writer or writers were moved by the deaths of Blaine Klingenberg, Virginia Murray, Lisa Kuivinen, and Francisco Cruz. And the article is certainly an improvement from the irresponsible anti-bike coverage we’ve seen from the Tribune in the past. Credit for that likely goes to the paper’s new transportation reporter Mary Wisniewski, who sometimes gets around on two wheels herself.

The article begins on a note of empathy for people who bike:

Bikers jostle for position and dodge hazards — construction zones, ripped-up pavement, oblivious motorists. As they maneuver streets and sidewalks, they know danger can loom at any moment. A car door opens unexpectedly. A motorist swerves. Pedestrians stride into the bike path without a glance.

However, the Tribune next cites statistics that suggest that as more people are biking on Chicago streets, cycling is becoming more dangerous, when that’s not the case. They note that the number of reported bike/motor vehicle crashes in the city increased by 27 percent between 2005 and 2014, to 1,663 collisions.

However, during that period, the rate of bike commuting in Chicago was skyrocketing. According to the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey, bike mode share in the city grew from 0.7 percent in 2005 to 1.7 percent in 2014 – a whopping 143 percent increase.

So while the number of crashes has increased in recent years, the crash rate has actually gone down significantly. Along with the installation of more and better bike lanes during that period, this improvement can be credited to the “safety in numbers” factor: When there are more cyclists on the streets, motorists are more likely to notice them and drive carefully around them.

Still, any life-changing or fatal bike crash is one too many. To prevent more tragedies like the four biker deaths that took place in the space of roughly two months this summer, the Tribune provides the commonsense advice that both cyclists and drivers should travel mindfully. “That means obeying traffic lights, watching for pedestrians, respecting other [road users] — whether they’re in an Escalade or on a fixie.”

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Maypole and Pulaski in West Garfield Park, where a cargo van driver fatally struck Francisco Cruz and fled the scene. Photo: John Greenfield

But the Trib goes on to suggest that irresponsible behavior by bike riders is the main cause of fatal crashes. “Some [people on bikes] may think they shouldn’t have to obey the same rules of the road as motorists,” they write. “Some don’t appear to be obeying any rules except survival of the fastest.”

It’s true that in the Klingenberg case, some witnesses said the courier ran a red light at Oak and Michigan. But others say the double-decker tour bus driver who killed him also blew a red and failed to hit the brakes before striking him, which suggests she wasn’t paying attention.

Murray was fatally struck at Belmont and Sacramento by a flatbed truck driver, who police say didn’t have the proper license to be driving the vehicle. It also appears the trucker didn’t use his turn signal and failed to look right before making a right turn – also in violation of the law.

Kuivinen was riding legally in a highly visible green-painted bike lane at 874 North Milwaukee when another flatbed truck driver fatally struck her from behind while veering into the bike lane to make a right turn.

And Cruz was riding with traffic on Pulaski when he was run over by a cargo van driver who failed to yield while making a left turn onto Maypole. The motorist then fled the scene and has not yet been apprehended.

In each case, the tragedy was mostly or solely caused by dangerous behavior by people driving. And yet the majority of scolding for bad behavior and admonishments to use caution in the editorial are directed towards people on bikes.

While drivers love to complain about lawbreaking by cyclists, it’s clear that speeding, running of stoplights and stop signs, and other forms of reckless driving are widespread in Chicago. For example a Ravenswood Manor resident recently posted a video that shows the vast majority of drivers at Wilson and Francisco don’t observe the stop signs.

The Trib editorial implies that they understand that reckless driving is exponentially more dangerous than lawbreaking by cyclists. “Cars do outweigh the average bicycle by a couple of thousand points at least,” they acknowledge. But rather than call for increased ticketing of drivers who blow reds or speed, the Tribune has led the charge against automated traffic cameras, which have been proven to save lives.

Simply exhorting bike riders and drivers to travel more responsibly, while putting most of the burden on cyclists, is not the solution to preventing bike fatalities. As the Active Transportation Alliance’s Jim Merrell recently wrote, we already know what the real solutions are. We need more protected bike lanes, better enforcement of driving laws, universal bike education, and for the city to adopt a Vision Zero strategy for eliminating all traffic deaths.

  • The Tribune editorial board should disband.

  • planetshwoop

    Only if they take Kass with them.

  • Mars_Bound_Soon

    Last week I was doing an all day filming of the demolition along Clark street in Wrigleyville. When the demo crew was working on the 5 story cold storage building that used to house Salt & Pepper, traffic had to stopped many times. This was because bricks, concrete, and iron were falling onto the street while they were working on top floors. I observed only about 10% of bicyclists stopping for workers with stop signs, 90% rode right past. The construction workers were furious at this behavior. I witnessed one very close call where an oblivious biker almost got hit by an at least 100 lb piece of concrete. Just saying

  • Curtis James

    I agree with most of this, but I have one quibble. The author equates increasing levels of bicycle commuting with overall increasing levels of bicycle riding. I’d like to see some figures that include all the various purposes for which people ride bikes. From what I’ve seen written, the proportion of adults who ride bicycles regularly has declined over the years, and bike usage by children has declined dramatically. I am not at all sure that the crash rate has gone down significantly. While commuting has increased, I’m not sure that total miles cycled have necessarily done so. I honestly don’t know, but I do know that commuting statistics are only one, and not the biggest, part of the overall picture.

  • NIMBY76

    Funny to hear your cry babies. As if a “vision 0” plan would do anything. By don’t you and Steve take rhis Labor Day weekend to ponder what it is you’re doing with your lives and find something meaningful. When does the next beg-Athon start?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    A study by Active Trans estimated that the percentage of all kinds of trips made by bike in Chicago is about the same as the percentage of work trips: http://activetrans.org/sites/files/Active_Trans_Chicago_Bike_Monitoring_Report_2014.pdf

  • NIMBY

    Stop deleting my comments you jackasses. If you can’t take criticism you should find another “profession”.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I don’t see any problem with acknowledging that cyclists and motorists both rampantly ignore traffic laws. The difference is of course the impact of a misbehaving cyclist as opposed to misbehaving motorist.

    So here’s a thought – I am guessing neither John nor Steven have actually walked the proverbial mile in a motorist’s shoes/have Illinois drivers licenses. How about going through the drivers education process start to finish and identifying all of the weak links as pertain to cyclists? That would shine a very bright and productive light on where it all goes wrong from a FIB perspective – getting the transplants to understand that driving in Chicago is not like driving in Muskegon or Oswego is another thing entirely.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Nope, I drive.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ah good, another fellow with one foot in the Dark Side. So I took my drivers ed classes at Lane in 1988. I am quite sure that there was almost zilch regarding proper ways to co-exist with cyclists, and as a safe driver I have never had to go through further education/be refreshed on updated rules of the road (such as the mandate to stop at crosswalks for pedestrians, which is actually very recent). It is a missed opportunity IMO.

  • Johng

    You should get a job

  • Youraloser

    You should get a job. You’re jealous that you work for a fledgling website and have to beg for money every 6 months. You’re a complete loser.

  • Haha. I got my driver’s license six months after I turned 16, after going through the cheap driver’s ed. program at my high school. It’s lapsed twice so I’ve been without a license for approximately 18 months of my life since obtaining in the first time.

    The first time I had to renew it I had to take the vision test and a multiple choice test with 20 questions, on which I scored 100% after 10 minutes of studying the Rules of the Road book.

    The second time I had to renew it I only had to take the vision test.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The renewal is just a joke IMO. Huge lost opportunity for education. I would hazard a guess that the majority of Chicagoland drivers have no clue at all what their responsibilites are regarding cyclists and peds. When my kid turns 16 I will make her report in full!!

  • Anne A

    Yes, renewal is a joke – huge lost opportunity. There SHOULD be education on new laws anytime someone has to renew.

  • ohsweetnothing

    What are you just saying though?

    A related anecdote as someone who bikes regularly. I get a little annoyed when construction crews stop traffic when they need to use the street but then will waive the bicycles through, often while the equipment/machines/materials are still in the street. This happens a lot on all of the Milwaukee Ave construction zones. I think it causes confusion and probably leads to situations like what you described.

  • Anne A

    Sometimes we can’t get everywhere we need to go by walking, biking and/or transit. I occasionally need to drive, too.

  • Carter O’Brien

    100 lb pieces of concrete shouldn’t ever be landing on the street, good grief.

    There are a large variety of different preventative measures they should have taken to protect both people and the City’s infrastructure.

  • Mars_Bound_Soon

    There was fencing from the building to the curb, but when you are demo-ing the top cornice of a 5 story reinforced concrete building, bricks/concrete will sometimes fall outside the fencing. That was when traffic was stopped in both directions by workers with stop signs and the bicyclist blew thru almost getting hit.

    About protecting city infrastructure, this is an entire square block project- all the sidewalks will be redone and streets repaved. The new infrastructure (electric, water, sewer, etc) is all part of the project at developers expense. One street light was taken out and repaired the next day at contractors expense.

  • I think the Illinois General Assembly has to set the rule on this, and then the Secretary of State is in charge of developing the curriculum.

    Don’t forget that anyone 18 and older doesn’t need formal driver’s education in order to attempt to pass the DMV test and obtain a license!

  • Carter O’Brien

    I know the site, that’s a very substantial project to be sure, and I’m not defending the cyclist, who sounds a bit dense. I’m just saying I’ve seen big buildings coming down my whole life and I’ve never seen nor heard of huge chunks of concrete flying into the street in that manner.

  • The Automobile as a testosterone driven thrill ride.
    It’s a mentality that must change.

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Nearly 100 family members, friends, and members of the cycling community turned out on Saturday to honor art student Lisa Kuivenen with a “ghost bike” installation ceremony at the site where Lisa was fatally struck last month. Ghost bikes are white-painted bicycles locked at crash sites to memorialize victims and raise awareness of the need for safer streets. […]