CBS Chicago Delivers a Refreshingly Windshield-Free Take on Biking Hazards

When CBS does an exposé on a transportation issue, it’s not always a good thing. For example, there was the 2014 segment where reporter Rob Johnson argued that the upcoming Loop Link project would slow private vehicle traffic to a crawl and was “driving home the point that cars are no longer welcome” downtown. However, the bus rapid transit system launched last December, vehicle congestion along the corridor is no worse than before, and last time I checked there were still plenty of cars in the Loop.

However, yesterday’s CBS segment “Chicago’s Cyclists in Danger” shows that when Dave Savini applies his investigative skills to the right issue, he can help bring about positive change. He does a fine job of highlighting the problems of reckless driving, bad pavement, and vehicles blocking bike lanes – issues we’ve frequently discussed on this site – to a wider audience.

The clip shows footage of private cars and post office trucks, and even Divvy vans and police vehicles, obstructing bike lanes, and forcing cyclists into the travel lanes. “When bike lanes are blocked, cyclists end up in traffic – a danger to them and drivers,” Savini says.

Savini even confronted a postal worker who regularly parks her truck for up to an hour in the Washington Street bike lane, near the CBS office, and she wound up moving the truck. Of course, if there’s a reason why the employee truly needs to park in this spot every day, the USPS and the city’s transportation department should come up with a solution that doesn’t endanger cyclists.

The segment features cyclists Gasper Rivera and Aimee Zimmer, who were both thrown off their bikes when motorists opened their car doors into traffic without looking. Zimmer suffered a traumatic brain injury, which still causes her problems.

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Dooring is a major problem on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park. Photo: Steven Vance.

Savini discovered that some 311 requests for pavement repair in bike lanes went unfulfilled for months, or even a year. And five years after a cyclist was injured when his wheel caught in a sewer grate on Lawrence Avenue with openings that were parallel to the road, and received a settlement from the city, the same hazardous grate is still in place.

Most infuriating, CBS found that the Chicago Police Department has issued a mere 20 tickets for bike lane parking in all of 2016. That’s fewer bike lane violations than many of us typically encounter on a single ride to work.

The only sour note in the otherwise-excellent segment was the banter between Savini and his colleagues in the newsroom after the clip was shown. “The other question is, what do they expect?” said Rob  Johnson. “They cut a lot of streets from four lanes to two.” Presumably he was referring to the travel lane conversions on Washington and Madison streets for Loop Link. The CBS headquarters is located at Washington and Dearborn streets.

“There’s very little room downtown now,” Savini agreed.

Sure, there’s less space for private vehicles on Washington and Madison now (although the vast majority of downtown roadways are still dominated by cars.) But even before the BRT system was created, about half the people who traveled those two streets in vehicles were on buses. The dedicated bus and bike lanes simply provide additional capacity for the more space-efficient travel modes, helping to move people – as opposed to cars – across the Loop more efficiently.

That pothole aside, kudos to Savini for leaving behind CBS’s usual windshield perspective for an revealing segment on the dangers that people biking in Chicago face every day.

  • TonyAB

    This part: “… the Chicago Police Department has issued a mere 20 tickets for bike lane parking in all of 2016.”

  • Pat

    Regarding Illinois St: many of those “potholes” are just spots where someone carved up the street and never repaired it.

    I once waved down a cop driving on Washington to alert him about that now infamous USPS truck. He admonished me for even bothering to stop him as he “(didn’t) have time for (that) f*cking sh*t.”

  • Jeremy

    Dave Savini did not do the Loop Link piece in 2014. That was Rob Johnson, the guy who complained about the lane reductions at the end. Dave Savini, however, did plead guilty to DUI in 2014. Has he “seen the light” about road safety?

    Also, CPD are probably not allowed to write tickets on USPS vehicles because they are federal government property. They still shouldn’t be allowed to park illegally.

  • Pat

    CPD can ticket mail trucks.

  • I, too, have flagged down a cop to point out a truck blocking a bike lane and the response was “He’s working.”

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Good catch, fixed, thanks.

  • I propose that police probably need updates on their training for things like “It’s illegal to park or stand in bike lanes and you should ticket for it”, in the same way as ordinary motorists need remedial education on:
    ** “this is how roundabouts work”
    ** don’t drive or park in bike lanes, this is what bike lanes look like,”
    ** “bicyclists have every right to take the lane, you don’t get to honk at them or crowd them,”
    ** “it is required by state law that you stop when anyone wishes to use a crosswalk, whether marked or implicit.”

  • JacobEPeters

    or even the more basic “you cannot ticket for failure to ride in the bike lane” the fact that some cops threaten to ticket cyclists for this is baffling, since I do not know of a time in Chicago when that was a law.

  • Jacob Wilson

    I got this same response during rush hour at Ardmore and Sheridan while a comcast van blocked the contraflow lane heading west causing all kinds of chaos.

    But they had their stupid little cone out so I guess it’s ok…

  • JKM13

    Why doesn’t the city require downtown alleys be utilized for delivery/post office trucks? I notice all the time when a mail truck blocks the washington bike lane, there is an open alley nearby.

  • Pat

    Every time I see those cones, I chuck em to the curb.

  • Random_Jerk

    I don’t understand why parking enforcement personnel can’t/doesn’t write tickets for parking in the bike lane. I ride my bike daily and during my 30 min commute there are always 1-2 vehicles that could be ticketed. I can imagine that in entire City of Chicago there are hundreds of violations that could bring pretty substantial amount to the city coffers…

  • Concobhar Mac Conmara

    I like the thinking but that almost seems like it would be a another thing bikers have to put up with. I can hear it now… “Damn bikers blow lights, cut off traffic, and move cones! Do they have NO regard for the hard working folks of the cable industry????”

  • rohmen

    I saw something on the chainlink that suggests they do, which is why the number reported as to CPD enforcement seems so low. http://www.thechainlink.org/forum/topics/cbs-s-dave-savini-looks-into-hazards-for-cyclists-on-the-news?id=2211490%3ATopic%3A1018023&page=2#comments

    City parking enforcement officials are the ones actually writing the tickets (with the numbers around 700 to 800, which still seems super low, but not as low as 20).

  • Pat

    I can’t bother to stop my bike for those. But when I’m walking by, see ya later!

    …And I usually jaywalk to get to em.

    Giving pedestrians a bad rap.

  • rohmen

    Though it happens all the time, blocking alleys is technically a parking offense as well. https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/fin/supp_info/revenue/tips_for_avoidingparkingtickets.html

  • Carter O’Brien

    This actually links to my biggest pet peeve. Curb cuts are irritating enough simply as they convert green space to pavement. But the standard m.o. is now that people with those curb cuts use that paved-over parkway space to park, which is then turning public green space into one’s own private parking space.

    But worse is that this practice isn’t simply “unsightly” so much as it is dangerous, as it often is on properties abutting an alley, and thus blocks sightlines for drivers exiting alleys (and cyclists trying to avoid them).

    Is this the worst problem in Chicago, maybe not. But with more and more teardowns and the new higher density townhome and condos that replace them, there seems to be more and more of these as developers look to maximize FAR on their properties.

    >Violation Descriptions:

    Park or Stand on Sidewalk

    Park or Stand on Parkway

    Park or Stand on Crosswalk

    It is illegal to park on a sidewalk, parkway or crosswalk. While most motorists know this, some do not know that in a private driveway that requires a vehicle to drive over a public sidewalk you cannot park your vehicle in your driveway with its rear or front extending over the pedestrian sidewalk. This is illegal, in part, because your vehicle may be impeding the ability of a person in a wheel chair to travel without difficulty on the sidewalk. Further, pedestrians, including parents or caregivers with strollers, have the right to expect the public way to be fully clear of impediments like parked vehicles. Similarly, you cannot park with your wheels on the curb. Vehicles that park with two wheels on a curb can seriously damage the curb. Further, many residents consider this practice unsightly.

  • Pat

    But where is my neighbor to park his QX80 if it can’t fit in his two car, below grade, garage because his driveway pitch is too steep?

    http://www.infinitiusa.com/content/dam/infiniti/vehicles/suv/qx80/2016/versions/QX80_SIGNATURE/2016-infiniti-qx80-qx80_signature-small.jpg

  • Good luck with that outcome. I’d imagine it’s viewed the same, urban myth or not, that if a toe tuck tows the USPS vehicle, they maybe hit with theft of federal property.

  • planetshwoop

    I hadn’t thought of this until now — there is fairly effective enforcement of street cleaning. It would be nice to see similar enforcement for bike lanes.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ha! I don’t think the aggregate value of every vehicle I’ve ever owned would even cover the maintenance contract for that.

  • ridonrides

    It’s so frustrating when people park in the bike lane despite open parking spots being available. But because it’s a few feet away, it’s inconvenient! Honestly, I wouldn’t care if motorists weren’t jerks about me getting around obstructions. Half the people understand and allow me to safely pass. The other half honk or even worse curse me out for not somehow riding through a parked truck like Casper the ghost.

  • Billof Rights

    It would be nice if someone wrote a balanced article discussing the responsibilities of bicyclists to also be observant, obey traffic laws, and use common sense. I hear all this chest pounding about bicycle “rights” and bad drivers, poorly maintained roads, etc. but I see very little if any discussion (and education) about bicyclist responsibilities.

  • Concobhar Mac Conmara

    LOL we should ban you from the page!

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It goes without saying that all road users should travel mindfully. But when you’re piloting a multi-ton vehicle that easily kill people, that responsibility is exponentially greater. The amount of media attention given to misbehavior by cyclists is highly disproportionate given our city’s reckless driving epidemic. Motorists kill over 100 people a year in Chicago. There is no record of a cyclist fatally striking someone in this city, ever.

  • Billof Rights

    I drive in the city and see bicyclists blowing thru four way stops at neighborhood intersections, lane jumping, swerving, and cutting off cars to make turns. I disagree that responsibility for large vehicles is exponentially greater. Responsibility needs to be equally shared by both groups. The issue is about the skill level and awareness of drivers and bicyclists. There is also a concept called defensive driving, which is taught to drivers but could and should be modified for bicyclists. Reminding them to anticipate conditions, think about avoidance measures, and have a clear route out. Having a bicycle does not alone make someone qualified to ride it, nor does having a drivers license make someone qualified to drive a car.

  • Jeremy

    As John pointed out, when car drivers aren’t paying attention or are reckless, they have the potential to kill and maim people. Therefore, many people believe they should be held to a higher standard. Car drivers can afford to be careless or aggressive because they do not face the same physical danger when encountering pedestrians and cyclists.

    It seems the most common reason for stopping illegal behavior by cyclists is: “If car drivers have to follow traffic laws, so should cyclists.” We should take a serious look at whether a 40 pound bicycle traveling at 12 mph should be subject to the same laws as a 3000 pound car traveling at 30 mph.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    One could easily substitute “drivers” for “bicyclists” in your second sentence. The difference is, when cyclists do these things Chicago, other people don’t get killed.

  • Tyler Doerschuk

    If you have someone that carries 3000 pounds of material vs 300 pounds of material, who should be more responsible?

  • neroden

    I have seen insane stuff by motorists constantly. I watched someone blow through a stop sign *while turning left* when another car was coming from the cross street and had the right of way. I’ve seen motorists drive the wrong way down a one-way street. I’ve seen motorists drive in the left lane of a two-way street (going the wrong way).

    I’ve had a motorist speed almost straight at me while I was in the middle of a crosswalk, which is attempted murder.

    One out of three motorists seems to tailgate.

    None of them ever get arrested or fined or even given a ticket. They rarely even get WARNINGS. They certainly don’t lose their licenses even if they do get arrested.

    There’s something deeply wrong here.

  • neroden

    The proper response to that is to get the cop’s badge number and name so you can report the cop to his boss (and, this being Chicago, *to your alderman*), but I understand why people don’t do that for fear of retaliation from the crooked cops.

  • neroden

    Nope. Basically the USPS has no privileges when it comes to the streets.

  • neroden

    He needs to be reported to his boss. By name and badge number. Like the others who don’t bother to do anything about dangerous situations which *they are witnessing*.

  • Billof Rights

    So bicyclists have no obligation to obey traffic laws and drive responsibly and defensively because their gross vehicle weight is less than that of a truck. Makes perfect sense. Not.

  • Billof Rights

    Who should be more responsible? I would hope they should BOTH be responsible as it applies to their specific circumstances

  • Billof Rights

    Thanks for the clarification. So bicyclists automatically get a free pass from traffic laws and using common sense because when they violate the law there is a lesser chance of someone getting killed. Therefore there is no need for bicyclists to drive defensively and obey traffic laws.

  • It’s a shock to all of us.

    You can check any of these three hashtags and find 20 violations *each day*:
    1. #bikeCHI
    2. #enforce940060 – the municipal code for bike lane blocking
    3. #ClearTheWay – Active Transportation Alliance’s awareness campaign

  • Tyler Doerschuk

    I think you may be projecting my opinion and thoughts, but that’s a different discussion. But anyhoo…readers and followers of Streetsblog have fought this car vs bike rhetoric thousands of times and this is no different. And through years of reading conversation threads and physical communications I’ve seen, it comes down to one thing for a motorists to understand why cyclists do the things they do, empathy. You have no creditability until you have to deal with almost getting doored, or realizing how dumb it is to “Stop” at every stop sign while riding a bike, or the hundreds of other dangers bicyclist are put in daily. So get on a bike, and ride on through Milwaukee and Damen a few dozen times, then get back to me. If you can’t get on a bike or you don’t want to, don’t tell me how I should ride.

  • David Henri

    +1, Thank you Tyler.

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