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Police Blamed Courier for Fatal Crash; Witnesses Say Bus Driver Ran Stoplight

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Blaine Klingenberg and Maja Perez at her brother’s wedding in March. Photo courtesy of Perez

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

The intersection of Michigan and Oak, at the north end of the Magnificent Mile, is a complex and intimidating junction. Here, Michigan is a massive seven-lane boulevard, while Oak is a broad, two-lane street with turn lanes, lined with pricey boutiques and luxury high-rises. To the north are on- and off-ramps for Lake Shore Drive as well as curving roadways leading to and from Inner Lake Shore Drive. At the northeast corner there’s an underpass leading to the Lakefront Trail and Oak Street Beach. As such, this crossroads is often filled with a chaotic mix of pedestrians, bike riders, private cars, taxis, and buses.

Bike courier Blaine “Beezy” Klingenberg, 29, lost his life in the daunting intersection of Michigan and Oak on Wednesday, June 15, after being run over and dragged by a double-decker tour bus at the height of the evening rush. Described by employers and colleagues as a hard-working, likable, and safety-minded messenger, Klingenberg has been posthumously reduced to a poster boy for irresponsible urban cycling.

The driver, 51-year-old Charla A. Henry, is employed by Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. She was the second company employee to fatally strike a vulnerable road user on Michigan Avenue within the last seven months.

The Chicago Police Department along with major news outlets, reported that Klingenberg brought on his own death by pedaling through a red light. But in exclusive interviews with the Reader, two witnesses say they’re convinced the bus driver was at least partly responsible for Klingenberg’s death because she entered the intersection after the light turned red.

Klingenberg, a native of Bakersfield, California, worked for Advanced Messenger Service, delivering envelopes and packages via a large, yellow, Danish-style cargo bike.

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As of Friday night, a white-painted bike wheel hung on a pole at the crash site as a memorial to Klingenberg. Photo: John Greenfield

On June 15, while he was finishing up the day’s runs, he posted on Facebook, “Who’s down for the lake?” According to friends, he planned to meet up with other couriers after work at Oak Street Beach.

Here’s the CPD’s account of the fatal collision from the crash report: Around 5:30 PM Klingenberg was riding his cargo bike north on Michigan. Meanwhile, the bus driver was heading westbound on Oak, east of Michigan (where Oak is officially called East Lake Shore Drive).

“The victim disregarded the light at Oak and turned into the bus, causing the collision,” the crash report stated, laying the blame squarely on Klingenberg.

Henry ran over Klingenberg, who was dragged and pinned under the bus’s middle-right side. Firefighters had to use large airbags to lift the bus off him. Klingenberg was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.

Henry has not been issued traffic citations or charged with a crime.

Initial reports by CBS 2, ABC 7, DNAinfo, and Chicagoist essentially took the police version at face value.

At least two eyewitnesses tell a different story.

Read more…

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Rosemont Transit Center Rehab, Bus Lanes on I-90 Could Spur New Ridership

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The Rosemont Transit Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace Suburban Bus is starting a $1.5 million dollar project to modernize and rebuild the Rosemont Transit Center to increase capacity, improve service and maximize efficiency of traffic flow between buses, cars and pedestrians. The project is being coordinated with the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways and the Chicago Transit Authority. The scope of the program details is as follows:

  • Expand the bus station islands to accommodate two buses in each bay for additional boarding capacity
  • Construct two new bus bays for additional boarding and one new bus bay for extra buses to sit on layovers
  • Upgrade sidewalks and bus boarding islands for improved ADA compliance
  • Improve pedestrian and bicycle access and safety around the transit center with additional sidewalks, crosswalks and bike racks
  • Improve the flow of traffic for taxi, shuttle, and Kiss-n-Ride zones to avoid conflict and congestion
  • Realign the bus lanes from the Tollway exit to reduce conflict with vehicular traffic around the parking lots upon entry into the Transit Center
  • Repair pavement and construct new parking lot gates

Pace will reimburse Cook County for the cost of the project because Cook County owns the land where the project will occur. The project is expected to start this summer and to be completed around October. However, according to northwest suburban news site Journal & Topics, Pace is still finalizing selection of a construction manager.

The Rosemont Transit Center was built in 1983 during the extension of the CTA Blue Line from Jefferson Park to O’Hare Airport. Today, the center is a busy multi-modal station hub located in the northwest suburban village of Rosemont serving over 6,000 riders a day. Rosemont is a small town with a large concentration of businesses, entertainment, restaurants and lodging adjacent to O’Hare Airport. In addition to the Blue Line, it’s served by 12 Pace bus routes. Additionally, the station is served by taxis as well as corporate and hotel shuttles. The station also has a 798-space Park & Ride lot for commuters and a drop off (Kiss-n-Ride) area.

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An Epidemic of Bike Crashes; Bad Trail Design May Have Caused One of Them

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One of several Lakefront Trail intersections in Uptown that are hazardous “mixing bowl” junctions with east-west streets and Lake Shore Drive access ramps. Moreover, confusing signage tells drivers to “Stop” while path users are ordered to “Yield.” A 61-year-old cyclist was critically injured at the Wilson intersection last Tuesday. Photo: Hui Hwa Nam.

It’s been an awful two weeks for bike collisions in northeast Illinois. On Tuesday of last week, a 29-year-old woman was struck and injured on her bicycle at Jackson and Homan, by a police officer who witnesses say ran a red light without using lights or sirens. That Wednesday bike courier Blaine Klingenberg was fatally struck by a tour bus driver at Oak and Michigan, the first Chicago bike fatality of 2016

Last Monday a pedicab operator reportedly had his vehicle struck by a hit-and-run minivan driver at South Water and Michigan, but escaped without injury. Last Tuesday schoolteacher Janice Wendling and her husband Mark were fatally struck while cycling in Morris, Illinois, by one of Janice’s former students.

Also last Tuesday, an SUV driver critically injured a 61-year-old man on a bike at Wilson and the Lakefront Trail. And we’re told that on Thursday a CTA driver struck a bicyclist on Milwaukee just north of the Bloomingdale Trail, causing minor injuries.

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Fallen cyclist Janice Wendling.

There was one piece of good news about local bike crashes on Thursday. We learned that Scott Jacobson, who suffered a broken pelvis and horrific road rash after he was struck by a driver and dragged hundreds of feet on May 2 in Bridgeport, was finally sent home from the hospital.

A route has been proposed for Friday’s Chicago Critical Mass ride that would visit the Klingenberg crash site, as well as the white “ghost bike” memorials for several other fallen cyclists. The map includes a stop at Jacobson’s home in McKinley Park to wish him a fast and full recovery – I’ve been told his family is looking forward to welcoming the riders.

Last Tuesday’s crash in Uptown, which took place at a spot where Wilson and access ramps for Lake Shore Drive converge with the shoreline path, highlights an intersection design and signage problem with the trail. At around 7:20 p.m., the bike rider was heading north on the path and was struck by the eastbound driver as he crossed Wilson, according to police.

The victim was transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital in critical condition, police said. DNAinfo reported that one of the man’s wheels was left in the grass near the crash location.

The SUV driver, Liliana Flores, 32, a Park Forest resident, received three traffic citations and was scheduled for a hearing in traffic court on Monday, August 8, according to police. As of Thursday evening, charges were still not available.

As I’ve pointed out before, the unorthodox configuration and signage of this Lakefront Trail intersection, and similar junctions at Montrose, Lawrence, and Foster, create a confusing and hazardous situation. Not only do the east-west street, the LSD ramps, and the trail converge in one location, creating a chaotic “mixing bowl” effect, the signs at the intersections are seemingly paradoxical.

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Manor Greenway Could Become City’s Best By Cutting Cut-Through Motorists

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

Last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation revealed its proposal to connect riverfront paths, reduce cut through traffic, and make it safer to walk and bike along streets in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. CDOT developed the plan for a “neighborhood greenway” between Horner Park and Ronan Park along the north branch of the Chicago River over the past two years, at the request of 33rd Ward Alder Deb Mell, and the Transportation Action Committee she started.

I’ve been a member of the TAC since its beginning, and I know the plan well. While I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, I think that Patty Wetli’s article in DNAinfo thoroughly captured the concerns people have.

The project was initiated because there’s a gap between two riverfront trails in Horner and Ronan Parks, and Ravenswood Manor residents have been complaining about cut-through traffic, motorists who roll past stop signs, and speeding, for decades. The neighborhood greenway plan includes redesigning a handful of intersections, laying down a short multi-use paths to connect the parks to the streets, and pilot what would be a pioneering traffic diverter.

Homes abut the river in Ravenswood Manor, so there is no public space along the river on which to build a trail. The neighborhood greenway  would be an on-street connection.

On the project’s south end, CDOT would build a small path in the park so people in the park could reach the start of the on-street route at the intersection of Montrose Ave. and Manor Ave. To create a safer crossing here, CDOT would build a concrete island with two waiting areas, one for people using the route, and another for people walking on the sidewalk. This way, people can cross one direction of traffic at a time. The island blocks left turns from Manor Ave. onto Montrose Ave. and left turns from Montrose Ave. to Manor Ave. would use a dedicated lane. CDOT would build a raised crosswalk across Manor Ave. to slow incoming motorists.

CDOT showed this rendering of how the traffic diverter. Previous versions used concrete to physically prevent going straight. Image: CDOT

CDOT showed this rendering, looking north on Manor at Wilson, of how the traffic diverter would work. Previous proposals, presented to the TAC, used concrete to physically prevent vehicles from going straight. Image: CDOT

On the north end, CDOT proposed building a new, short trail on an extended parkway along Lawrence between Manor Ave. and the Ronan Park entrance. A traffic island that’s nearly identically to the one at Montrose would offer a safe waiting area for people to cross in two-stages. There would be another raised crosswalk here at the entry of the neighborhood greenway.

The neighborhood greenway’s on-street route would be the city’s third. The first was installed on Berteau Avenue in Lakeview in 2014, and the second, albeit without any infrastructure changes, was built on Wood Street in Wicker Park.

The best way to increase safety for people walking and biking on neighborhood greenways is to limit speed and reduce the number of cars. Manor Ave.’s speed limit is already 20 m.p.h. but residents had said it was common to see people driving faster. The neighborhood’s many families, a park and a ballet school, all mean that lots of children are crossing Manor Ave. Read more…

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West Garfield and Austin Got Divvy Bikes Last Week. Will Anyone Use Them?

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Rob, an Austin resident and substitute teacher, by the new Divvy station at Austin Park. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last November the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate 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.]

Imagine if the Chicago Transit Authority, a public transportation system that’s subsidized by taxpayer dollars, were mostly serving wealthy white folks. That would be messed up, right?

Last year the Chicago Department of Transportation admitted to a similarly lopsided situation with the publicly funded Divvy network, which was launched in 2013. Its survey of annual members revealed that, as is the case with most U.S. bike-share systems, membership skewed heavily white, affluent, well educated, young, and male.

That finding was no surprise. Arguably, Divvy got off on the wrong foot from a social justice standpoint in 2013, when the city concentrated most of the first 300 docking stations in dense, well-off areas downtown and on the near-north lakefront in an effort to make the system financially sustainable.

And while stations in these areas were generally installed with tight quarter-mile spacing, making it easy to walk to and from the docks from many destinations, the rest of the city typically got less-convenient half-mile spacing. Moreover, the $75 (now $99) annual membership fee and credit card requirements were financial barriers to low-income and unbanked Chicagoans.

To its credit, CDOT has recently taken steps to address Divvy’s equity problem. When the system added 175 more stations last summer, many of them went to low-to-moderate-income, predominantly African-American and Latino communities on the south and west sides.

And last July the department rolled out the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program, which offers onetime $5 annual memberships to Chicagoans making $35,310 or less a year and waives the credit card requirement. More than 1,300 residents have signed up so far, well over CDOT’s target of 750 for the year.

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Please Stop Using Blaine Klingenberg’s Death as an Excuse to Shame Cyclists

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CBS Chicago’s Dorothy Tucker at Wednesday’s crash site. CBS used the fatal collision as an opportunity to scold bicyclists. Screenshot from the CBS report.

Family and friends, and the Chicago bike courier community, are mourning the death of Blaine Klingenberg, 29, who was fatally struck on his bike by a tour bus driver Wednesday evening at Oak Street and Michigan Avenue.

Meanwhile online commenters are heartlessly ridiculing the victim, arguing that he foolishly brought on his own demise. Even mainstream news sources are running pieces implying that Klingenberg’s actions were largely to blame for the fatal crash. Moreover, they’re using this tragedy as a chance to lecture bike riders about safety, as if reckless biking, rather than dangerous driving, was the leading cause of carnage on our streets.

First let’s get one thing straight. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, we don’t know exactly what caused this tragedy. Here’s the information we do have at this point.

Shortly after finishing a day of finishing a day of delivery work for Advanced Messenger Service, on Wednesday at around 5:30 p.m. Klingenberg was riding his cargo bike north on Michigan with a small group of cyclists, authorities say. Facebook posts indicate that Klingenberg and friends were heading to Oak Street Beach, which can be accessed by a path and underpass at the northeast corner of Oak and Michigan.

At the same time, a 51-year-old woman was driving a Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. double-decker tour bus westbound, east of Michigan, according to Officer Nicole Trainor from Police News Affairs. East of Michigan, Oak is officially called East Lake Shore Drive.

As the bus operator drove west, she ran over Klingenberg, pinning him under the bus, Trainor said. She added that a diagram of the collision on the crash report does not indicate that either the bike rider or the bus driver was turning. The cyclist was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

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Klingenberg was biking north on Michigan (yellow line), probably to access the path to Oak Street Beach (dotted line). The bus operator was heading west on East Lake Shore Drive / Oak (red line). Some witnesses said both both the cyclist and bus driver had a red, because southbound traffic on Inner Lake Shore Drive (blue line) had a left-turn signal. Note that this diagram does not necessarily indicate the exact location where the crash occurred. Original image: Google Maps

However, the crash report states, “The victim disregarded the [red] light at Oak and turned into the bus, causing the fatal collision.” If Klingenberg was heading to Oak Street Beach, he would have made a slight northeast turn at Oak Street to enter a curb ramp at the northeast corner of the intersection and access the path to the beach underpass. No charges have been filed against the bus operator.

The officer who filled out the report was clearly laying the blame for the crash on the bike rider. However, things may not be that cut-and-dried. Unlike the bus driver, Klingenberg isn’t alive to tell his side of the story.

“I have seen instances time and time again in which [Chicago Police Department] blames a cyclist for a collision when it wasn’t their fault,” Jim Freeman of the bike-focused law firm FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) said this morning. “I guarantee when the truth comes out it won’t be as simple as ‘the cyclist blew the red.'”

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Cyclist’s Tragic Death Highlights the Need to Make Michigan Avenue Safer

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Blaine Klingenberg. Photo: Facebook

I know from personal experience that nothing beats a dip in Lake Michigan after a hard day of bicycle delivery work in hot weather. It appears that on Wednesday evening, bike courier Blaine Klingenberg, 29, was on his way to enjoy that simple pleasure at Oak Street Beach with friends. Tragically, he instead lost his life in a crash with a double-decker tour bus, making him the first bike fatality of 2016.

Yesterday in the late afternoon Klingenberg, who worked at Advanced Messenger Service, posted on Facebook “Who’s down for the lake?”, inviting friends to join him for a cool-off. From the thread, it looks like they decided to head to Oak Street Beach, one of the closest beaches to the Central Business District.

According to authorities, Klingenberg was riding his cargo bike north on Michigan Avenue with a small group of cyclists at around 5:25 p.m. Just south of the underpass to Oak Street Beach, at the intersection of Oak and Michigan, he was involved in a crash with a double-decker tour bus operated by Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co., which was heading west on Oak.

Klingenberg was trapped under the bus and firefighters had to use airbags to lift the vehicle, according to the fire department. He was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where has was pronounced dead on arrival.

Advance Messenger owner Bruce Kohn told the Chicago Tribune that Klingenberg had left work about a half hour before the crash. “He was probably the best, nicest bicycle messenger I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and I’ve been doing this my entire adult life,” Kohn said. He added Klingenberg was a “cautious” delivery cyclist.

The Chicago Police Department stated that “The victim disregarded the red light at Oak and turned into the bus, causing the fatal collision.” Sadly, but predictably, the comment sections of articles about the crash in the mainstream media quickly filled up with callous remarks blaming Klingenberg for his own death, as well as blanket statements about urban cyclists being reckless and foolish.

However, it’s still not clear how the fatal crash went down. While some witnesses did say Klingenberg rode quickly through a red light, others stated that the bus driver also had a red light, because southbound traffic from Inner Lake Shore Drive had a left-turn signal at the time, the Tribune reported. Major Accidents is investigating the case.

It would be great if online commenters would show some basic humanity towards Klingenberg and his loved ones, instead of rushing to blame the victim. It may turn out to be the case that the cyclist’s actions contributed to his death. However, it must also be pointed out that this is the second time in seven months that a Chicago Trolley bus driver has fatally struck a vulnerable road user on Michigan Avenue.

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CDOT Will Roll Out “Learn to Ride” Adult Bike Handling Classes This Summer

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An adult bike handling class taught by Dave “Mr Bike” Glowacz for the Active Transportation Alliance. Photo: Active Trans

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The city’s Divvy for Everyone (D4E) equity program, which offers one-time $5 annual memberships to low-income Chicagoans, is a great opportunity for residents to enjoy the the mobility, health, and economic benefits of bike-share. But the big, blue bikes don’t do you much good if you don’t know how to ride or don’t feel safe navigating city streets on two wheels.

A new initiative from the Chicago Department of Transportation called “Learn to Ride” will address that problem. CDOT’s Bicycling Ambassadors outreach team will teach one-time, one-to-two-hour bike handling classes to adults every weekday for six weeks this summer in two locations on the South and West Sides. The schedule and the locations, which will be parking lots, will be announced in the near future, CDOT bike and pedestrian safety and education manager Charlie Short said yesterday at a meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

Divvy bikes, which are one-size-fits-all, slow, and easy to ride, plus helmets will be provided as loaners to class participants. In the future, the department may offer free helmets to class attendees, Short said.

“Something that we’ve heard from the folks that are [issuing the D4E memberships] is that people are curious about Divvy, and it’s certainly an appealing thing,” Short said. Over 1,300 people have signed up for the discounted memberships. “But there are folks who haven’t ridden a bike since they were a little kid, or they have a fear of riding. We want to make sure we are providing every level of service.”

There will space for 250 people to take the classes during the six-week period. “We’re not going to educate a whole lot of people, but there will be a 1:2 teacher-to-student ratio, so if you show up you will really get a hands-on-education for each class,” Short said.

If the initiative is successful, more classes may be added this year, or the program may be expanded next year, Short said. “It’s a pretty cool thing,” he said. “It’s something we’ve never done, but we know there’s a desire for it.”

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Intersection Improvements Needed at Site Where Samyra Lee, 7, Was Killed

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Samyra Lee. Photo: Nesia Lee

Last month the driver of a tractor towing mowing equipment struck and killed seven-year-old Samyra Lee as she crossed an Englewood Street while holding hands with her mother. Changes to the intersection are needed to stop another tragic incident like this from occuring again.

On the morning of Friday, May 27, at around 7:45 a.m., Samyra was walking to Providence Englewood Charter, where she attended first grade, with her mother Julicia Lee when they attempted to cross Ashland Avenue at 65th Street, according to police. The stoplight turned red before they made it to the other side, police said.

“The light is so short,’’ Nesia Lee, Samyra’s aunt told the Chicago Tribune. “Before she knew it, [the tractor driver] hit her and she flew and fell. When she got up, my niece was down the street … just bleeding so bad.”

Samyra was transported to Comer Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Julicia, 24, received hip injuries in the crash but refused treatment, and instead headed to the children’s hospital to be with her daughter.

The tractor driver was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash. The vehicle is owned by a company with a contract with the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation.

On Monday, DNAinfo reported that neighbors are calling for safety improvements to the intersection in the wake of the tragedy. Parents whose children attend the charter school, located at 6515 South Ashland, said that pedestrians crossing Ashland at 65th get a very short green signal and often have to “take their chances” to get across.

They added that the intersection should have a crossing guard. A staffer for local alderman Toni Foulkes told DNA crossing guards were stationed at the intersection back when the school was Ralph A. Bunche Elementary School, but that stopped after the school became a charter.

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Driver Who Had Been Drinking Fatally Strikes Man, Flees the Scene

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The intersection of 79th, Stony Island, and South Chicago, from the driver’s viewpoint. Image: Google Street View.

A motorist is facing reckless homicide charges after she struck and killed a 51-year-old man last month in the South Side’s Avalon Park neighborhood while driving as much as 50 mph, and then fled the scene.

Around 11:10 p.m. on Saturday, May 28, the male pedestrian was crossing in a crosswalk in the 7900 block of South Stony Island Avenue, police said. The Active Transportation Alliance has identified the intersection of 79th, Stony Island, and South Chicago Avenue as one of the most dangerous in the city.

Alicia Johnson, 22, was driving south on Stony Island in a red Chevrolet Impala when she struck the victim and kept driving, according to police officers who were in a squad car at the intersection, waiting to turn left on the green light. The crash was recorded on their dashcam, according to prosecutors at a hearing on Tuesday of last week.

The victim was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. As of early last week, his name had not been released pending notification of kin.

Using footage from a red light camera at the intersection, police were able to get Johnson’s license plate number and tracker her down at her home on the 9700 block of South Avalon Avenue at about 11:30 p.m., according to prosecutors. There they found the car with a cracked windshield and front–end damage.

After police arrested her Johnson made a videotaped statement that she drank a “cup of Hennessy” prior to the collision, and that she was doing 45-50 mph when she struck the man, prosecutors said.

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