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Posts from the Bicycling Category

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Stop Victim Blaming Pedestrians and Cyclists Fatally Struck by Drivers

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Janice and Mark Wendling

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

On June 21, middle-school math teacher Janice Wendling and her husband, Mark, a power plant engineer, were training for an upcoming charity bike ride near the southwest suburb of Morris.

As they pedaled down the shoulder of Old Stage Road, a two-lane highway, around 7 PM, a 16-year-old boy—who happened to be a former student of Janice’s—struck the couple from behind with an SUV. Mark was killed instantly; Janice was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly afterward. Police concluded that the crash was unintentional, and the teen was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash.

Some commenters on an ABC report of the tragedy were quick to blame the Wendlings for their own deaths. One person implied that the couple should have been more visible and shouldn’t have been on the road. “Wear bright colors and a helmet,” the person wrote. “I no longer cycle on the two lane roads. . . It is not worth dying by riding out in rural areas.”

“That is a bad stretch of road, and the cyclists often ride three or four abreast, and block the whole lane,” wrote a commenter named Anton Bender. “They have no business on those two-lane country roads, and should ride on the bike paths. They are just a nuisance on the road!”

And yet, the Morris Herald-News reported that, earlier that month, the boy had been clocked by police doing 87 in a 55 mph zone on I-80 in Joliet. And earlier on the day of the crash, he’d been ticketed for driving 24 to 36 miles over the speed limit in nearby LaSalle County.

And according to the crash report, a witness at the scene told police that the teen threw an object into the woods. The police retrieved a baggie that was found to contain 15 grams of marijuana. The boy told the police that the last time he had smoked marijuana was two days earlier. He was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation and provided urine and blood samples. Ken White, deputy chief of the Grundy County sheriff’s office, said Tuesday that the results of the tests have been forwarded to the Illinois state’s attorney’s office, but declined to provide the results of the tests. “We’re waiting for them to decide what they’re going to do,” he said.

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More Video Showing Drivers Are No More Likely to Stop at Signs Than Cyclists

Time and time again in local editorials, op-eds, and comment sections, there’s the complaint that bicyclists don’t come to a complete stop at stop signs. This is despite the fact that it’s safe for someone on a relatively slow, lightweight device with near-360-degree visibility to treat a stop sign like a yield sign.

It’s extremely common for bike riders to decelerate when approaching a stop sign and check to make sure there’s no vehicular or pedestrian cross traffic before proceeding through the intersection, rather than putting a foot down. In fact, this harmless, momentum-saving practice is completely legal in the Potato State, so it’s known around the country as the “Idaho stop.”

Meanwhile, it’s dangerous by comparison to do the same thing when piloting a fast, multi-ton vehicle with blind spots. And yet, as video shot this summer by a Ravenswood Manor resident at Wilson and Francisco and posted on DNAinfo shows, it’s very common for drivers to roll through stop signs.

Now we’ve got additional footage shot by Streetsblog Chicago reader J. Patrick Lynch that suggests this kind of driver behavior is the rule, rather than the exception, at four-way stop signs. He shot the video Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Adams and Aberdeen in the West Loop.

By my count, a full 39 of the 61 drivers of the vehicles visible in the video — that’s 64 percent — failed to come to a complete stop. Most of these non-complying folks slowed down before entering the intersection, but a few scofflaws didn’t seem to hit the brakes at all. When you’re in control of a machine that can easily kill someone, that’s a fairly reckless thing to do.

“I felt this was another good highlight of absurdity of motorists who complain about cyclists who don’t come to complete stops,” Lynch said.

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Discussing TIFs, Trump and Boneheaded Road Users on “Chicago Newsroom”

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining veteran newsman Ken Davis on his CAN TV program “Chicago Newsroom” to discuss recent local and national transportation stories. We had a spirited conversation that threatened to become a heated debate when the question of whether lawbreaking cycling is a bigger problem than reckless driving came up. But overall it was a fun dialogue with an insightful interviewer. If you’re short on time, here are some of the highlights.

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Black Leaders Discuss Their Efforts to Promote Equity in Mobility Advocacy

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Moderator Sahra Sulaiman with panelists Tamika Butler and Zahra Alabanza. Photo: Jean Khut

Editor’s note: Streetsblog Chicago sent writer Jean Khut to Atlanta last month to report on The Untokening and share lessons from the event that could be applied to transportation justice efforts in our city. We’ll be running another post on the main Untokening activities in the near future. 

In early November, mobility advocates from across the United States gathered in Atlanta for The Untokening, a “convening” to address equity issues in transportation and public spaces. The event was an extension of this year’s Facing Race Conference, held in Atlanta earlier that weekend.

In conjunction with the convening, The Untokening and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition hosted a panel discussion called “LA X ATL Exchange: Race, Place & Justice,” featuring Tamika Butler, director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and Zahra Alabanza, co-founder of the Atlanta chapter of Red, Bike, and Green. Sahra Sulaiman, a communities editor at Los Angeles Streetsblog, served as the moderator.

Walking, biking, and transit advocacy groups often struggle with how to define equity in their work. During the panel Butler said some bike advocates she knew felt there weren’t enough voices representing people who’ve been marginalized by systemic prejudices.

Since starting her position at the LACBC in 2014, Butler has become one of the most prominent voices promoting equity in active transportation. She grew up in Omaha and previously worked as a civil rights lawyer. Butler wasn’t into biking until a friend convinced her to do AIDS/Lifecycle, a fundraising bike ride from San Francisco to L.A. It was there where she met her wife Kelly and found her passion for bikes.

Butler said she has dealt with her share of of racism and sexism in the bike world. One common criticism she gets is that she isn’t “bikey” enough to lead an advocacy organization, which begs the question of what this term actually means. Are her critics saying she isn’t riding her bike enough for transportation and/or recreation to be a bike advocate? Butler doesn’t know the answer, but feels that she wouldn’t face the same criticism if she were a white male.

Likewise, Alabanza didn’t fit the profile many other Atlanta bike advocates were used to. She moved to the city fifteen years ago with a background in community organizing, focusing on LGBTQ issues and reproductive rights. Eventually, her interest in social justice and biking intersected. She saw the need to create spaces for people of color to use biking as a way to form relationships and build community.

RBG originated in Oakland, California in 2007, and Alabanza co-founded the Atlanta chapter in 2012. At first many in the Atlanta bike scene didn’t know what to make of RGB and were surprised that they didn’t address some of the issues bike advocacy groups have traditionally focused on, such as promoting bike lanes and helmets. The volunteer-run group, which describes itself as “exclusively Black,” uses biking a way to address economic, environmental, and mental and physical health issues that impact African-American communities.

Alabanza said her work with RBG allows her to be “unapologetically Black.” Even though she helped create a positive, empowering space for African-Americans, she has faced some backlash, especially during the group’s first year. Alabanza has been accused of reverse racism from people who didn’t understand the need for an all-Black space.

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Cops Serve and Protect by Ticketing Cyclists for Totally Harmless Behavior

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One of the cyclists receives a ticket. Photo: Alisa Hauser, DNAinfo.

Chicago’s police resources are spread thin. On top our city’s gun violence crisis, an average of 110 people are killed by reckless drivers each year, and thousands more are injured. This problem should be addressed with crackdowns on the most dangerous behavior by motorists, such as speeding, red light running, DUIs, and distracted driving.

But apparently some officers have enough time on their hands to ticket bicyclists for crossing the street after a leading pedestrian interval walk signal comes on, but before they get a green light. While this move is technically illegal, it doesn’t present a safety hazard for anyone, so writing tickets for it is a complete waste of resources.

That’s what happened yesterday in Wicker Park during the morning rush, according to DNAinfo. At about 8:15 a.m. two men who were biking downtown on Milwaukee stopped at a red light next to a squad car at the six-way North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection. After pedestrians were given a walk signal, but before the cyclists’ light turned green, the bike riders crossed the west leg of the intersection and waited for the next light change by a Starbucks, presumably while hanging onto the adjacent guardrail.

It’s a very common move for bike commuters on the Milwaukee Avenue “Hipster Highway,” the city’s busiest biking street, and one that doesn’t endanger pedestrians, drivers, or the cyclists themselves. If it’s safe for people on foot to cross with the early walk signal, there’s also no risk that bike riders will be struck by drivers while making the same maneuver. And since the cyclists are traveling parallel to people on foot, they aren’t going to run into them.

As I’ve often said, cyclists who mindlessly blow red lights without regard to cross traffic are a danger to themselves and others and deserve to be ticketed. However, unlike for people who are driving multi-ton vehicles with blind spots, which can easily kill other road users, it’s not dangerous for bike riders to treat stop lights like stop signs, and stop signs like yield signs, proceeding through the intersection after making sure it’s safe to do so.

In fact, the state of Idaho has officially endorsed the latter move by legalizing the “Idaho stop.” And when cyclists cross an intersection with a leading pedestrian interval walk signal, it’s that much safer because there’s no cross traffic.

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CDOT, CTA and Other Departments Provide Updates on Winter Preparations

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The CTA’s #50 Damen bus. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

There may have been a high of 74 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday in Chicago, but city departments and agencies want to remind residents that colder days are ahead, and let them know what preparations are being made for the coming deep-freeze.

“As we have seen with recent weather emergencies here in Chicago, dealing with extreme weather is not just preparing for an emergency situation, but also having a plan of action in responding and recovering from that situation,” said Office of Emergency Management and Communications’ Rich Guidice.

Ever since Michael Bilandic lost reelection after a failed response to the blizzard of 1979, Chicago mayors have been obsessed with keeping streets clear after snowfalls. According to the city, Streets and Sanitation maintains a fleet of over 300 snow-plowing trucks, including 20 new trucks this year. In addition, the department has approximately 374,000 tons of salt stationed at salt piles throughout the city.

To clear the way for plowing, Chicago’s annual winter overnight parking ban takes effect from December 1 to April 1, from 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., regardless of whether there’s snow. The ban affects about 107 miles of streets. Violators face a minimum $150 towing fee, a $60 ticket and a storage fee of $20 per day.

The CTA says their employees have received extensive training in dealing with winter weather emergencies. Customers can stay abreast of storm-related route changes or major delays through informational displays at rail stations and some bus stops, as well as Twitter, Facebook and the agency’s website. Riders are encouraged to sign up on the website for winter service alerts.

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Competing Lawsuits Filed in Frank Cruz Hit-and-Run Case; Driver Still at Large

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The intersection of Maypole and Pulaski, where Frank Cruz was fatally struck. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

Almost three months after Francisco “Frank” Cruz, 58, was fatally struck on his bicycle by a hit-and-run van driver in West Garfield Park, police still haven’t made an arrest. That’s despite the fact that a security camera captured an image of the vehicle that hit him, which was marked with the phone number for a local real estate company.

Last month Cruz’s mother, Isabelle, made her own attempt to bring her son’s killer to justice, filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, Advanced Real Estate, as well as the as-yet-unidentified driver. But last week a separate lawsuit was filed on behalf of a man named Kevon Williams, identified by his attorney as Frank Cruz’s son and as the special executor of his estate. Now, the potential conflict between the two competing suits threatens to delay possible compensation and closure for the fallen cyclist’s family.

On August 17 at 10:19 PM, Cruz, a security guard and contractor, was biking home to North Lawndale from a liquor store next to the Pulaski Green Line station, where he’d stopped after work to pick up beer, according to a friend who was with him shortly before the crash. As he rode south at Maypole and Pulaski, the northbound van driver made a left onto Maypole, running over and crushing the cyclist, according to police. Video indicates that the motorist didn’t brake, but instead fled west on Maypole. Cruz was pronounced dead at 11 PM at Stroger Hospital.

Even though the Chicago Police Department has the image of the van, and there were several witnesses present, the investigation remains open and the driver is still at large, according to the CPD.

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Take a Virtual Bike Ride on the New 35th Street Bike and Pedestrian Bridge

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The new bridge, viewed from the lakefront. Photo: John Greenfield

Thanks to an elegant new bridge over Lake Shore Drive, in the shadow of the Stephen Douglas memorial pillar, it’s now possible to bike directly down 35th Street from Bronzeville to the Lake Trail.

Billed as the city’s longest pedestrian bridge, spanning 620 feet and six Metra and South Shore Line railroad tracks, the single-cable suspension bridge was officially opened last week. It’s the first of five new bridges planned over the drive on the South Side.

Designed by Teng and Associates, the S-shaped span replaced a rusty old bridge build in 1933, which required users to climb a set of stairs and one end and descend a staircase at the other, making it impassible for wheelchair users and inconvenient for bike riders. The new bridge has a 20-foot-wide deck, and the A-shaped center support pylon is about 120 feet tall. The $26 million project was bankrolled with federal and state funds.

The bridge creates a new connection to a new arts and recreation center at Ellis Park, featuring a gym with basketball courts, an indoor pool, rooms for art and education programs, a fitness center and studio, a meeting hall, and music and theater performance spaces.

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Why Is the South Shore’s Bike Program Getting Limited Use? It’s the Service.

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A common sight on South Shore Line bike cars: mostly empty racks. Photo: John Greenfield

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In yesterday’s Tribune, an official from the South Shore Line commuter rail system, which runs from downtown Chicago to South Bend, Indiana, said that the line’s bikes-on-board program got less use than hoped for in its first season.

“We were probably looking for more people to take advantage of it,” said John Parsons, the railroad’s director of marketing and planning. “What we learned from this is that it’s important for bicyclists to have ready information on getting from the railroad stations to points of interest.” He promised bikes-on-board would be returning next year.

While that may have been a factor, there are more obvious reasons why participation in the program was underwhelming. While the plentiful onboard bike racks work great, the logistics of the initiative make it impractical for many kinds of trips.

Cycles are only allowed on weekends, which is useless for 9-to-5 commuters. Bike cars are only available on roughly every other weekend train run, which can put a crimp in day trip plans, forcing customers to depart later or come home earlier than they like.

And bikes may only be taken on or off the train at the high-level, wheelchair accessible stations. That includes almost all Chicago stations, but only four Indiana stations: Hammond, East Chicago, Dune Park, and South Bend, which obviously limits the usefulness of the program.

Parsons said weekday bike service is off the table for the foreseeable future because rush-hour trains are often packed with commuters. However, the railroad should consider allowing bikes on trains during non-peak weekday hours, as the CTA and Metra do.

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Activists Discuss Transportation Issues That Impact Latino Communities

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Lynda Lopez with a sign from a protest against new $900,000 homes near the Bloomingdale Trail. Photo: Ryan Kelleher

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

In October leaders from the local Black Lives Matter movement talked with me about factors that affect travel options for African-Americans in Chicago, but that are sometimes overlooked by decision makers. These include subpar public transit service, unsafe walking conditions, and limited access to bike facilities, as well as expenses like train fares and traffic fines that can be significant for poor and working-class people. Worries about street crime and police abuse also influence their transportation choices.

Last week local Latino and Latina social justice activists told me that their communities deal with similar challenges, as well as unique concerns undocumented immigrants face when it comes to navigating the city. In addition, Chicago’s Mexican-American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods seem to be especially susceptible to the gentrification and displacement sometimes associated with bike lanes, trails, and transit-friendly housing.

Lynda Lopez, a member of the Humboldt Park chapter of Grassroots Illinois Action; Alma Zamudio, who has worked with several different Latino affordable housing, labor, and social justice organizations; and José López, executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, all agreed to share their thoughts on these issues.

Lynda Lopez, a 25-year-old Mexican-American, was born in Chicago and lives in Hermosa. She works at the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council doing youth outreach, and, for disclosure, occasionally freelances for Streetsblog Chicago, the website I edit. We started off talking about the particular challenges faced by undocumented immigrants.

“Undocumented residents often live in areas with poor public transit access,” she said. “There’s a big intersection between immigration and transportation—where you can afford to live, where your job is, and whether you can afford to drive. . . . “You see people getting up really early to make it to low-wage jobs via CTA.”

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