Dooring Survivor Dustin Valenta Responds to John Kass

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Dooring survivor Dustin Valenta with his mother, Terry O'Bryan.

Last Thursday, after Rahm Emanuel announced a new ordinance that would hike the fees for infractions by bicyclists from $25 to $50-200, it wasn’t a shocker that notorious bike-baiter John Kass responded with a smug “I told you so” column in the Tribune. However, the ordinance also doubles the fine for drivers who “door” cyclists from $500 to $1000, and in addressing this aspect Kass crossed the line from snide commentary to blaming the victim:

Emanuel is also increasing fines against drivers of legitimate vehicles, and by this, I mean cars. Actually, drivers of legitimate vehicles are going to have to pay disproportionately more than the Little Bike People.

If we dare open our doors when a bicyclist is approaching, and said bicyclist hits the door, the driver could be fined up to $1,000.

[Snip]

The fault of the Little Bike People?

No. It’ll be the fault of the drivers of legitimate vehicles. And they will pay.

Later that day, Chicago Magazine’s Whet Moser did an effective job of calling Kass out, noting that doorings often result in grievous injury, or even death, for people on bikes. He pointed out that Dustin Valenta suffered multiple, life-threatening injuries February 8 on Milwaukee Avenue, when he was doored by one motorist, then run over by a second who fled the scene. Clinton Miceli was killed in a similar incident on LaSalle in 2008, and Neill Townsend met the same fate on Wells last year. “If you’re in the door’s arc and it opens into your bike, there’s not a damn thing you can do,” Moser wrote.

Please Look Before Opening Your Door Into Traffic
Ghost bike memorial to Neill Townsend at Wells and Oak. Photo by John W. Iwanski.

Valenta, who sustained a cracked skull, fractured pelvis and shoulder blades, 23 broken ribs, a punctured lung and lacerated shoulder, has made a remarkable recovery over the past three months. He is largely healed, although he is still undergoing physical therapy to try to regain his full range of motion and strength, and he’s working at a bike shop and doing food delivery. Jeaneane Quinn, the motorist who doored him, has pleaded guilty. Although the Chicago Police Department has red light camera footage of the hit-and-run vehicle, they have not used video enhancement software to decipher the plate number; Valenta’s lawyer has filed a lawsuit to force the city to identify the driver.

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Ghost bike memorial to Clint Miceli on LaSalle. Photo by John Greenfield.

When I told Valenta about Kass’ comments implying that drivers shouldn’t be responsible for checking for cyclists before opening their doors, he was interested in providing a response. Here’s what he had to say:

For John Kass to simply view the fine for opening your door in the path of a cyclist as an inconvenience to drivers is willfully ignorant. Because clearly if you are obeying traffic laws and aware of your surroundings, and doing all of the necessary things that a responsible driver would do, then you’re not going to have a problem. But if you are not acting responsibly, why shouldn’t you be fined the maximum penalty for endangering a life?

He’s clearly writing from the stance that bicyclists are in the wrong in the first place, just by being on bikes. His pejorative use of the “Little Bike People” phrase is evidence of that. It’s like he’s putting a value on human life based on an individual’s choice of transportation.

I just think that it’s sad that he’s drawing a line in sand, as if there’s a difference between human beings in cars and human beings on bikes, and that we should be at enmity with one another. I think what he’s doing here is creating a conflict between humans that doesn’t need to exist. Ultimately if you’re riding a bike or driving a car you should be trying your best to not destroy the lives of other people around you and your own life.

That’s what I think the bike safety ordinance is about. Hopefully, awareness of the potential punishment is going to make people more likely to think and look before they open their doors. It’s not about punishing drivers and rewarding bikers; it’s about making sure everybody is safe. Trying to take sides and make a war over it is just irresponsible.

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