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Troubling Lack of Compassion for Endangered Divvy Rider on Lake Shore Drive

Riding a Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive
Screenshot from the YouTube video by James Burns.

What would you do if you were driving northbound on Lake Shore Drive near Ohio Street and pulled up on a young woman riding a Divvy bike by the median of the high-speed highway, obviously lost and terrified? I’d like to think most of us would slow down, roll down the window, ask the woman if she’s OK, and offer directions on how to safely exit the drive at Chicago Avenue.

That wasn’t the response from some people in a car who recently found themselves in this situation. Passenger James Burns instead recorded a short, NSFW video of the woman and posted it on YouTube, where it has gone viral with over 30,000 views. “Who is this dumb b---- on the expressway?” Burns can be heard saying, while the female driver laughs hysterically. “This dumb b---- is trying to pedal fast, like she’s a car.” The vehicle passes the cyclist. “We missed you,” says Burns. “Dumb b----.”

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Lake Shore Drive and Chicago Avenue, where the cyclist likely exited the drive.

The woman, possibly an out-of-towner, surely didn’t intend to ride in the middle of an eight-lane highway, and the people in the car should have offered help, not verbal abuse. It’s not clear how she got on the drive in the first place, but it was almost certainly a mistake. The woman likely exited the highway at Chicago, an at-grade intersection with a stoplight. Perhaps police officers in a squad car escorted her off the drive, but Officer Mike Sullivan from News Affairs said cops generally don't file reports on this type of incident.

Several YouTube commenters, as well as Chicagoist contributor Lisa White, joined Burns in ridiculing the young woman. Other commenters called him out for his heartlessness. “Whether or not it's legal or illegal, clearly this woman didn't know,” commented Kurt Gowan. “Calling her a ‘dumb b----’ while driving past her, laughing at her, just shows how ignorant you really are. How about slowing down and popping your head out the window to tell her, ‘This isn't legal, you should get off the road as soon as you can?’"

A tweet from 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly suggests he doesn’t share Gowan’s empathy for the endangered cyclist:

This short video explains public frustration w lack of public awareness on how to ride a bike in #Chicago

— Brendan Reilly (@AldReilly) November 14, 2013

Now, Reilly has done some good things for cycling in his ward, such as using menu funds to bankroll bike lanes on Grand and Illinois Street, and he’s been generally supportive of Divvy, although he did veto stations at the Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building. However, the woman in the clip didn’t ride a bike on an eight-lane expressway because she was unaware it was dangerous to do so; she got lost and wound up in a life-threatening situation. The alderman is blaming the victim here. I had a brief Twitter conversation with him on the topic:


Unfortunately, I made a typo here - I meant to say drivers have wandered onto the Lakefront Trail and struck path users. Reilly may have thought I was still talking about the drive, or maybe he caught my drift. However, I think I got my point across in the final tweet.

@AldReilly It's also illegal to drive on the trail, & while no cyclists have killed drivers on LSD, drivers have killed bikers on the trail.

— John Greenfield (@greenfieldjohn) November 14, 2013

For example, a quick Google search located a 1998 Tribune article about a “confused” 84-year-old man named Joesph Landi who drove onto the path near North Avenue, killing a female trail user named Moon Pae, 26, and injuring several other people and a dog. Police charged Landi with negligent driving and driving a vehicle in an unsafe manner. Steven Vance also found the following photo of the aftermath of a July 2010 crash on Flickr. It’s not clear whether any path users were injured by the taxi.

let's replace Lakeshore Drive (HWY 41) with green space
Crashed taxi on the Lakefront Trail. Photo: Ciscel

While wider access to bike safety education would certainly be a good thing, these examples make it painfully obvious that rhetoric about “public frustration” with lawbreaking bicyclists distracts from the exponentially more important issue of dangerous driving. In the future, it would be great to see the alderman spend less Twitter time griping about cyclists and more time addressing the problem of more than 100 people being killed and hundreds more seriously injured in Chicago each year by reckless motorists.

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