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More Mental Kass-turbation About the Lake Shore Drive Divvy Rider

Some Streetsblog Chicago readers have argued that we shouldn’t take the bait when Tribune writer John Kass writes one of his trademark “little bike people” rants, calculated to stir up controversy and rack up pageviews. That’s a valid viewpoint, but since Kass has such a bully pulpit as a columnist for the region’s highest-circulation newspaper, I feel that his outrageously inaccurate statements about cycling need to be addressed.

Recently, James Burns posted a video, showing a lost, terrified woman riding a Divvy bike in the middle of Lake Shore Drive, on YouTube, where it has gone viral with more than 88,000 views. As Burns rode past the bicyclist in a car, instead of rolling down the window and asking if she needed help, he and the female driver laughed at the poor woman, and Burns repeatedly called her a “stupid b----.”

Screenshot from the original YouTube video by James Burns.

Of all the cold-hearted responses to the clip from commenters, bloggers, and even 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, who blasted the cyclist while ignoring Burns’ callousness, a new John Kass YouTube clip is one of the worst. “Did you see that video of that moron driving a Divvy Bike down Lake Shore Drive, or whatever they called her, ‘bleep!’” he asks Trib reporter Jenniffer Weigel. Instead of scolding Burns for failing to offer help and instead verbally abusing the cyclist, Kass actually defends him, arguing that, since he wasn’t filming while driving, Burns did nothing wrong.

“This is the problem with the Divvy bikes, with all the bikes,” Kass says in the video. “This is a city made for people who want to go from point A to point B. This is not some Seattle coffee, grunge, pothead experiment. This is Chicago… Shut the whole Divvy bike thing down. Get off Dearborn. I’m tired of you people.”

Divvy Riders on Wells Street Friday. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s pretty odd that Kass, a guy who lives in the western suburbs, keeps telling us how to run our city. And, unfortunately, Chicago is not currently a place made for people who want to get from one place to another in the most efficient way possible. Instead, for most of the 20th Century, Chicago was transformed at all costs into a city built around the automobile, an extremely inefficient, destructive way to move people in an urban area. This is evidenced by the evolution of Lake Shore Drive from its origins as a pleasant boulevard into a de-facto superhighway, not to mention the destruction of thousands of homes to build the city's expressways.

Bike-share is all about getting people where they want to go quickly and cheaply. For example, if you take Metra in from the ‘burbs to work, a $75 annual Divvy membership costs only pennies a day, and the bikes are a speedy way to get from the train station to your office, possibly faster than a bus or a cab stuck in traffic. Along with initiatives like protected bike lanes and bus rapid transit, bike share is a key part of the city’s current push to help Chicagoans get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.

“I’ve tried to give it up, I tried to be nice for a while,” Kass says in the clip. Presumably he’s referring to the blessed gap in his anti-bike columns from May to August of this year, after dooring survivor Dustin Valenta called him out for implying that motorists shouldn’t be held responsible for opening car doors on bicyclists. However, Kass claims that recent flack from cyclists on the Tribune’s letters page gives him no choice but to resume bike-baiting. “It’s like starting a war,” he says. “You want to dance, let’s dance.” As long as he keeps broadcasting misinformation about cycling to hundreds of thousands of readers, Streetsblog will continue to keep step.

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