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.

  • Reader

    “This is Chicago,” said John Kass, ignoring the number of Chicagoans who are injured or killed by drivers who wind up where they don’t belong every week. Because, you know, that’s also Chicago.

  • Adam Herstein

    Imagine if instead of telling the bikers that they deserve to get killed and should leave town, he was referring some minority racial group. It’s not much different. This mindless, hateful bigotry needs to stop.

  • Chicagio

    “This is Chicago”

    How would he know?

    “This is a city made for people who want to go from point A to point B”

    I don’t even know what this means. Aren’t all cities made that way? What’s the alternative? Isn’t anytime a person moves from one location to another, aren’t the just going from one point to another point? Where are point ‘A’ and ‘B’? Do they serve beer? Point A and Point B sounds like some sort of an avant garde bar chain.

    Any chance Kass is actually a high-brow performance artist along the lines of an Andy Kaufman? I mean, he’s turned trolling into a career.

  • Fred

    So true. His use of the phrase “you people” really reinforces your point.

  • Adam Herstein

    This is not some Seattle coffee, grunge, pothead experiment.

    What? Tell that to some of the largest tech firms in the world. Seattle is most certainly not an experiment. This remark is a complete non-sequitur.

  • Biking does help me get from A to B! And rather quickly, I assume. Yesterday in that nice hour-long window between storms, I got my grocery shopping done. My store is exactly 2 miles away and I got there in less than 10 minutes. I reckon that’s about the same length of time it’d take to drive – and I didn’t have to fight for parking in the small parking lot.

    People, if you’re going to subscribe to a newspaper, pay for one that doesn’t have content like the Tribune. I only pay for one newspaper subscription and I have never seen video like this in its multimedia section. If it did, I would cancel my subscription.

  • Mishellie

    Seriously. How many time have people died when motorists went the wrong way up a highway ramp? At least this lady knew the correct side of the street to be on…

  • Brian Morrissey

    Kass is a bloviating parasite who wanted to be embraced and loved as Royko was, but instead is a self-hating bridge troll hack who pretends he’s something he never was. His alter ego, “Old School,” allows him to act as though he actually remembers the “good ol’ days” of the South Side. The age of internet click metrics has accelerated his ugliness. It’s high time we started trolling back, to make him uglier and meaner, accelerating his final destruction into eventual irrelevance.

  • He symbolizes everything that disgusts me. Obviousness. Unoriginal macho energy.

  • Rahm Emanuel on Seattle: “I expect not only to take all of their bikers, but I also want all of the jobs that come with this.”

  • Alex_H

    He is implying that other cities are made for “hanging out,” perhaps somewhat aimlessly.

  • “This is not some some San Francisco Red Zinger, psychedelic rock, LSD-tripping experiment.”

    “This is not some London Earl Grey, Britpop, ecstasy-dropping experiment.”

    OK, I could go on for days like this…

  • lindsaybanks

    He sounds like Rob Ford when he talks about road users…’nuff said.

  • JKM13

    if you are going to respond to Kass’s trollbait, take the kid gloves off and give him the business, like the great FireJoeMorgan site of old.

  • whetstone

    While I agree with a lot of what you say, I think it’s less effective to troll him (he feeds on that kind of thing) than to point out things like Seven Conservative Reasons to Love Cycling. In that sense, it’s less us versus them than everyone else versus him.

  • Dennis Hindman

    Is it unreasonable that the types of transportation that are gaining modal share get an increasing amount of road space and improvements?

    Looking at the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data for the City of Chicago, driving to work lost commuting modal share from 2005-2012:

    _______Drove____Transit___Walk___Worked At Home___Bicycle


    Similar ACS results for decreasing modal share for driving happened from 2005-2012 in New York City and Los Angeles.

  • whetstone

    This is a city made for people who want to go from point A to point B

    Let me translate: This is a city made for people [who live in the suburbs] who want to go from point A [without having to drive less than 40mph] to point B [without having younger, active citydwellers remind them of their lost youth].

    Although “Seattle grunge” makes me think he doesn’t trust anyone under 35. Or 45.

  • Brian Morrissey

    I know that piece well and send it to conservative friends & family often. But Kass isn’t a conservative, he’s a reactionary.

  • Chicagio

    You’re right, I forgot my awful visit to Mobius, KY almost as bad as Escher, OK

  • Chicagio

    It also makes you think he hasn’t updated his generalizations since the 90’s.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Yeah, Seattle is a BOOMtown right now, I think its interesting he decided to pick on it. Very Visible Example of growth here: This is so cool! there’s like a tower crane on every other block!!!

  • At least Mobius has a vibrant retail strip.

  • lisap

    oh, you people with your pesky stas and facts.

  • FTW!

  • Thank you John for not letting up, I’m sure your reasoned and balanced replies resonate. Wouldn’t you say that this scribbler of incoherent rant helps us more than he hurts us—albeit in a perverted kinda way?

  • Very good question. Chicago has not seen nearly the bike backlash from the media that, say, NYC has. It’s possible that negative press about biking can actually do good by raising the profile of cycling, but probably only if motivates people to voice their support for biking.


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