What to Expect at Next Week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council Meeting
Soon after I heard that Lisa Kuivenen had tragically died while riding their bike after a truck driver tried to merge across the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane I got a little furious. I was upset that her fatal crash was continuing a pattern of cyclist deaths – Blaine Klingenberg and Virginia Murray died after commercial vehicle drivers made turns at intersections and ran them over. I was also upset that there aren’t enough protections on the streets to protect cyclists from drivers who aren’t paying attention.
Though my Twitter account, I invited everyone who dislikes the status quo to come to the next Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting on September 7 at City Hall so that they could learn first hand what city officials are doing to achieve Vision Zero, or no deaths in traffic, by 2022, and contribute their own thoughts.
I created a Facebook event for the meeting, and so far 50 people have indicated they’re coming. It would be a record breaking meeting if more than 15 or so unaffiliated “members of the public” came to MBAC.
The council, composed of representatives of city agencies and heads of non-profit organizations, devotes very little time of the scheduled 90 minute meeting to hearing from the public, often 10-15 minutes depending on if previous agenda items take longer than allotted. Department of Transportation commissioner, Rebekah Scheinfeld, also the MBAC chair, discusses statistics of the number of people who’ve died in the previous quarter for about three minutes.
Typically someone from the DOT’s Bike Program gives a rundown on recent work to restripe and build new bike lanes. He describes what CDOT intends to finish before winter makes installation schedules difficult.
Charlie Short, who heads the Bike Program’s safety programs, shares how many events the department’s safety ambassadors attended to teach Chicagoans about rules of the road. A representative from Divvy may probably talk about new stations installed, and how many people have signed up for the Divvy For Everyone program since the last announcement.
Sometimes there’s new information. In February Eric Hanns relayed the preliminary results of a data analysis that showed the number of serious and fatal injuries to cyclists is on a downward trend in Chicago.
What you won’t hear much of is a discussion of how council members are planning to address areas where there are major problems for cyclists, like six-way intersections or streets with a lot of trucks and bike lane-blocking. You won’t hear what’s being done to deal with the growing number of people cycling through Wicker Park and dodging beer delivery trucks, or that there’s still no bike lane where the Streets for Cycling Plan says they should have gone.
CDOT is good at showing their success installing what they’ve installed but they don’t tell much, likely given the risk they may have disclosing details of negotiations with aldermen and groups whose approvals for proposals they seek. Such a policy doesn’t help vulnerable road users, though.
It wasn’t until I asked 33rd Ward Alder Deb Mell for a status update about why buffered bike lanes CDOT had proposed for Belmont hadn’t been striped. Her office out that the Chicago Transit Authority wasn’t ready to accept them.
CDOT had come to one of the ward’s Transportation Action Commitee meetings to say they wanted to have buffered bike lanes installed on Belmont in 2015 from Kedzie to Halsted. Mell’s assistant Jeff Sobczyk asked CDOT about the delay they replied that CTA had concerns. Spokesperson Jeffrey Tolman said, “Specifically, the configuration (narrowness) of the street at some points makes adding buffered bike lanes while still providing sufficient room for safe and efficient bus operations difficult,” adding that these locations “would be a challenge to operations while maintaining safety as the top priority.”
I’ve asked for a list of those locations on Belmont as CTA currently runs several bus routes on several streets with buffered bike lanes, including Clark, Halsted, Jackson, Broadway, Division, Augusta, State, and King.
Come to listen
I don’t think you’ll be satisfied if you come to MBAC to demand answers. Attend ready to listen and learn, and there might be something for you. My friend and colleague in the fight for safer Chicago streets, Gin Kilgore, has an effective and civil tactic for being heard. Kilgore is also the program director at Ride Illinois, which was formerly known as the League of Illinois Bicyclists.
She firsts thanks the council for hosting the meeting, and having a public comment period. She then praises the work CDOT or another organization has done so far. Next she makes her request, which could be a question on why a certain design was chosen, inquiring about a street that hadn’t gotten its promised neighborhood greenway, or an open question on what the city believes it can do to reduce the number of motorists blocking bike lanes.
Part of her request is to seek an understanding of the situation. “I’m [about] people trying to understand existing conditions and parameters before jumping to conclusions,” she told me today.
Finally she offers an idea or possible solution on how the project implementer should involve others, which could include Kilgore or other people in the room, to get something done better or sooner.
This method essentially sets a challenge on the council’s collective hands by saying “we’re here to help you reach safe cycling goals, so figure out how to use it.”
Sobczyk, of the 33rd Ward office, told me that next week’s MBAC meeting is on Mell’s schedule. I hope nothing more pressing comes up. She would be the first alder in the last five years to attend an MBAC since 39th Ward Alder Margaret Laurino came in 2011 to promote her ordinance banning cyclists from using cellphones.
Afterwards we’ll decompress at 5:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at the City Winery on the new riverwalk.
Updated 17:26 to add a link to the agenda that was sent on the mailing list after publication.