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The Rant is Due: Yet Another Anti-Bike Screed From the Trib’s John McCarron

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John McCarron

So far this has been a banner month for the Chicago Tribune when it comes to publishing tone-deaf commentary about bicycling.

On September 1, in response to four recent cycling deaths allegedly caused by reckless drivers, the Trib ran an editorial that put the onus on bike riders to be “particularly cautious” in order to prevent crashes. The piece even implied that cyclists are usually to blame for such tragedies: “Some may think they shouldn’t have to obey the same rules of the road as motorists.”

And last Thursday, for the third time in recent years, the paper published a flat-earth anti-bicycling rant by John McCarron, one of the Big Three of Chicago bike trolls, including Tribune commentator John Kass and DNAinfo columnist Mark Konkol. While this latest McCarron piece is truly a rambling, illogical diatribe, DePaul University actually retains the man as an adjunct lecturer in its school of communications.

It’s clear that bike-baiting op-eds like this are a strategy by the Tribune to garner pageviews, so maybe I shouldn’t send more clicks their way by dissecting the piece. But it’s hard for me to let the paper to publish this kind of garbage without providing a response, so let’s look at few of McCarron’s more absurd passages.

Of all the hoped-for alternatives to the family car — high-speed rail, shared cars, more compact towns, etc. — it's those bike lanes that get me going. Not all bike lanes, mind you, but lanes like the [protected] one on Davis Street in downtown Evanston… God forbid you should make a right turn without first checking if a biker is pedaling up behind that row of parked cars.

Correct. Responsible driving means checking for bicyclists before making a right turn in order to avoid a “right-hook” crash, and in Chicago it’s the law. Section 9-16-020 of the Municipal Code of Chicago states: “When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction … the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle… until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle.” Drivers who made right turns without first checking for bicyclists recently caused the deaths of cyclists Virginia Murray and Lisa Kuivinen.

Even on protected bike lane streets, including Davis, it doesn't take much effort for drivers to avoid running someone over while making a right turn. Parking spaces are removed near intersections to ensure that motorists can easily see bike riders approaching on their right.

Screen Shot 2016-09-10 at 3.20.53 PM
Because parking is banned near intersections along the Davis protected bike lane, it's actually quite easy to avoid killing someone with your car while making a right turn. Image: Google Street View

Next, for the second time in about a week, the Tribune promotes the myth that people biking are significantly less law-abiding that those driving. “Arrogance… lets cyclists tell themselves they are not bound by the same rules of the road that govern those of us behind the wheel," McCarron writes. "So they glide through stoplights and signs.”

Right, because Chicago drivers – piloting multi-ton vehicles that can easily kill people – can always be trusted to obey stop signs and traffic signals. And then McCarron trots out this beloved “bikelash” warhorse:

They are rarely ticketed for these behaviors because they have no operator's license, no vehicle registration, no practical way, really, for the police to process them into the judicial/enforcement system. Which also means they don't pay for much. No gas tax. No fees. Theirs is pretty much a free ride.

Yep, there’s no practical way for the police to enforce traffic laws on bike riders, except for pulling them over, taking their ID, and issuing them a citation that, if the offender fails to show up for the Traffic Court hearing, will result in an arrest warrant.

And I think most Streetsblog readers are pretty bored with debunking the fallacy that cyclists are freeloading on our road system because they don’t burn gasoline. But in a nutshell, bike riders – who put little wear-and-tear on streets – do help pay for the transportation network via sales, income, and property taxes. Meanwhile gas tax and user fees don’t even come close to paying the cost of highway construction and maintenance, which means people who don’t drive are subsidizing roads they rarely travel on.

For an elegant and hilarious takedown of McCarron and his ilk, check out Luke Seeman’s Mad Lib-style template for “How to Write an Anti-Bike Commentary—Without the Nuisance of Actual Thought” in Chicago Magazine.

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