Days After Drivers Kill and Maim Cyclists, Trib Op-Ed Calls for Bike Crackdown

Ron Grossman

After Anastasia Kondrasheva, 23, was fatally struck on her bicycle by a right-turning truck driver in Roscoe Village on September 26, the Tribune ran an editorial noting that this tragedy should remind motorists to watch out for bikes on the road. This reflects the paper’s evolving coverage of traffic safety issues, which has generally improved during the last year.

However, the Tribune continues to run irresponsible “bikelash” opinion pieces from time to time. For example, in early September the paper ran an op-ed by DePaul communications teacher John McCarron in which he suggested that drivers shouldn’t be required to check for cyclists before making right turns.

The timing of the latest of the Trib’s latest anti-bike screed is especially poor. Four days after Kondrasheva’s death, and a week after Danielle Palagi, 26, was struck on her bike by another trucker near the Illinois Medical Campus, leading to the amputation of her foot, the paper ran an op-ed by Ron Grossman that portrayed bicyclists as a safety menace.

It’s not the first time Grossman has written an ill-informed bikelash article for the Tribune. Two years ago he proposed periodically giving pedestrians a holiday from the perceived bike threat by closing Chicago streets to cyclists. What would a day without bikes actually be like? It would be even louder, more congested, and more dangerous than a typical day.

In last Friday’s article Grossman called for a police crackdown on lawbreaking cyclists. “I live around the corner from Wells Street, with its heavily traveled bike lanes,” he writes. “Yet I’ve never seen a cop pull over a bicyclist who pedaled right through a nearby stop sign, and there are plenty. I’ve yet to see a biker ticketed for running a red light, a common sight anywhere in Chicago.”

Of course, Chicago drivers also do their fair share of running stop signs and blowing stoplights. The difference is, when you do these things while piloting a 3,000-pound vehicle, rather than a thirty-pound one, it’s easy to kill other people. That’s one reason why local police officers usually don’t view ticketing relatively harmless behavior by cyclists as a worthwhile use of their time.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 3.39.07 AM
Photo: Hui Hwa Nam.

It’s somewhat understandable that Grossman has a vendetta against bicyclists. He says a person on a bike nearly struck him while he was crossing Lincoln Avenue with the walk signal. Cyclists who run reds in such a way that requires others to stop in their tracks or slam on the brakes to avoid a crash are being reckless and deserve to be fined.

But while people are capable of acting like jerks regardless of travel mode, that kind of dangerous behavior by cyclists is relatively rare. Most likely, Grossman is annoyed by bike riders who treat stop signs like yield signs, and stoplights like stop signs.

While this strategy doesn’t follow the letter of the law, it’s widespread. That’s because people who are powering their own vehicles don’t want to waste momentum by coming to a dead stop at every intersection or waste time waiting for a red light to change when there’s no cross traffic.

We can debate whether this kind of technically illegal behavior is ethical. But when it’s done on a slower, lightweight vehicle with 360-degree visibility, it’s not dangerous.

That’s why, as an op-ed by Tom Babin yesterday in the Los Angeles Times pointed out, it’s lawful for bicyclists in Idaho to treat a stop sign like a yield, a move known as an “Idaho stop.” Recently it became legal for Parisian cyclists to treat some stoplights like stop signs. In the future it might make sense for Illinois or Chicago to legalize the Idaho stop, just as U.S. cities like San Francisco have considered doing.

In the meantime the Tribune should stop wasting ink on calls for a crackdown on relatively innocuous behavior by Chicago cyclists. Instead, the paper should run more articles focusing on the real traffic safety threat: the kind of dangerous driving that permanently disabled Danielle Palagi and took the life of Anastasia Kondrasheva.

  • Chicagoan

    Ron Grossman is the definition of a “Get off my lawn.” journalist. I feel like all of his articles are nostalgic pieces. I’d be concerned about the Trib’s recent behavior if they had any cred. left.

    Still, their continuous publishing of anti-cycling, tone-deaf diatribes is hard to take.

    Goes to show how out archaic the paper had become.

  • Jacob Wilson

    There was more of this drivel in the (trib owned) LA times last week too. Pathetic.

  • For the record, the Chicago Tribune also endorsed Gary Johnson. Nonetheless, I have been wondering about the angry white man ‘bikelash’ that seems to define Tribune readers. I think it stems from the thought that people on bikes are getting away with something that they (drivers) aren’t allowed to do in their car. They can’t seem to parse the different modes of transportation, much less comprehend the purpose of the public way as a space for everyone. Ron Grossman also complains about the lack of rotary phones and hot beef.

  • Af weaver

    I could write a daily column, at least 2500 words, about the number of motorists I see, who drive in a manner that is reckless, and threatening to pedestrians and cyclists alike.

    Unlike Grossman’s columns, mine would be replete with data, and cell phone photos of the 3000 + pound vehicles that, were I not such a cautious pedestrian, seem to think might is right. They expect the pedestrian or cyclist to cower

    These motorists ignore a four letter word, in bright red type no less:
    S T O P.

    Many urban motorists appear to have skipped or forgotten, driver’s ed 101, state law, motorist yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Urban civility.

    At the end of the day, it appears to a non car owner, (full disclosure: I own five bicycles, each and every over 20 years old), that traffic congestion, granted frustrating, results in some motorists wanting to make up for time delays, and driving in an unsafe manner to make up for “lost time.”

  • Indeed. Might it be that the most egregious thing we as bikers get away with is actually being able to continue our journey when the 3000-pounders have clogged the roads and formed a parking lot from which there is no escape?

  • Anne A

    I think there’s a lot of envy in their heads.

  • Elliot10

    So I typically like Grossman’s nostalgia pieces. Plus he’s Jewish, I’m Jewish, that sort of thing. I am the only one my age that I know that actually subscribes to the Tribune. After McCarron’s op-ed was published, I sent an email to Bruce Dold the Tribune editor, and John McCormick the editor of the editorial page. They both responded. I think people should continue to email them, hopefully we can change the status quo. If we can show that the fist waving is on the wrong side of history, then perhaps it will change. Here is what I wrote:

    Hello Bruce,

    I’m a 28 year old subscriber (daily paper) who typically reads the digital edition of the Tribune daily on my phone during my morning L commute. I wanted to say thank you for bolstering the food coverage and the dining team at the Tribune.

    The recent pizza and taco coverage both in print and online were great resources. I travelled with co-workers to Little Village and had the best tacos I’ve ever tasted.

    Blair Kamin and the extensive architecture coverage continues to make me justify my subscription. The first rate writing also is a nice departure from aggregation sites.

    On the flip side, running editorial content from John Kass and the frequent anti-bike, anti-millenial pieces, especially the latest from John McCarron, makes me and other people my age, the people that the newspaper industry covets, want to depend on other, cheaper sources that don’t spew outdated and curmudgeony views.

    I love the Tribune, I grew up with it, and it will continue to be a part of my life. But if you want more millennials reading the Trib, let’s continue to have more modern viewpoints voiced, city centric ones – with less bile and hate from the old white guys.

  • Deni

    Well, I’ve never seen an auto driver on Wells St get a ticket for being parked in the bike lane either. Wells is a lot more dangerous for a biker than it is for drivers, so screw Grossman.


Today’s Headlines for Friday, August 26

Prosecutors: Man Who Murdered Teen Wanted Revenge After Car Crash (Sun-Times) Security Guard Helps Apprehend Hit-and-Run Driver Who Struck Cyclist in Loop (ABC) In the Wake of Recent Deaths, Active Trans’ Jim Merrell Discusses Bike Safety Issues (WTTW) DUI Crackdown Planned for Far Northwest Side This Weekend (DNA) Op-Ed: Oak Park Should Follow Through With Implementing […]