Cyclists Who Confronted Bike Lane Blockers Were Attacked With Fluid, Fists, SUV

The passenger of a car that was blocking the Canal Street bike lane throws a liquid at a cyclist who photographed the vehicle. Image via Bike Lane Uprising and The Chainlink.
The passenger of a car that was blocking the Canal Street bike lane throws a liquid at a cyclist who photographed the vehicle. Image via Bike Lane Uprising and The Chainlink.

Local bicyclists recently shared stories of being brutally attacked after interacting with drivers who were blocking downtown bike lanes. They say that, weeks after the assaults, no arrests have been made, even though the police have the license plate numbers of the vehicles and photos of the assailants.

One of the victims reported his attack via the website Bike Lane Uprising, which documents incidents of bike lane obstructions. As posted by BLU on Friday on Twitter and on The Chainlink, a social networking site for cyclists, his incident took place on Valentine’s Day at about 8:40 a.m. He was riding on the Clinton Street two-way protected bike lane, a half block south of Madison Street and the Ogilvie Transportation Center, when he came upon a great Honda SUV standing in the bike lane, driven by a female motorist.

“I stopped in front of the vehicle to take a picture of the lady blocking the bike lane,” the man wrote on BLU. A male passenger got out of the vehicle and confronted the cyclist. “He got in my face about taking pictures of his girl’s car. I told her that she was in the bike lane. He continued to escalate… After a few choice words, they drove out of the bike lane and proceeded down the road.”

When the cyclist got to Monroe Street, just south of the confrontation, the stoplight was red. The male passenger ran out of the stopped SUV into the bike lane “and threw what I hope was orange juice all over me,” the victim posted. The attack was captured on helmet cam video taken by a female bike rider, who later told the victim that she started video recording her bike commutes after being chased by a driver.

“At this point, I ran after [the assailant] and he ran back into this car,” the male cyclist posted. “I stood in front of the car to try and hold them there until someone could come on the scene, and the woman started driving, trying to run me over. I got hit by their car and went rolling, and had some road rash on my knee and I tore my jacket.”

The victim said he filed a police report, including the driver’s plate number and photos of the assailants, and a detective contacted him about two weeks later. “I gave him all of this and they still do not know who this was or who the woman was,” the cyclist posted.

A spokesperson for Police News Affairs indicated that the victim reported the basic facts of the case to the police as stated in the post. “The investigation continues,” the spokesperson said. “There is no update on the case at this time.” More than a month has gone by since the assault.

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In response to the post on The Chainlink, another cyclist shared his own, similar, assault story on the site, as well as BLU, that occurred in late January but also hasn’t resulted in an arrest yet. On Sunday, January 27, at around 4:30 p.m. the cyclist, 29, was heading north on Canal Street north of Roosevelt when he encountered a beige Kia Sorento SUV parked in the bike lane.

“I tapped the car on the rear tail-light to let [the driver] know ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be parked here,'” the cyclist wrote. “Driver speeds ahead of me to the Taylor Street intersection and gets out of his car swearing at me and verbally threatening me, walking toward me.”

The bike rider said that he rode into the nearby parking garage of the adjacent shopping center,”fearing for my safety,” and spent some five minutes inside before exiting at the south end of the garage. “When I come out back on Canal Street near the Starbucks, no, he is not gone. The [driver] has circled around the block waiting for me.” The cyclist said the man got out of his vehicle, ran over to him, punched him twice, threw his bike on the ground, and drove off.

The victim's damaged bicycle after the attack. Photo via The Chainlink.
The victim’s damaged bicycle after the attack. Photo via The Chainlink.

Luckily, a witness had shot photos of the assailant and shared her contact info with the victim, he wrote. Police showed up 20 minutes later and the cyclist filed a report. The victim said he received a follow-up email from the police a week later and he sent the photos and the license plate number. However, several weeks later, no arrest has been made.

A Police News Affairs rep confirmed the basic facts of the cyclist’s story matched the narrative on the incident report. “There are no updates,” they said.

“At the end of the day, I had no injuries,” the cyclist wrote. “Good thing I had about five layers on (plus a helmet and two face masks) for the below-zero weather. Had to replace my bent back wheel but that was it. But I’m kind of p—ed that this was such a blatant act of motorist-on-cyclist violence, with such clear evidence, and to my knowledge no action (for sure, no swift action) has been taken.”

The cyclist added that, before this incident, he frequently reported bike lane violations to BLU and confronted motorists who blocked bikeways. “Now, I fear for my safety,” he wrote. “I do not yell, flip the bird, provoke, anything. Just go around. Who knows how many guns… are in the city. I am trying to practice patience and all is well; I was back on my bike within days, but really want justice to be served for this bastard and anyone else who thinks their human rights as a motorist are somehow superior to those of folks who are not in a 2000-lb. tank.”

So if you’re not willing to risk a violent encounter with a motorist, what should you do when you encounter parked cars or other types of blockage in bike lanes, especially recurring issues in the same location? Constructive action you can take is to report the incidents to the city’s 311 non-emergency service hotline or website, which recently added a “vehicle in bike lane” category; posting it on the Bike Lane Uprising site (BLU’s Christina Whitehouse notifies city officials about bike lane blockage hot spots); and notifying the Active Transportation Alliance by tagging them on social media. Showing up to the quarterly Mayor’s Bicycle Advisor Council meetings at City Hall to discuss the problem during the public comment time can’t hurt either.

Here’s what Active Trans had to say on the subject. “We advise people not to be confrontational for their own safety,” said spokesperson Kyle Whitehead. “Report to 311 and share on social media. If you do say something, be polite and say something like ‘Please don’t park in the bike lane,’ or if it looks they may not realize it’s a bike lane… ‘You’re parked in a bike lane. Could you please move?’”

The new posts of the Washington Street bike lane near Michigan Avenue. Photo: Michelle Stenzel
The new posts of the Washington Street bike lane near Michigan Avenue. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

While these steps won’t result in the immediate gratification of seeing a bike lane blocker ticketed, it’s best to keep the long game in mind. When problem areas are identified, and advocates keep up pressure on the city to take action with better enforcement, outreach, or infrastructure, the situation can improve. For example, cyclists continually lobbied the Chicago Department of Transportation to do something about the constant blockage of the Washington Street bike lane near Michigan Avenue, including a dedicated Twitter feed on the issue. In January CDOT installed posts along the problem stretch to help discourage motorists from parking or standing in the lane, so there is hope.

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