[You’ll notice that I put “bike lane” in quotations throughout this article. It’s my personal stance that paint on the ground in not enough to protect folks who bike. Physically protected bike lanes need to be the standard bike infrastructure and THAT is what we should be calling bike lanes. If you have any suggestions on what we can call Chicago’s default bikeway style — mere paint on the road — let me know.]
If you regularly ride on the streets of Chicago, you have probably encountered a car parked in the “bike lane,” witnessed someone weaving into the “bike lane,” seen a “bike lane” abruptly and inexplicably end, or had someone speed around you so they can beat you to the stop sign. While I’ve had many close calls while biking in Chicago, a recent run-in with a taxi driver scared me the most.
I live in Rogers Park and work in Ravenswood. I ride a Divvy bike from my apartment to the Red Line, dock the Divvy and take the train a few stops south to the Lawrence station. Then I hop on another Divvy to ride the rest of the way to work. My usual route is west on Lawrence Avenue.
I typically experience the most issues at Lawrence and Ravenswood Avenue, given the narrow street space cars and folks on bike have to navigate underneath the Metra overpass AND the fact that the city decided to add parking space next to the Mariano’s. I frequently encounter drivers whose car tires cross into the “bike lane,” along with city garbage trucks that make a habit of parking there. This forces me into car traffic. If I had to quantify my experience, I’d say 75 percent of my issues on Lawrence happen at Ravenswood.
Two weeks ago I was biking on Lawrence Ave in the “bike lane” and encountered a cabbie who was partially parked in the “bike lane.” I reduced my speed, got off my bike, and calmly asked him to move his vehicle over because he was in the “bike lane.” He seemed genuinely confused by me asking him to move, so I reiterated that the space his vehicle was occupying was the “bike lane” and that he was putting my life at risk by blocking it. He eventually moved and I proceeded through the green light at Lawrence and Wolcott Avenue.
A few seconds later I felt a driver aggressively approaching me at a high rate of speed and I moved over a bit to my right. I realized it was the same cabbie that I had just encountered, trying to intimidate me with his dangerous driving because I told him to stop blocking the “bike lane.” Luckily there was a red light at Lawrence and Damen so I snapped a photo of the back of his cab. I promptly reported the cabbie to the city via the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection’s cab feedback form.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a quick response from the BACP asking me to fill out an affidavit confirming the facts of my case. I filled it out and emailed it back. Less than five business days later, I received an emailed letter from the city informing me that the incident had been recorded on the cab driver’s permanent record.
Given the endless examples of drivers being let off the hook when they injure or kill someone who is walking or biking, I consider this a win! Now, if only there was a way to report civilian drivers, as well as more physically protected space for folks who bike.
This experience hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for biking; it’s actually inspired me to continue advocating for folks who walk and bike in Chicago. A week later I encountered four vehicles in the “bike lane” during my eight-minute bike ride and emailed a few photos to the aldermen of the 46th and 47th wards. (Lawrence is a boundary between the two wards.) My hope is that by informing alders of the issues folks encounter in their wards, they’ll realize just how important physically protected space for cyclists is.
On Thursday, disadvantaged business enterprises attended a meeting hosted by the Chicago Transit Authority to learn more about the Red Line Extension and the subcontracting opportunities available. The event took place at the CTA’s West Loop headquarters.