How a Run-in With a Reckless Cabbie Inspired Me to Advocate for Safer Biking

A "bike lane" on Lawrence Avenue. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
A "bike lane" on Lawrence Avenue. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

[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.

Courtney Cobbs.
Courtney Cobbs.

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.

The cab driver's vehicle. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
The cab driver’s vehicle. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

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.

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  • Carter O’Brien

    I know that intersection well and it is indeed awful. Lawrence seems to really bring out the road rage in drivers.

  • kastigar

    I used to be a big supporter of protected bike lanes. For riding with kids over the age of 12 that can’t ride on the sidewalk they are great.

    But after having two flats within a year riding on the protected bike lane on Cluyborn because of the debris and broken glass, I’m no longer a big supporter. While there are frequent violators of the painted bike lane the ability to keep them clean and even plowed tends to make them advantageous.

    I’m not going to stand in the way of the barrier protected bike lanes but I’m not going to support this any more.

  • ridonrides

    Good for you getting that reported! Now I know what to do if this happens to me. Any time I ride past a Starbucks is a nightmare for me because people love to double park and open their doors without looking.

  • Anne A

    That section of Lawrence is bad news. I’m glad that you were able to report that cab driver. I’ve used the same process and been able to get the “permanent record” response on a few occasions, both for bike and ped incidents.

  • Anne A

    That Starbucks at Wells and North is one of the worst.

  • Courtney

    I understand your frustration. With all due respect, an equivalent argument would be that we don’t need paved roads because the city isn’t repair the potholes fast enough.
    Unfortunately(?) it will take advocacy efforts to get the city to take better care of the few protected bike lanes we do have. More protected bike lanes means more people out biking which could lead to more people putting pressure on the city to better maintain those lanes.

  • Courtney

    So glad this article was helpful to you! In terms of the private citizens double parking and opening doors without looking, might I encourage you to reach out to the alder of whatever ward this happens in? I’d love to see signage encouraging drivers to utilize the Dutch reach.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    The busy Metra station, the constrained-space viaduct (i.e. where the rail tracks form a bridge over Lawrence, which results in the “conventional bike lanes” becoming marked shared lanes), and, above all, the terrible placement of the driveway into/out of Mariano’s parking garage are the primary culprits of the challenges of cycling here — especially west-bound; east-bound is better (at least as-it-is now) because you don’t have as much “conflict” with the Mariano’s traffic. Overall, the “road diet” on Lawrence, with its conventional bike lanes, raised center median functioning as a pedestrian refuge island, bio-swales, and the other urban design elements (trees, benches, etc.) is a grand success, and one that I wish the City could do more often / on more roads (how about on Bryn Mawr going towards/from the Sauganash Trail!

  • Courtney

    There’s also a bus stop right on the corner of Lawrence & Ravenswood. Things can get kinda hairy when a bus wants to pull into traffic and all the other cars are gunning it trying to get out in front of the bus. Oy vey!

  • Jennifer Melfi

    great story. nice work!

  • Jim

    Many cars double parked in bike lanes and illegally on street are Uber and Lyft drivers. You can report them as well.

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