No, Alderman Cardenas, Your Southwest Side Ward Doesn’t Have “Plenty of Bike Lanes”

Alderman George Cardenas. Photo: Chicago Sun-Times
Alderman George Cardenas. Photo: Chicago Sun-Times

A week ago a found myself in a Twitter battle with a full 4 percent of the Chicago City Council, including downtown alderman Brendan Reilly and 12th Ward alderman George Cardenas, whose Southwest Side district includes parts of Little Village, Brighton Park, and McKinley Park. As has happened a few times on the social media platform, Reilly and I were debating his proposed ordinance to ban cycling on the Chicago Riverwalk, which he has threatened to get passed by the end of this summer, claiming the prohibition is needed to protect pedestrians from bike riders.

When I mentioned that drivers struck 296 people walking in Reilly’s ward during a recent year, and noted that he hasn’t proposed any legislation to protect pedestrians from motorists recently, the downtown alderman called me a “troll.”

In June Streetsblog Chicago got Reilly’s de-facto prohibition on riverwalk cycling lifted — riverwalk security guards are no longer incorrectly telling cyclists that it’s illegal to ride on the promenade and ordering them to dismount. Reilly had previously requested that bogus enforcement policy from the city department that manages the riverwalk. So apparently the alderman’s definition of “troll” includes writers who help overturn his bad policies.

“I spend a tremendous amount of time and city money engineering solutions to protect peds from all modes, including cars,” Reilly said in his “troll” tweet, adding that he serves as the chair of the city’s Vision Zero crash reduction program. True, I responded via the Streetsblog Chicago Twitter account, the alderman has allowed transit-friendly mayors and the Chicago Department of Transportation to do some good walking, biking, and transit projects in his district, including protected bike lanes and the Loop Link corridor. On the other hand, I noted, Reilly has also done quite a bit to reduce downtown bike and pedestrian access besides the riverwalk ban, including:

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But enough about Reilly, except to note that his ally Alderman Cardenas backed him up by tweeting “Bikes on the riverwalk make no sense whatsoever” (except for, y’know, the fact that the U.S. Department of Transportation loaned Chicago the money to build the new riverwalk with the understanding that the path would serve as a bike commuting route.)

“Alderman, I’m glad you’re worried about safety,” responded Lennon Murphy, a teacher who lives in Cardenas ward. “Why are most of the major streets in y(our) ward essentially unnavigable due to a lack of visible bike lanes?”

“We are doing just fine thank you!” Cardenas tweeted in response. “We have plenty of bike lanes I can assure you. And Reilly is right, stop the trolling for Christ[‘s] sake!” Murphy responded:

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I seconded Murphy by tweeting out screenshots of the 12th Ward map and the CDOT bike map that showed that there are almost no bike lanes in the bulk of the ward. As groups like Slow Roll Chicago, an organization that promotes cycling in Black and Brown communities on the South and West sides, has pointed out, working-class communities of color like the those in Cardenas’ ward deserve the same mobility, health, and economic benefits of bike infrastructure that more affluent white neighborhoods are already enjoying. This afternoon I used my highly developed cartography skills to put together this map that makes it more obvious how underserved  the 12th Ward is when it comes to bike lanes (the dark blue lines on the city’s bike map.)

Scan 3

“By saying ‘We have plenty of bike lanes’ in the 12th Ward, we assume you mean ‘We have almost no bike lanes, which is great,'” I said to Cardenas in my response to his tweet. “But if by ‘Stop the trolling’ you mean, ‘Stop speaking truth to power,’ sorry, but we’re not going to do that.”

Streetsblog reporter Lynda Lopez lives in Little Village within Cardenas’ ward. “The bikeability of the Southwest side is an issue groups from across the region have brought up and it often intersects with issues of environmental justice,” she noted this afternoon. “Residents have brought up the issue of the bike lanes on Pershing Road being located right next to the controversial MAT Asphalt Plant because the factory emits pollutants into the air. Even so, groups like Neighbors for Environmental Justice agree that more bike lanes are needed on the Southwest Side.”

“As someone who lives, bikes, and has worked in the 12th ward and other parts of the Southwest Side, I believe that bike lanes are one part of creating a safe environment for cyclists. There aren’t many bike lanes on the Southwest Side, and there is also heavy truck traffic, further amplifying the dangers of biking.The 12th Ward by no means is a safe ward for people on bikes. A conversation about bikeability on the Southwest Side has to consider the lack of bike lanes, the heavy truck traffic, and pollutants from heavy industry.”

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