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After drivers struck his daughter on a bike twice, dad demands safe routes to school

Jane Brunson in front of Payton High. Photo: Sam Brunson

If a reckless driver nearly injured your loved one on a bike, you'd be angry. If the same thing happened again in an almost identical manner, you'd be enraged. That's how bike advocate Sam Brunson was feeling after a negligent motorist ran his daughter Jane, 17, off the road this morning, the second such incident the teen has experienced in about a year. Minutes after the incident, he vented his frustration in an understandably all-caps, f-bomb-laden Twitter thread.

Their family lives in Lincoln Park, and Sam has been involved in advocacy for the Dickens Avenue Greenway bike route. Jane attends Walter Payton High, located at the southwest corner of Hill (1030 N.) and Wells (200 W.) streets on the Near North Side. Wells has non-protected, painted bike lanes.

In late fall 2021, after school let out, Jane was biking west on Chicago Avenue (800 N.) to her job as a climbing coach at First Ascent Humboldt Park, located near Chicago and Sacramento Boulevard (3000 W.), according to Sam. As she pedaled west on Chicago Avenue, which has no bike lanes, near the Chicago River bridge, a speeding car driver illegally passing other motorists on the right clipped her with the passenger side mirror. The motorist didn't seem to notice he had made contact with a bike rider, but simply sped away.

Jane wasn't knocked off her bike, but the experience "spooked her significantly," Sam said. "If the driver had gone a couple more inches to the right, it would have been a different story." She was unable to get the license plate.

The teen said she experienced panic attacks for a months after that traumatic experience, and couldn't get back on a bike. Nowadays when riding to work she detours to August Boulevard (1000 N.), a quieter street with non-protected bike lanes, as soon as possible, but she still has to take Chicago Avenue to cross the river.

Jane Brunson riding in Bike the Drive with her younger brother Miles. Photo: Sam Brunson
Jane Brunson riding in Bike the Drive with her younger brother Miles. Photo: Sam Brunson
Jane Brunson riding in Bike the Drive with her younger brother Miles. Photo: Sam Brunson

Today around 7:50 a.m., Jane was heading west on Hill approaching the stop sign at Wells when nearly the exact same thing happened again, she said. The impatient driver of a small SUV passed other cars on the right in their hurry to make a right onto Wells. "I rang my bell, but of course they couldn't hear me. I turned my handlebars to try to get out of the way, but they forced me into the line of parked cars." Again, she was unable to get the plate number.

Jane was physically unhurt and her bike is OK, "But I don't feel great psychologically," she said. "After I got to school I called my dad, and I started crying. I felt my heartbeat racing. It was similar to the panic attacks I had last time." Speaking in the late afternoon, she added, "Even now when I hear someone blow their horn, my stomach drops."

Ghost bike memorial for attorney Neill Townsend, 32, at the southeast corner of Payton High. Townshend was biking south on Wells in October 2012 when a motorist opened their door in his path, Townshend swerved out of the way, and he was run over by a semi driver.
Ghost bike memorial for attorney Neill Townsend, 32, at the southeast corner of Payton High. Townshend was biking south on Wells in October 2012 when a motorist opened their door in his path, Townshend swerved out of the way, and he was run over by a semi driver. Image: Google Maps
Ghost bike memorial for attorney Neill Townsend, 32, at the southeast corner of Payton High. Townshend was biking south on Wells in October 2012 when a motorist opened their door in his path, Townshend swerved out of the way, and he was run over by a semi driver.

Sam said he reached out to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, local alderperson Walter Burnett (27th), and the Chicago Department of Transportation to ask them to do more to protect kids traveling to school. Brunson also emailed Payton's administration and got a prompt reply from the assistant principal, who said the school has been pushing the city to conduct a traffic study to help determine solutions for improving safety. Unfortunately, the assistant principal reported, the Chicago Public Schools doesn't have a budget for crossing guards near high schools, only elementary schools.

Sam said he wants CDOT to install protected bike lanes on Wells, and extend the existing protected lanes on Division Street (1200 N.) a block east to connect with Wells. He'd also like to see some kind of enforcement presence near all Chicago schools during rush hours. "We need something to let drivers know there are consequences for parking in bike lanes and not giving bicyclists enough space."

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