What part of “STOP” do bicyclists not undertand? A River North resident says they endanger pedestrians: “All I have to do is stand on Kinzie for five minutes in the morning and 20 bicyclists blow through stop signs.” | Mark Konkol
Updated: August 23, 2012 10:45AM
Last summer, I dared to point out the obvious: Protected bike lanes are bunk.
They’re a giant waste of money that probably don’t protect anybody. Not bicyclists. Not drivers. Not pedestrians. And spending millions of dollars on those ugly white pylons certainly doesn’t protect taxpayers during tough financial times.
Of course, that really ticked off the bicycling crazies, who dismissed my opinion with high-minded logic: Don’t believe a lazy, ugly, fat and stupid guy who drives a Korean station wagon.
“Looks like he’d start sweating in 60 degrees,” some knucklehead wrote on a blog that nobody reads.
Another bike activist kept asking me to join him on a protected bike ride, hoping I might see the light. I declined. I’ve been riding unprotected on Chicago streets for years, thank you very much.
But the way rabid cyclists reacted did help me consider why they got so worked up over my point of view. They must be smarter, skinnier and just better people than guys like me. In fact, they are more evolved urban creatures. They don’t just ride their bikes to work. They are saving lives, reducing the carbon footprint and traffic congestion. They might even be curing cancer, ending hunger and homelessness one pedal at a time. As a superior race of Chicagoans, cyclists deserve the extra protection provided by plastic poles.
But just before I completely changed my tune on bike lanes, a levelheaded River North woman talked me out of it.
Rogue bicyclists emboldened by their special lanes have become a threat to pedestrian safety, she told me. They must be taught manners or, at the very least, the Rules of the Road, such as obey traffic signals, share the street and — I’m paraphrasing here — don’t be a jerk.
“All I have to do is stand on Kinzie for five minutes in the morning and 20 bicyclists blow through stop signs. They’re all wearing ear buds listening to music. They’re in a zone, a bubble, and they don’t stop. It’s scary. I hate driving on that street. It’s scary,” the River North gal said on the condition that I keep her anonymous to avoid attacks from bicycle-riding anarchists.
Cyclists might not like hearing it, but she’s right. I’ve almost been run over by a woman on a vintage 10-speed and a klutzy fellow riding in flip-flops who apparently believes stop signs are optional for cyclists, particularly if they’re riding in a protected lane.
But don’t take our word for it, militant bicycle people of Chicago.
Here’s what Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wrote to Chicago Transportation commissioner Gabe Klein: “I have received chronic residential reports that bicyclists frequently ignore posted stop signs, leading to several ‘near misses’ on a daily basis.”
Reilly “respectfully requested” that the city install signs that state: “Bicyclists MUST Stop at Intersection” signs next to stop signs on Kinzie. In a separate letter, the alderman asked that speed humps or other bicycle traffic-calming measures be added to what he called the “Kinzie Cycle Track.”
That seemed like an ironic request because Klein once told me that a goal of protected bike lanes is to slow down auto traffic in Chicago. His faithful bike-riding followers either didn’t get that part of his message or figured that goal doesn’t apply to pedal power.
Since Reilly sent those letters in March, the city has installed reminders on stop signs and painted “STOP” on the street as a reminder.
As a rule, Reilly said he was told, the city doesn’t put speed humps downtown. Instead, Chicago cops and transportation department “ambassadors” have conducted “educational” traffic stops. Officers read cyclists the riot act — and the Rules of the Road — for blowing through stop signs, and they hand out warnings.
More of those education days are scheduled for the next few weeks.
Reilly says bike lanes are a “nice amenity” geared at making streets safer, but it won’t work if cyclists don’t slow down, stop at stop signs and watch out for pedestrians.
And if warnings don’t work, the next step, Reilly said, will be ticketing law-breaking bicyclists for moving violations.
I still don’t think extra signs, written warnings, traffic tickets or anything you put in front of a guy going downhill on a bike will keep him from blowing a stop sign.
On Thursday, I stopped on Kinzie to snap a picture of the “stop for peds” sign. Just as I hit the button, a guy on a bike zoomed downhill through the stop sign and swerved to avoid a woman crossing the street while picking up speed — stop sign be damned.
There’s no point debating the need for these bike lanes, though I could argue the pylon-lined path linking Garfield Park to Douglas Park should include bulletproof vests, and there are no protected lanes where you really need them — Halsted Street, Elston Avenue and, of course, Milwaukee Avenue through Bucktown and Wicker Park, where hipsters on Huffys are constantly crashing into open car doors.
I won’t push it anymore.
But it is time for a cyclist culture change.
Go ahead, enjoy your fancy bike lines.
But obey the signs. Slow down. Watch out for pedestrians.
And try not to be a jerk while you share the road with chubby guys driving station wagons.
We are people, too.