Who Is Against Protected Bike Lanes?

Who Is Against Protected Bike Lanes?
Kinzie Street protected bike lane, courtesy of City of Chicago

I received an email yesterday from People for Bikes reminding me to click over to the Active Transportation Alliance’s petition supporting protected bike lanes in the Loop.

If you’re for this type of progressive public policy that provides greater safety for those who choose bicycling as an alternative form of transportation (and you live in the city), please voice your support by signing the petition.

If you’re one to complain incessantly about hipsters on bikes blowing through stop signs, you might want to contact Mark Konkol at the Sun Times – he’s your sympathetic ear.  People for Bikes was kind enough to share one of his recent tirades against stereotypical city cyclists and I’d like to share it with you, just in case you missed it (I did).

I’m used to defending bicycling, so I was ready to rattle off a list of reasons why everyone should share the road.  After reading the entire comments section of Konkol’s rant, I realized that several people had already done that.  Nearly every comment was an articulate, polite, logical, and well reasoned response devoid of hyperbole, generalizations, stereotypes, and ad hominem attacks.

The “scofflaw cyclists” presented a more compelling argument than the “professional journalist.”

Without rehashing the seemingly never-ending debate or reprinting all the points made in the comments section of Konkol’s piece, I’d like to posit what I believe to be the true cause for the anti-bike sentiment that some possess; envy.

“When traffic is heavy and cars are stopped for blocks waiting for traffic to start moving bicycles keep moving slowly.

That’s what really aggravates drivers – how easily bicycles travel and aren’t kept waiting.” – Sweet Bob, commenter

Let’s face it, we live in a “me first” society.  We see it when a new checkout lane opens up at the grocery store and the “next customer in line” gets cut-off by the person three carts back.  It’s on display during the morning commute with drivers weaving in and out of every lane on the expressway.  It happens at every four-way stop.  It’s witnessed at every crosswalk.  There is always someone who doesn’t wait his or her turn and blatantly breaks the rules.

That seems to be what roils people – other people getting ahead.

If we’re honest with ourselves, our reactions to falling behind or getting outgunned, outmaneuvered, or outsmarted tend to be disproportionate to the actual offenses we suffer.  Pride is wounded.  Insecurity is revealed.  Anger is quick.

Rather than looking inside for why a particular incident infuriated us, we look outside to rationalize our unreasonable reactions.  We inevitably arrive at the issue of fairness.  From that moment on, the only virtue we possess that truly matters is justice.  That’s the issue and we’re sticking to it.

It is no irony that protected bike lanes are known as “traffic calming” devices.  Calming is the operative word when sharing the road.  We all need to calm down when interacting together on the roadways, as well as when we discuss the concept of complete streets.

There is no justice-based argument against sharing the road.  Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, motorists, and commercial drivers are all legally defined road users with rights and responsibilities.

Unfortunately, all users are going to break the rules from time to time and jeopardize the safety of those smaller and more vulnerable than themselves.  Hence the need for protected lanes.

Protected bike lanes will encourage more individuals to take to two wheels and commute into the Loop.  In the process, these bicycling commuters will be taking responsibility for their own health and fitness while doing their part to cut down on congestion and vehicle emissions.  Their choice to ride benefits everyone.

The next time you start to get angry at a jaywalking pedestrian, a stop sign rolling bicyclist, a speeding motorist, or a bus that pulls away from the curve with no regard for your position on the road, take a deep breath, count to three, and ask yourself where the injustice really lies.

Maybe you should be the one benefiting from an alternative form of transportation…

UPDATE: Thanks for all the comments.  I will try to reply to each one individually.  In the meantime, read today’s followup post; Protected Bike Lanes and the Demand for Cyclist Education.

UPDATE 2:  A third installment on this issue can be found at What Can Cyclists Do About Our “Rogue” Element?  I used quotes from many of your comments!

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Keep riding and be safe!



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  • fb_avatar

    I'm in support of protected bike lanes. I'm in support of biking - I am an avid cyclist (mostly for transportation these days). But I'm sorry to say that that guy has a point. In Chicago, as a pedestrian, I've been nearly hit by cyclists many many times. These are times I'm walking in a cross-walk WITH the light, after checking for rogue cars turning on red without checking for pedestrians. In one lovely case, the cyclist brushed me (knocking me off-balance but not down) because he was turning around to apologize to the woman he'd nearly hit in the parallel cross-walk (this was on Milwaukee Av). With our right to bike comes responsibility to be PART of traffic not AGAINST it, and to not harm others. I understand the "us vs. them" attitude of cyclists, as for years so many cars have treated cyclists as points in a video game (how many points if I hit that guy?), I've been screamed at for no reason by passing strangers, and then there's all the drivers who don't even see us and door us. I do get that. But why does that mean that we get to hit pedestrians who are crossing within their rights and the rules of the road? Are we really no better than those jerk drivers who have attacked us for so many years? And if we want to make "my carbon footprint is lower than yours" argument, BTW, pedestrians do even better than us cyclists. They don't have a steel/rubber contraption. Yes, those were made in factories and the making of them produced carbon emissions. So let's be part of the community. We've gained lots of rights to be on the road, we're now part of the normal flow of the public street. Let's act as we expect others to act.

  • In reply to Kate Gillogly:

    When drivers of cars start obeying stop signs and red lights, then you can expect bikers to follow. The author nailed the problem with his "me first" argument and I'd probably take it a step further and include the "it's not my fault" symptom that has taken over society. At least once a day I witness a car ignore a red light or stop sign and almost hit a pedestrian. The attitude in this city is that you can pretty much do what you want and get away with it (many laws new and old are for headlines and are not enforced - i.e. driving and cell phones) so bikers are just following the lead of the drivers. Since neither side is eager to budge or learn to co-exist, I think separation is a great strategy until attitudes change over time.

  • In reply to lifelongchicagoan:

    hahaha, I'm sorry sweetheart, but the vast majority of drivers obey these basic rules of the road (though I give you the cell phone thing. Too many people drive distracted, no doubt.). Of course, there will be outliers. I watched as a car ran every stop sign on my street once, and believe me, it was frustrating to see, so I get that, but mostly, cars stop at lights and signs. But on the flip side, majority of bikers do not follow the rules. In fact. When I see a biker stop at a stop sign/light and wearing a helmet I practically leap for joy and hope they are spreading their good influence. But that is rare. Now lets get to your claim, "bikers are just following the lead." Let me ask you, if cars drove off cliffs, would you do that too? (An elementary and parental question, I know, but it's also a sophomoric argument). I am all for protected bike lanes (though wouldn't it be cool if they were paid for by fining those cyclists who ignore the rules of the road?). I try to be aware of bikers. I check every time I get out of my car lest I door one. I don't want to hurt a biker - which is why want them to drive safely. I also don't want to be hit by a biker (One nearly mowed me down as I walked to the train this morning). But I am so tired of this "Poor me" sentiment combined with the air of superiority (ie - oh, drivers are just so jealous). You will never get motorists on your side with childish arguments likes these.

  • Sweet Old Bob is actually Chicagoland cyclist Bob Kastigar.

  • I'm sorry, but Sweet Bob and you are completely off base on what causes anti-bike sentiment. I am not an avid biker - I won't pretend to be one on here to attempt to garner favorability. I walk or drive in the city predominantly and both of these types of mobility are deemed inferior by many (I'm not saying all) bikers and therefore these bikers believe themselves to have the right of way at all times regardless of signs, signals or real live actual people.

    And it's worse when groupthink starts to happen.

    Take for instance this morning. On my way to work I encounter a high trafficked bike route. This bike route crosses through a "T" intersection. I wait with other cars to turn left at the from the base of the "T". When my light turns green that means the top of the "T" now has a red light. However as I attempt to turn left not one, but tens upon tens of bikers, continue to go straight through the intersection, cars and bikes now must merge and share the road though that shouldn't be the case. It should just be cars. But every morning it's the same thing. This morning one biker, blowing the red light and weaving through cars, hits my car with his bike (nothing major for me or him) then proceeds to yell at me for being in the way. After that two of the group think bikers that are blowing the red light with him proceed to pound on my car as I'm stopped by another light now. Then they pridefully pedal off into the distance certain that they've saved humanity from another a-hole drive and I've seen the error in my ways. In what world is this acceptable. If I got out of my car and started kicking the guys bike, I would be charged with assault, but he gets to pound on my car, leaving dents and just ride off like the justice-warrior he believes himself to be.

    I don't care that bikers keep moving. I care that they keep moving regardless of the rules of the road and then act like spoiled children when someone dares to insinuate that they should stop for traffic lights and pedestrians and stop signs. Rules are in place for a reason, whether a car, bike or pedestrian ignores them very dangerous results can occur. Bikers, though, seem to be the ones who complain most loudly about the behavior of those who choose other modes of transportation while ignoring the rampant disregard for rules in their own community.

  • And PS - I'm wholeheartedly for protected bike lanes. The more separation between bikes and cars, the safer and more sane everyone in this city will be.

  • I feel that my position spans both of these articles. I have been a year round cyclist for about 12 years, pioneering streets like Ashland and west Fullerton at the rate of thousands of miles a year. In the last few years as cycling has become more popular, there has been a glut of new cyclists on the roads. These are primarily summer only cyclists, but there are a growing number of year round cyclists as well who are equally as culpable as bad drivers when it comes to making assumptions, ignorance of the rules, and being inconsiderate of everyone (other cyclists included). The mistakes are too many to go through in this space, but they tend as they always do to statistically define a stereotype of youth, and/or ignorance (across all races and even genders) which will only be remedied through trial, error, the realization of affect, and an understanding of health and mortality. All of the anger, and hate on both sides of the issues comes from fear, which is important to keep in mind. I am against bike lanes personally, they may feel safe, and thereby encourage cycling, but they allow driver education and enforcement to remain terrible. We need car free streets every mile, much more serious driver education, enforcement, driver testing, periodic retesting, and even maybe a bicycling safety certification. Chicago pro-cycling rhetoric is purely advertising for the city, and the paint for the bike lanes fades out with the next election cycle. Nearly all changes other than those I mentioned above are ineffective, and lead to honest and deserved questions of motive or ability. I have thought about this for years.

  • This is the only instance in which I am pro-segregation.

  • Bikes are selfish. Get on a bus.

  • In reply to SallysF:

    Yeah, God forbid someone get a ton of exercise as part of their commute. They're not true 'Mericans unless they're fat and out of shape.

  • I am all over the city almost every day. By and large, cyclists are a nuisance because they simply DO NOT follow the rules of the road.

    Dedicated bike lane blocked? (It happens.) Cyclists just dart out in front of me, cross to the other side, and ride against traffic. Can I just use the oncoming traffic lane for as long as I'd like if my lane is blocked?

    Stop signs? Don't apply to cyclists, apparently; not in real life, anyway.

    Ever see a cyclist get a ticket for a moving violation? In theory, it's not only possible, it's supposed to happen when a cop sees a cyclist breaking a traffic law. Never going to happen, though.

    No, Mr. Smug Cyclist, I have no "envy" for your ability to keep moving when I can't -- just utter disdain for your lack of concern for traffic safety...yours AND mine.

  • What irritates me about these darn cyclists, oh I tell ya, isn't that they get ahead while I'm stuck in traffic -- that phenomenon only lasts maybe a few blocks, and I don't begrudge it anyway. No, the things they do that drive me bonkers is that they get in the way unnecessarily, they sometimes ride in an unpredictable and aggressive manner causing me to fear an accident, and they lobby for public expenditures on what are sometimes wholly unnecessary bike lanes.

    A few examples of what I'm talking about. During rush hour, the right-most lane on LaSalle is open for traffic. This eases congestion as it opens up a lane for buses so they don't have to bob in and out of traffic when they make stops. That purpose is defeated when a cyclist takes up that whole lane -- as he has to do, because there's not enough room to pass the cyclist safely while staying in that lane. The solution is that cyclists should avoid LaSalle during rush hour -- and similar streets -- instead of getting in the way. Surely there are alternative routes to the destination that don't pose that problem. If I rode in the city regularly, I would try not to get in the way of traffic. It's not a question of rights and so on; it's a question of courtesy. Any situation where a cyclist is blocking a whole lane of traffic -- especially if he could simply move over a bit -- is simply rude.

    We all know that cyclists -- *all* cyclists -- routinely disobey the rules of the road that they're theoretically supposed to follow. In this, they're not much different from drivers, who pause instead of stop at stop signs and who usually speed at least a little if they can (although drivers adhere to traffic lights, whereas cyclists treat them as pedestrians do -- as optional). I'm not really worked up over that. Most of us break the strict letter of the law fairly regularly, no matter how we're traveling, whether in a car, by bike, or on foot. What I do object to, though, is the unpredictable, aggressive maneuvers sometimes employed by cyclists -- things like darting among lanes of traffic and in between cars in a sudden way, riding out in front of the cars stopped at a stop light instead of just waiting along the side for traffic to clear, any sudden move that puts the bike into the path of traffic. This always worries me as a driver, because, no, I don't want to hit you! Yet, you're small and light, and sometimes hard to keep track of. Cyclists should be where you expect them to be -- along the side of the road or in a bike lane. They should stay out of left-hand lanes and turn lanes, and, instead, just suck it up and turn a busy corner as a pedestrian would -- not by wandering in the middle of the street but by crossing first one street and then the other on the right. Perhaps the law allows bikes to use other lanes -- I don't know. If it does, I disagree with it, but, in any case, it's not really about legal rights as such (a thin reed on which to rely when you break so many other laws anyway), but rather about courtesy and common sense.

    As for bike lanes, I'm all for them on busy streets in Chicago (so long as they're not robbing us of a needed lane of traffic), and don't have any objection to the ones I see in the city. I do, however, find the expenditure on bike lanes in places like Oak Park to be silly. Cyclists should just ride on the side streets, as we were all taught to do as kids. There's no reason to encourage cyclists to ride down Division or Chicago Ave. -- it's just a waste of even the little bit of money necessary to paint the road!

    I think we have to get beyond the idea of bike/car parity on the road. They're not the same as cars -- they're not nearly as large or as fast. Given that they're different sorts of things, I think we should all, as a matter of convention if not law, adhere to rules that make sense. If you're a cyclist, stay in a bike lane or on the right, leave room for cars to get by where practical, and avoid situations where it's not practical. If you're a driver, don't drive in the bike lanes, keep an appropriate distance from cyclists when passing them, and keep an eye out so that you don't cut them off. How's that for a grand bargain?

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    So-called "protected" bike lanes don't protect me from motorists turning right, turning left, pulling out from cross-streets, or pulling out from driveways. Thing is, those are the most common types of motorist-caused crashes between motorists and cyclists. Overtaking motorists simply aren't a significant problem in cities.

    What's worse, any sort of barrier put between the bike lane and the general use lane prohibits me from moving to a position in the roadway that gives me a better vantage point, so I can see and be seen by motorists who might be coming into conflict with me. They also prohibit me from making a normal left turn; I'm often forced to behave like a pedestrian in such facilities.

    And then of course there are the wrong-way cyclists, the broken glass and other debris...

    In other words, "protected bike lanes" are a sham.

  • I've got no issue with bikers, or bike lanes. What I do have a problem with is anyone over the age of 13 riding their bikes on sidewalks (frequently at top speeds). There are laws against that sort of riding and yet no one seems to be willing to enforce the laws. I've heard every excuse from."I'm only going a block ", to "Traffic is too heavy to be safe.". If that's the case stay off the streets or only ride where there are protected bike lanes. One afternoon on a five block walk from my home to the grocery store, I was forced to dodge 6 bicyclists all well past their teens. Two of them screamed, "Get out of the way!" Out of the way? Sidewalks are for people not bikes. So if protected lanes will get these bozos off the sidewalks build a protected lane on every street. Fund them by making them toll lanes until they are paid for or by issuing the tickets these people so richly deserve.

  • I'm an avid biker and every time I see another cyclist blow a stop sign or stop light or simply fail to obey the rules of the road. Stop signs aren't "stoptional".

    Cyclists need to stop making excuses and stop using the behavior of other, poor drivers as justification for their own behavior.

    Cars protect their drivers, bicycles don't. If you are the type of cyclist who blows stop signs and lights then you should expect to be hurt if not killed while riding.

    As a responder, I expect to eventually see this happen and smugly ask the hurt cyclist whose life I may be saving: "I'll bet you won't do that again, 'eh?"

  • Living in Chicago I am a pedestrian, a bicyclist, and a motorist. As I get around the city in each method I try to act as what I am at the time. What I've seen from many of my fellow cyclist is that they switch back and forth acting like a pedestrian, bicyclist or motorist, whatever is most convenient at the time. And not knowing what they are at any one time makes it very difficult in dealing with them in traffic. I'm OK with more bike lanes for bicyclists, but enforce the damn laws against those who are constantly breaking them. More tickets for bad actors.

  • In reply to ABIGSOXFAN:

    Thanks for taking the time to reply! I used a quote from your comment in today's post, What Can Cyclists Do About Our "Rogue" Element?

  • The City installed new dedicated bicycle lanes on Elston Avenue south and north of Division. In my opinion, the area is much more dangerous for bikers since the change. At the same time the dedicated lane was installed, the City also began allowing parking between the bicycle lane and the bicycle lane, and a new bar was opened at Division and Elston. Now, the north-bound bicycle lane is littered with broken glass beyond the glass already typical of Elston Avenue.

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