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Dear Chicago, I love you so much - it’s killing us both

I love riding my bike...but recently I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frustrated, and at times, more scared in my almost 20 years of riding around this city.

 

The following article was written by one of our followers, Tim Roby. After a handful of email exchanges and witnessing Tim being ignored from his alder, we invited him to write about how he is feeling. Some of you might be able to relate. - Bike Lane Uprising

 

I love riding my bike. It’s fast, it’s efficient and it makes me feel so much more free versus sitting in a train or a bus. And it’s all around better than being in a car jamming up the roads. It’s also my exercise. Like most of you, I don’t have time for anything extra, so those 45 minutes each way is my physical and mental health because it’s also the best way to clear my head. But recently I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frustrated, and at times, more scared in my almost 20 years of riding around this city.

My normal commute is about 8 miles each way with 99% of that in some form of designated bike lane. But I average over 7 or 8 cars and trucks illegally parked in bike lanes or close calls where drivers don’t see me, each way, every day. If you asked a driver how many times they would be ok with stopping and waiting for traffic to clear to go around another vehicle parked in their lane, or slamming on their brakes to avoid being hit, how many times would they say that would be acceptable? Surely not 16 times a day.


Shortly before the shutdown, I felt like we were almost at a breaking point. Drivers were getting way more aggressive. Delivery drivers of all sorts were working harder and out of patience with everyone, which then caused cyclists to feel more vulnerable and unsafe than ever. We were heading towards disaster.

Then the world shut down.

We all tried to put things into perspective.

We welcomed quiet streets and a lot of us welcomed a world that slowed down, even though it had its own set of frustrations.

With the exception of the first couple months of the pandemic, I’ve had to go into work a few days or more a week. And let me tell you, it was amazing and eerie that if I really wanted to, I could bike down the middle of almost any road at any time of day last summer because everyone was locked down. It was pretty much just me, a few cars and a ton of construction trucks parked everywhere.

But as of about 6 weeks ago, all of that goodwill has gone out the window - we are back to pre-pandemic conditions all around. After being cooped up for over a year, the world is arguably more aggressive than it was before we shut down. People don’t remember how to handle themselves in public after the isolation of last year. Two weeks ago, I saw a guy in a giant SUV with an honor roll sticker from his kid’s school swerve at a group of 20 somethings on mini motorcycles to “teach them a lesson” because he “thought what they were doing was dangerous”. We all need to slow down and understand that we all share this city and these streets. We all have our own separate frustrations and stresses weighing on us. We’re all underpaid and overworked, but please don’t take that out on people biking, the most vulnerable on the road.

This is what I want drivers, city planners and politicians to know- I bike because I love to. Even on the coldest, wettest, most frustrating days. But I also bike to get to work to feed my family. I shouldn’t have to kiss and hug my wife and daughter every morning like I’m going off to battle and could never see them again. I shouldn't have to wonder if this is the day, or if that is the car, that will end my life and destroy my family as i'm simply trying to get to work. Especially since I am merely riding a bicycle 16 miles a day in designated bike lanes.

Cyclists don’t know if drivers can see us, ever. When a car is parked in a bike lane, it’s not as simple as “minding our own business” and just going around. We know drivers often don’t see us and our lives are at risk. Or when a driver making a left turn starts lurching as we pass in the other direction, and we yell out to slow down- don’t get aggressive with us and yell back at us that “I have a clean driving record and I would never hit you on purpose” as I was told on Tuesday coming home from work. As all cyclists know, we’ve had way too many close calls to believe you or know for sure if you see us. Sure, you and your clean driving record bumping into another car is frustrating but you running into a cyclist means vehicular manslaughter on your record. And what driver intends on crashing into something to begin with?

Or when a driver makes a right turn across a bike lane almost hitting us, don’t honk at us and flip us off like we did something wrong for yelling for our lives. Did you not see us or did you not care enough to slow down? I know if I were a driver instead of a bike rider you wouldn’t cut across another lane of traffic to make a turn.


Bike riders understand that construction needs to happen. But we don’t understand why there is never any notice when streets are torn up or for how long. Or why construction sites seem to have no rules beyond protecting their own workers when completely taking over bike lanes for months on end.

Overall we need infrastructure and enforcement of existing infrastructure. Green paint and plastic stanchions obviously aren't a deterrent. Drivers know that the bike lanes are an unenforced joke and they can park in the lanes for however long they want, whenever they want, especially if it has to do with construction. I have a list a mile long of 311 submissions for specific locations that vehicles park in at specific times every day that have gone ignored for years. And I’m not the only one. Collectively that could be millions of dollars in revenue and a whole population of people that are less stressed out riding their bikes to work.

Your, "I’ll just be a minute parking in the bike lane” could literally be life and death for one of us on a bike. It’s especially frustrating that most of the time there is an open parking spot on that same block that could have been used with just a little more effort. I know hustling as a delivery driver is hard, and I don’t blame you for stopping wherever you can. That’s where we need to turn to the city planners to help us all out by finding a solution. There are a lot of us that are avoiding public transit because we’re still nervous about bringing COVID-19 home to our kids. So we will be sticking to biking for a while. Going forward more people are going to be biking and home deliveries aren't going to subside now that the country is opening back up. We need complete street planning to help us all out before more people get injured and killed.

I got an email from Bike Lane Uprising a few weeks ago that said I was in the top 50 contributors. At the time I thought, “wow, if I had the time to get a picture of every infraction, I could for sure be the number 1 contributor”. But to be honest, I have been a little too discouraged and disheartened to submit too many violations recently. Or to follow up with some of our alderpeople that I have asked to talk to about specific concerns in their ward after being ignored for so long. It seems like after all the work we are doing, things are getting worse. Sometimes stopping to get a picture of a car or truck in a bike lane is like the real time version of doom scrolling. Too many drivers telling me to “go about my business” or “what do you want me to do, I’m just doing my job” starts to weigh on you.

But I can’t give up. Together I know that we can make things better. My wife and I took a trip to Vancouver a few years ago and spent the entire week riding around on rented bikes. When we got back she was inspired to keep it going and was biking to work several days a week. Then she started to get increasingly angry about how drivers treat cyclists and more agitated about the commute. Soon after a student at her school was killed a block away from our route. She was devastated and no longer felt she could continue biking to work.


I know that our cities will be in a better place when people like her feel safe to see biking as a viable transportation option in a city that lauds it’s bike infrastructure. And that’s what I am working towards, in small baby steps. And it will be better for our cities too. More efficient commutes, less pollution and wear on the roads, more economic opportunities because it’s easier to stop at business on a bike and a healthier, more active population. I know biking isn’t for everyone, but it can be for a majority of us and I think we would be better all around for it.



Love,


Tim Roby