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What Ald. Sophia King's Mayoral Bid Means for Bicyclists

A retrospective on Ald. King's politics relating to bike lanes, safety, and infrastructure, written by a 4th ward resident.





My alderman, Sophia King, announced her bid to become the next mayor of Chicago. There is a lot to like about King. For example, she was one of the leaders of the effort to raise the minimum wage and she has spoken in favor of protecting people with vaccines. However, her current approach to transportation is dangerous. We have to hold our leaders accountable. I love this city and we need a Chicago that is safer from traffic violence.


I have lived in the South Loop portion of the 4th Ward for years and get around by bike, by foot, by CTA, and even rideshare. On out-of-town vacations, I have been known to be an avid motorist. I moved here and enjoy it because I can get around without spending time and thousands of dollars every year to own a car.


 

My story begins around the spring of 2018. The stitches from a taxi driver knocking me off my bike and into the back of an ambulance had been removed. Assuming the East Harrison Street plastic post protection had been removed for snow plowing, I emailed King's office to request the posts be reinstalled to provide some minimal safety against another ER visit. The request was never acted upon. Her staff's responses were either empty promises or claims of ignorance as to why the plastic posts were missing.


Early in 2019 before election day, King held a South Loop Town Hall presenting her accomplishments. She proudly announced that she had removed all of the bike lane protection along Harrison, claiming that the bike lane protection made car traffic worse. I showed her data from bus speeds in the area proving her incorrect.


 


Streetsblog and others have previously covered King obstructing concrete curb protected lanes and proposing Drexel bike lane removal in favor of overnight parking. Her chief of staff told me that King wanted the Drexel bike lanes used for Sunday church parking claiming it was a "compromise."


 


King's office and I have a game they like to play. I ask for safe streets... whether it be uncleared snow, broken glass, construction, double parked vehicles, repainted crosswalks, etc. They make some empty promises to address the issue, but rarely is the problem addressed in a timely manner. Repeat the cycle every couple of weeks. For the past three months, I have been asking King and her staff almost every week to sweep the same glass from the Harrison protected bike lane and have been unsuccessful.


Video from the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council meeting documenting 4th ward safety concerns going unaddressed.



Submissions to Bike Lane Uprising documenting 4th ward safety concerns going unaddressed.



 


Whenever I complain about vehicles illegally blocking bike lanes, the alderman's typical response is a one-dimensional ask CPD for increased enforcement - which is not the response I expect from a so-called progressive leader.

Photo documenting Chicago police parked illegally in 4th ward Polk Street bi-directional bike lane with snow and ice that had not been cleared for weeks, even after multiple 311 submissions, and emails to King's ward office.



 


King has pushed developers in the area for additional car parking. I am thankful that BLU documented and publicized King's vote in favor of raising the speed limit threshold. Her office's response to Gerardo Marciales's death and well documented problems at Balbo and DuSable Lake Shore Drive have been disappointing.



 

King has bristled when others have called her anti-bike and has claimed she is pro-bike, but her words are not reflected in actions. From 2019 though 2021, King has spent very little ward menu money to make vulnerable road users safer in the South Loop. She painted an unprotected and largely ignored pedestrian median on Harrison at Plymouth. She installed bumpouts on Plymouth/Van Buren and Plymouth/Jackson by the Chicago Bar Association building. While a bumpout was installed in the 1100 block of South Wabash, its only benefit is improving access to a parking garage.


King has told me that the 4th Ward has some of the best bicycle infrastructure of any ward in the city, including the lakefront path. On this we agree, but being the one of the best does not mean safe. The LFP is great, but being able to access it from home is often perilous. I routinely get harassed and have received death threats for daring to do things like biking around a double parked car or leaving the bike lane to access a left turn lane. Every time I leave my home, I still say a little prayer that I make it back safely. I have been one of the top BLU submitters largely using photos taken close to home in the 4th Ward - thanks Sophia King!

Photo documenting 4th ward bike lan obstructions via BLU heat map.