At Grid Chicago, we like to deal with facts and we said before that we would combat bike lane backlash.
The Chicago Tribune published Sunday an op-ed by John McCarron, an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and monthly columnist, about how using bicycles and fast buses to get to work is not practical. I’ve picked 7 misinformed or inaccurate points he makes to tell you what’s real.
1. McCarron says that bus rapid transit won’t work as a practical alternative to commuting by automobile in Chicago.
Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems typically have fewer stops and can reach higher speeds; they may also have priority at signalized intersections, and be able to cross through before anyone else. At least part of the route has a lane dedicated for the buses’ use. There are several cities in the United States that have some form of bus rapid transit; here are their effects:
Emerald Express (EmX) in Eugene, Oregon – Riders reported in a survey that they had a higher perception of reliability on the EmX bus versus the bus it replaced. They also reported that their trip’s travel time, when using EmX, was shorter. They also gave higher ratings of safety and seat availability on the EmX over the route it replaced. Data suggests that the service is attracting commuters who previously drove or carpooled. (from the project evaluation report)
Las Vegas Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) – Route travel times improved by 26-43% (dependent on time of day) between the existing Route 113 and MAX. Riders also reported shorter trip times when using MAX. Like EmX, the data for MAX also shows that the new bus is attracting new riders. (from the project evaluation report)
Additional systems include Select Bus Service in New York City and the Orange Line in Los Angeles.
2. “[Mayor Emanuel's] main legislative win in Springfield is getting state permission to set electronic speed traps all over town.”
They are not traps; speed cameras, like red light cameras, must have signs indicating to drivers when and where they are in operation. Governor Quinn hasn’t yet signed the legislation but the Chicago Tribune editorial board advises him to.
3. “Check out Kinzie Street behind the Merchandise Mart. If you watch long enough you may see a bike go by.”
The Department of Transportation (CDOT) counted 656 bicyclists in a two hour period in July 2011, representing nearly 50% of vehicles on the road (count data). So it seems you’ll spot a person bicycling for every person you see driving.
4. “But who among us has the time, stamina or ego to ride a bicycle to work?”
I’m not sure who he’s including as “us”, but in the 2010 Census, over 14,000 Chicagoans reported riding their bikes to work*. If “us” means automobile drivers, then many more would bicycle to work if they felt it was safer – 100 miles of incoming protected bike lanes will do that for a city. Time? You’ll have to try out your route on a bike to see which is faster. As for stamina, not everyone is racing to get to work. Ego? Please check it at the door. Citizen cyclists don’t have one.
5. “Besides, I’d look silly in cyclist couture. Imagine me in a Castelli Sorpasso bib tight cycling suit (available online for around $179.95 plus shipping). I’ve never paid that much for a real suit.”
I’m not aware of a requirement to buy new clothes in order to ride a bike to work (or anywhere). If McCarron wore that while cycling to work, he’d probably be the only one. I found it for less at $149.95.
6. “The city’s Department of Transportation has done a lot of stupid things — check out its plan for a subterranean transit center under the corner of Monroe and Clinton — but preserving the old railroad right-of-way between the Merchandise Mart and Tribune Tower isn’t one of them.”
There are plans for this right-of-way, called the Carroll Avenue Transitway, in the Central Area Action Plan. “The Carroll Transitway as currently defined would connect Union Station and Ogilvie Center with areas north of the Chicago River, and include a terminal at Navy Pier. Carroll is named for a partially grade-separated right-of-way that was previously occupied by a railroad spur. A transit line along this route is one of the altematives for consideration.” That statement comes from a Request for Proposals the City issued in 2010, but canceled a month later.
A photo from 1968 shows the Carroll Avenue bridge in the up position. An abandoned railway goes from here (at Clinton Street and Kinzie Street) nearly to Navy Pier under the Merchandise Mart and other buildings. You can easily see it by going to 100 feet north of the Chicago River on Clark Street. Photo by David Wilson.
7. “But no, that’s not the plan. Instead we’re going to reinstall bus lanes on already-choked streets in the heart of the Loop.”
As I noted above, faster buses with dependable service (schedules and travel times) have a tendency to attract new transit passengers and reduce the number of people driving alone, the shear number of which causes a majority of congestion.
BRT, like the EmX in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, uses longer buses in dedicated lanes with signal priority and prepaid boarding to reduce travel times and improve service reliability. Even with the Select Bus Service in congested central business districts like Manhattan. Photo by Streetcar Press.
What else should we talk about?
I didn’t write about everything; contribute your own response in the comments about the parts I skipped. I like the direction that Jason Tinkey, whose blog is a member of our Network, took in his dissection; here are key excerpts:
It’s the sort of screed we’ve come to expect, full of outdated stereotypes, faulty logic and straight-up misinformation.
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room. From 2001-2009,369,629 people died on America’s roads, an average of over 41,000 per year. To put that in perspective, that is just above one per cent of the national population, equivalent to a city the size of Minneapolis being wiped out, or about 120 9/11 attacks. I really think it’s time the streets-are-for-cars-so-everybody-else-can-get-out-of-my-way-or-go-[_]-themselves crowd drops the “war on cars” rhetoric. Unless, of course, they’re willing to confront the crimes against humanity waged in their name over the past couple of generations.
Per capita casualty rates are significantly lower in every other industrialized nation, so why does it need to be this way?
To answer this, we must look at how we’ve built our cities over the past fifty years. It’s no secret that trillions in federal funding has gone to subsidize freeway-centric development.
He’s right about one thing, all the bike lanes in the world are pointless for the elderly or infirm. But then again, so is auto-centric development.
Read Jason’s full article on The Planner’s Dream Gone Wrong. You can also read Brent Cohrs response on his Chicago Now blog. Read Doug Gordon’s anthology of bike haters in Brooklyn Spoke. I didn’t hear him say it myself, but apparently transportation commissioner Gabe Klein said on Tuesday to a City Club luncheon that “there is no war on cars”.
*Because of an issue with how the Census collects this data, it could be higher: if more than one mode of transportation was used each day, those surveyed are asked to specify the mode used for the longest distance during the trip from home to work. This would ignore a bike trip from Lincoln Square to the Western Brown Line station to a job in the Loop, counting it as a trip by train.
Updated December 1, 2011, to add a link to information about the effects of Select Bus Service in New York City, an additional link to another response, and fixing readability in the first paragraph about BRT.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011. We switched to writing at Streetsblog Chicago in January 2013.
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Western & Ashland BRT: Pros and Cons - This webpage summarizes the project details and describes the pros and cons for each of the 4 bus rapid transit scenarios
Chicago Crash Browser - Find where bicyclists and pedestrians were hit by cars in Chicago.
Bike 2015 Plan Tracker - Monitoring the status of implementing the 153 strategies in the Bike 2015 Plan
Chicago Bike Guide app - The Chicago Bike Guide is the best way to navigate Chicago's vast network of bikeways and cool destinations. Get trip directions, find available Divvy bikes and docks, read The Chainlink, Tumblr, and Twitter, all giving you the perfect view of getting around by bike in Chicago. The app works on iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Android phones and tablets.
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