Cycling in Copenhagen next to articulated buses. All high-volume intersections are bathed in blue to show where each vehicle operator, people cycling and driving alike, where to maneuver. Photo by Mikael Colville-Anderson, the Copenhagenize author.
I saw an old post on Copenhagenize, a popular blog about bicycle cultures (which Chicago is not). It’s called, 18 ways to know that you have a bicycle culture. Jokingly, I thought to reply blindly, “Nope, don’t have that”, to all items in the list. Some of the signs seem listed to poke fun at cities with bicycle subcultures, even though they would more likely happen in a bicycle than outside of one. For example, #12 says:
When you see somebody with rolled up trouser legs you think, ‘what a shame that fellow can’t afford a chain guard’. You consider rolling up next to him at the next light to give him some money.
I read each one and I wasn’t able to check off any. So maybe there are 12 more ways to know you have a bicycle culture and I’m just waiting for part two. But instead of waiting I thought to make my own list about 18 – annoying and discomforting – signs that you’re cycling in Chicago. I came up with a list, but it’s grumbling and discouraging so I may publish it later.
How do ensure intersections are made safe for cycling, and encourage cycling instead of discouraging it or influence people to perform risky maneuvers? A busy intersection at Grand Avenue, Halsted Street, and Milwaukee Avenue, near downtown Chicago.
As I reviewed the list with my friend Tom Gonzales today, he had a good idea:
Find out what’s wrong with the system and processes that built it, not what’s wrong with the street. We all know what’s wrong with the street, or if we don’t, we can usually at least identify those places we don’t like to ride or where we feel uncomfortable.
So instead of pointing out ways that cycling in Chicago is a sucky experience (it’s also a fun, interesting, and extremely useful one), I will channel my energy to investigating why a majority of bike lanes prior to 2011 were built in door zones, utility contractors never reinstall the pavement properly, or that bike lanes end at intersections where you are most vulnerable*. With that knowledge we’ll know how to build a better system and work on creating a bicycle culture where the crash rate is nil, people are injured less often, there’s less pollution in the air, and congestion is reduced.
One sign of a bicycle culture is that the number of people riding bicycles are counted for a census; this bike counter is one way to do that. After many gap years in counting cycling in Chicago, it seems that the Department of Transportation now has a program in place to collect data in a standard and methodical way, that will lead to better quality analysis and reporting of ridership levels.
* I’ve an idea why this happens and it has a lot to do with left- or right-turn lanes and the desire to maintain parallel parking spaces. They’re called pinch points.