Can we get some police to enforce traffic laws? A letter


This photo of a police SUV parked in the Kinzie Street protected bike lane was included in the letter. Photo taken by Tumblr user 122782.

I just received another report from a reader about people driving in the 18th Street protected bike lane, so it’s obvious to me that dangerous driving behavior is still happening.

A month ago, Anne Alt, president of the Chicago Cycling Club and author of our excellent, two-part series about cycling on the south side, wrote to me that she had drafted a letter written to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, and police superintendent Garry McCarthy to advocate for increased police enforcement of the City’s (pretty solid) traffic laws. I helped edit parts of the letter, gathered some signatures in support of the letter at the Chicago Bike Swap, and even paid for postage. The letter has been sent, and pursuant to the Grid Chicago mission statement (“taking a stand on issues”), I’m publishing it here. Continue reading Can we get some police to enforce traffic laws? A letter

Grid Shots: Shopping without a car

A large portion of Chicagoans not only take the bus, train, walk, or bike to work, but they also take these sustainable transportation modes to go shopping, for groceries and everything else.


Two people attempt to cross Western Avenue, with one of them pushing his purchases in a shopping cart. Photo by Joshua Koonce. Continue reading Grid Shots: Shopping without a car

Does biking in large groups, like the monthly ride called Critical Mass, help or hurt cyclists and the cycling movement?

Updated September 29 and 30 to add my thoughts and to clarify that when I asked my friends on Facebook for their thoughts, only four people replied. Also included the fourth reply. Added information about the “Aftermass” documentary effort in Portland, Oregon. Added Critical Mass alternatives.

This debate aired on Chicago Tonight on Thursday, September 27, 2011, at 7 PM. I haven’t watched it yet – I just wanted to get it out there for you. Features cycling mom and friend of Grid Chicago, Gin Kilgore, as well as Ethan Spotts, director of communications at Active Transportation Alliance, and Scott Rowan, co-author of The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide.

I asked my friends on Facebook about this issue; here’s what the only four who responded said:

Dan Ciskey

In the summer it’s nothing more than a frat party on wheels. They block other bikers who need to use the street in the opposite direction by riding across the entire street. Even when the opposite direction has its own bike lane. At that point it’s not bike-positive, it’s just a bunch of jerks. I had a driver who got stuck in Mass throw change at me, even though we were past and I was riding away from the group. They’re really winning hearts and minds!

I’ve never run into them in the winter (when I’m sure they’re much smaller; most of the riders don’t seem too serious).

Friend who wanted to remain anonymous

I think that if nothing else, Critical Mass should avoid riding by Union Station whenever possible (which is always). There’s a huge throng of pedestrian traffic headed toward onion station at the exact time of day as Critical Mass – and they’re consistently blocked from being able to cross Adams Street to get to the entrance.

Anne Alt

For years, I’ve felt that Critical Mass is a mixed bag. Our main Chicago ride, fun as it may be, has gotten too big. It’s difficult to have something the size of a parade NOT alienate a fair number of people.

If riders are friendly to pedestrians and drivers, the response is usually friendly. If riders are confrontational or thuggish, it gives our bike community a collective black eye.

If we want to build greater acceptance for cycling and get more people out riding on the streets, alienating the general public will NOT help us make progress towards a more bike friendly city. It’s more likely to provoke a Tea Party-style backlash. I suspect that the negative responses we see in newspaper article comment sections and bike bashing on talk radio are just the tip of the iceberg. Road rage incidents reinforce this opinion.

I think the smaller neighborhood Critical Mass rides are more effective at promoting the idea of sharing the road and peacefully coexisting. I appreciate what Critical Mass has done to popularize the idea of bike riding in cities, but I think the big rides of recent years have become counterproductive. I also appreciate the efforts that some of our local CMers have made with the multi-mass idea – difficult as that is to pull off.

I’d rather be part of a mellow, friendly social ride than a drunken frat party on wheels. Just my $0.02… Your mileage may vary.

Dan Korn

 It’s true that it might not be the best tool to encourage people to ride, but I think its greatest value is the energy it gives to its participants, and that’s been a huge factor in the growth of the cycling movement, which has, admittedly slowly, but surely, led to improvements like protected bike lanes and events like Bike the Drive here in Chicago, and similar advances in other cities with large Critical Mass rides and communities. These kinds of changes wouldn’t have been possible, I submit, without the sense of community and vision that Critical Mass fosters. To me, that far outweighs any negatives. Although, if people are now talking about cycling, for almost any reason, that’s a good thing too.

My thoughts

I think that the people who enjoy doing Critical Mass should continue doing it. I will not ask them to stop, but I won’t ask them to continue. I don’t think it hurts the “cycling movement”. What hurts the cycling movement is the lack of political leadership to help move it. But that’s changing in Chicago. I rode in Critical Mass (the October ride is my favorite) because I enjoyed being around people who were having fun, and I liked the energy of the ride. I stopped riding in Critical Mass purely because it exacerbated my existing neck and back pain.

Joe Biel is making a documentary of “post-Critical Mass” Portland, Oregon. He writes on his Kickstarter page:

What does it mean that Portland, one of the best North American cities for cycling, has virtually no Critical Mass? Is it no longer relevant in the evolution of cyclists or has the police crackdown just been so successful? What are the new goals of cyclists? What is the new activism? How are objectives reached?


People riding in Critical Mass on Clybourn Avenue in summer 2011. Photo by Mike Travis. 

Critical Mass alternatives in Chicago

Strange signage on the Lakefront Trail


The Chicago Lakefront Trail at Lawrence Avenue showing possibly conflicting intersection signage. Photo by Robert Powers.

[This piece originally ran in Time Out Chicago. Photos by Hui Hwa Nam.]

Q: What’s up with those signs in Uptown where streets cross the Lakefront Trail? Are drivers supposed to stop for bicyclists or are bicyclists supposed to yield to drivers?

A: This unusual signage is at Montrose, Lawrence and Foster Avenues, where the path not only intersects these east-west streets but also meets on- and off-ramps from Lake Shore Drive (LSD). Street traffic gets stop signs while cyclists and skaters on the trail get yield signs. Continue reading Strange signage on the Lakefront Trail

When you build for youngest, you build for everyone


A young boy on his bike waits for the red light to change on Logan Boulevard in Logan Square.

I’ve been participating in a design collaboration this summer called Moving Design: Call To Action. This year’s “Call To Action” is about bicycle safety in Chicago, focusing on Logan Square. The group comprises over 40 designers, and two urban planners, including myself.

My role has been to provide “policy insights” – read and see them on the Moving Design blog. Since I’ve been in Utah for last Wednesday’s and tonight’s meetings, I created videos. Think of them as a satellite feed of an actor giving their Oscar acceptance speech from the set of the movie they’re filming.

This video policy insight is about 8 to 80. I connect the concept of “designing biking facilities for all” to ways cyclists have been divided and then bring it around to a discussion last week between Adolfo Hernandez of Active Transportation Alliance and Rob Forbes, CEO of Public Bikes.

Watch the video after the jump. 

Continue reading When you build for youngest, you build for everyone

Judging traffic congestion on Kinzie Street


I created this video in response to comments I was reading on various blogs, newspaper websites, and EveryBlock, where people (claiming to be commuters who drive on or near Kinzie Street, or live near Kinzie Street) alleged that the protected bike lane was causing an increase in congestion or traffic backups. Read why these arguments are illogical and why considering it is obsolete.  Continue reading Judging traffic congestion on Kinzie Street