Last week, the Chicago police ran a one-intersection sting, attempting to make bicyclists aware that they need to follow the rules of the road, just like car drivers do. (I pass through this intersection on my way to work every day, and it can be pretty scary sometimes.)
This is always one of those hot button issues that gets everyone pointing fingers at each other as the cause of the trouble — bikers blame drivers, drivers blame bikers, pedestrians blame everyone. But honestly, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Pedestrians cross against the light, and in the middle of the block, and while texting or talking on the phone. Someone decides it’s worth risking their life to run across a busy street, so they can get to the other side about a minute sooner than if they’d just waited for the light to change. I don’t get it. Of course I’ve done it myself in the past, but it’s rare that I do it anymore. There’s nowhere I need to be THAT quickly. I’m not a superhero, the world will go on just fine without me taking any unecessary risks.
Naturally I’ve had my run-ins with drivers, my “I’m walking here!” moments, when someone behind the wheel of a car decides that it’s more important for them to make a right turn on red, and think they can just barrel through those of us trying to walk across the street. One of my biggest peeves are drivers who pull all the way into the crosswalk while they’re sitting at the red light, forcing pedestrians into the intersection in order to get across. Depending on the intersection and the time of day, this is something I’d prefer to avoid doing.
But what I really wanted to talk about was bikes and bicyclists.
In my perfect world, bikes and cars and pedestrians would co-exist in peace and harmony, and the city would be an easy and safe place for someone to ride their bike as an alternative to driving or taking public transportation. I’ve ridden a bike twice on city streets, and I found it too scary for my nervous constitution, so I doubt I would do it again. But I want to support bike culture. I LOVE Critical Mass, even when I’m stuck on a bus in the middle of it. But bicyclists don’t help themselves or their cause when they don’t obey the traffic laws and the rules of the road in their everyday travels.
There’s a quote in the Tribune article that blew my mind: “a lot of the bikers we stopped simply said they didn’t know you cannot blow through a red light.”
Really? Are you kidding me? Just because you’re on a bike, that red light doesn’t apply to you? What about the drivers coming the other way that have a green light while you’re supposed to be stopped at that red? You think you’re going to be able to skate through because you’re smaller than a car? Because you’re only on two wheels and you’re fast? I don’t understand that. Why shouldn’t you have to obey the same rules? There are a lot of intersections that have red light cameras now, and if you’re driving a car and run the light, you’re going to get a ticket. But if you’re on a bike, no worries. Maybe if we required bikers to have license plates they could be ticketed, and then think twice about it. And bicyclists don’t need driver’s licenses. Anyone with a bike can get on the road. Granted, there are plenty of people who drive with suspended licenses or no license at all, but if they get pulled over by a cop, they’ll get a ticket or get arrested. What if the same applied to bikes? (I know the bureaucracy would be insane, but isn’t it already?)
In my 25+ years living in Chicago, I’ve had a few close calls where I was almost hit by a car. The only time I’ve actually BEEN hit was by a man on a bike. He made a right turn in front of a bus stopped at a red light and knocked me over as I was beginning to cross the street. He stopped for about 15 seconds, said, “Sorry” and continued on his way. Some other pedestrians were nice enough to help me up and collect my things (my bag had been knocked out of my hands), and luckily I was unhurt, if shaken up. If he’d been behind the wheel of a car, and I’d been hurt, his “hit and run” would be a Class 2 Felony in Illinois. That can get you a fine of up to $25,000 and/or a few years in the state pen. But on a bike? No worries, enjoy your day.
And there are plenty of bicyclists that get hit by cars, too. The number of “ghost bikes” around the city is proof of that. “Dooring” accidents are finally being counted as traffic accidents by the Illinois Department of Transportation. I’ve seen it happen a couple times and it’s not pretty. It’s one of the things that scared me too much about riding in the city. Drivers are finally starting to be more aware of the presence of bikes in traffic, but there’s still a long way to go.
Take a look at this video, called “3-Way Street”, showing an aerial view of a busy intersection in New York. Countless potential accidents, all because someone (driver, pedestrian, cyclist) doesn’t want to follow the rules.
In summary: you are not the only person on the road or the sidewalk. Look out for others as well as yourself, and live to see another day.