In the print edition of today's Chicago Tribune, editors published an anti-bicycle rant by a reader. The Tribune included the angry letter at the top of the "Voice of the People" section along with a cartoon of a road raging motorist next to a cyclist. The screed, titled "Dangerous bikers," contained the tired old anti-bicycle rants heard many times before: Bicyclists are anarchist rogues who do not pay to use the roads that belong to cars and cars only. Bicyclists are "dangerously selfish" and pretty much deserve whatever abuse they receive from motorists, writes the bitter author. They should have to buy licenses and city stickers.
The letter contains little thoughtful reflection from a person whom I'm guessing doesn't ride. City bicyclists face chaos and hostility at nearly every turn. Illinois law requires bicyclists to ride as far to the right curb as possible, but that is not as simple as it sounds. The right side of the road often contains potholes, torn-up pavement, parked cars, double parked delivery trucks and disembarking taxi cabs, among other hazards. Staying out the "traffic lane" isn't always avoidable and bikes sometimes find themselves needing to take the lane. Apparently, some see this as bikers acting like they "own the road." This is something Illinois law permits bicyclists to do when circumstances require it. Even when a bike lane exists, a cyclist utilizing it finds himself or herself in close proximity to parked cars which may at any moment, and without warning, open a door into the cyclist's path, a potentially deadly situation. While traveling in our city's streets the cyclist must also deal with cars and trucks that turn without signaling; pedestrians who mindlessly choose to cross the street mid-block without looking; and texting, eating, eye make-up applying drivers focused on anything but the road, just to name a few common hazards. All of this with no protection, but perhaps for a piece of styrofoam upon their heads. Often, the price paid by cyclists for trying to save money, save the planet, get some exercise and rigorously enjoy life is death or serious injury. You'll forgive us, dear motorists, if we get a bit . . . frustrated while out riding. Until we have buffered bike lanes, bike boxes, designated boulevards and a transportation infrastructure that truly takes bicycles seriously, cyclists will be left to ride defensively. Yes, there are bad cyclists out there, as there are bad motorists. But what may seem like unnecessarily aggressive cycling may actually be the best and safest approach to a given situation.
As for the notion of taxing bicyclists, it turns out that cyclists already overpay to use city streets. "Every time somebody gets on a bicycle instead of in a car, the city saves money," according to a very interesting analysis by the folks over at Grist.