Monday, December 27, 2010

A Look Back At The Biggest Chicago Bicycling Stories of 2010

It's time for the obligatory end-of-the-year look back.  What were the top five happenings of the year in Chicago bicycling?

5.  Federal case made of road rage incident:  A lawsuit was filed in federal court alleging that Chicago police officers who responded to the scene of a SUV vs. bicycle road rage incident tried to protect the driver "because of his political connections and family influence."  The complaint also alleged that the driver, Matthew Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, was guilty of assault and battery, negligence and willful and wanton misconduct arising from the 2009 incident which took place near North Avenue and Segwick.  According to the complaint, Mr. Pritzker, "driving an SUV with a vanity plate of 'P'," tried to run the cyclist off the road before fleeing the scene.  Full story.

4.  Hotline created for bike crash victims:  Longtime leaders in Chicagoland bicycle advocacy, The Active Transportation Alliance created another helpful resource for the benefit of Chicago bicyclists, a hotline providing post-crash advice and guidance.  Bicyclists are among the most vulnerable users of our city's roads.  It's nice to know that someone with the resources of Active Trans has our back after a crash.  Learn more.

3.  Bike safety bill becomes law:  Declaring, "The road belongs to everyone," Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed tough new bicycling safety legislation into law on July 5th.  The law, which takes effect next week, strengthens Illinois' anti-buzzing law which prohibits motor vehicles from passing less than three feet from a bicyclist on a roadway.  It also provides for the creation of "Share The Road" license plates to be purchased through the Illinois Secretary of State's office.  Full story.

2.  Mayor Daley stepping down:  It's become something of a cliché to note the friendship between the departing Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago's bicycling community.  However, it would be hard to overstate the importance of his leadership in developing and building a bike friendly city.  According to WTTW's Biking the Boulevards website,
In 1991, Daley created the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council in an effort to promote cycling and the extension of biking programs and resources. Within one year, the Council prepared the Bike 2000 Plan, which presented 31 recommendations to encourage bicycling in Chicago. Based on these recommendations, the City of Chicago established a network of 100 miles of on-street bike lanes and 50 miles of bike trails, install 10,000 bike racks throughout the city, produce educational biking publications; and create outreach programs. In addition, the City has worked with the Chicago Transit Authority to permit bikes on CTA trains and equip more than 2,000 CTA buses with bike racks. By 2002, the mayor’s administration had begun collaboration with the Department of Transportation and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, now the Active Transportation Alliance to present the Bike 2015 Plan. The 2015 Plan has two main objectives. The first is to increase bicycle use so that five percent of all trips of less than five miles are by bicycle. The second is to reduce the number of bicycle injuries by 50 percent. Mayor Richard M. Daley has also been instrumental in other cycling programs including the Bike Chicago Program, the Bike to Work Rally, Mayor Daley’s Bicycling Ambassadors, and the annual Bike the Drive event.
We're not perfect.  We're not Portland, Oregon, a city with a lauded biking infrastructure but with about a 5th of the population of Chicago.  But let's hope that who ever our next mayor is, that we keep peddling forward.

1.  The Brookfield sentencing debacle:  Nothing inflamed the passions of Chicagoland cyclists in 2010 quite like the weak sentences handed down to two young motorists who, in 2009, intentionally hunted down and struck a bicyclist in Brookfield.  One of the men received a sentence of ten days in jail and the other received zero jail time for his role.  Both men had been drinking before deciding to drive around looking for bicyclists to hit.  Both were sentenced by Cook County Judge Carol Kipperman.  What made this the biggest story of the year was the incredible response that the sentences generated.  Shortly after they were handed down, the Active Transportation Alliance expressed outrage and initiated a letter writing campaign directed at the Cook County State's Attorney's office demanding that they justify the negotiated sentences.  The prosecutor's office was so inundated emails that it felt compelled to respond, blaming the judge for ignoring recommendations for stiffer sentences.

In the end, though, there was a silver lining:   new relationship grew between the State's Attorney's Office and the Active Transportation Alliance due to the letter writing campaign and the media attention it brought.  We may now hope that the prosecutor's office will let Active Trans know in advance of sentencing in future cases, which in turn can communicate with the broader cycling community.  Even a modest presence of concerned bicyclists at a sentencing hearing can make a difference when a judge is considering punishment for an attack on a cyclist.

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