Monday, December 23, 2013

2013: The Year's Biggest Bicycle Stories

There were some major ups and downs for bicycling in Chicago in 2013.  It was a year that saw a major uptick in the popularity of transportation cycling in our city.  It was also a year of losses which the bicycling community will never forget.  Here are the top five Chicago cycling stories of 2013:

5.  The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) placed a moratorium on the installation of protected bike lanes in Chicago.  In February, our friends at Streetsblog Chicago reported that IDOT -- which has jurisdiction over many streets in Chicago -- refused to allow the installation of protected bike lanes until at least three years of crash data could be collected.  Steetsblog pointed out that the moratorium was in places inconsistent with the plans and recommendations of the Chicago Department of Transportation.  IDOT's stance was frustrating to some in light of the availability of crash data from other cities which had significant experience with protected bike lanes.  In May, following the death of cyclist, Bobby Cann, who was killed on Clybourn Avenue, a road under IDOT's jursidiction and which lacked a protected bike lane, concern over the moratorium increased.  Many wondered if the existence of a protected lane where Cann was killed might have prevented the tragedy.  In October, at a memorial service for Cann it was announced that IDOT had backed off somewhat and would allow a protected bicycle lane to be installed on Clybourn.

4.  The City of Chicago and the State of Illinois clarified laws allowing people on bicycles to pass drivers on the right.  In June, Chicago's City Council passed the 2013 Bicycle Safety Ordinance which, among other things, stated that 
Any bicyclist upon a roadway is permitted to pass on the right side of a slower-moving or standing vehicle or bicycle, but must exercise due care when doing so.

In August, the State followed suit passing a fix to the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code stating that human powered two wheeled vehicles are not barred from passing motor vehicles on the right.

The amendments were necessary to aid police departments confused over whether cyclists may pass on the right.  Unnecessary traffic citations to bicyclists were sometimes the result of this confusion.  With the changes in place"Illinoisans riding bicycles may confidently pass slow-moving cars on the right side of the road and know that they are on solid ground legally," said Max Muller, Director of Government Relations for the Active Transportation Alliance.

Our law firm worked with Active Trans, CDOT and State Representative Laura Fine to draft the changes.

3.  In November, Gabe Klein, impassioned new wave infrastructure crusader, stepped away from his post as CDOT commissioner.  Early this month, his lieutenant, deputy commissioner Scott Kubly also called it quites.  Commissioner Klein was the driving force behind Chicago's push in recent years to install bicycle friendly infrastructure.  Under his watch, Chicago saw hundreds of miles of new protected and buffered bicycle lanes put in place and the implementation of a world class bike share system.  When he announced that he would be returning to the private sector many in bicycle advocacy assumed that Kubly would fill his shoes, allowing for a smooth transition and continuation of bike friendly changes.  With both gone, and with no successors yet to be named, the future of cycling in Chicago is perhaps less clear.

2.  The death of Bobby Cann shook Chicago's bicycling community to its core.  On a May 29th at around 6:35 p.m., Cann was struck and killed by Ryne San Hamel who was allegedly driving his Mercedes sedan 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.  San Hamel was charged with driving under the influence, having an alleged blood alcohol content of .127, well over the legal limit.  There was immediate wide spread outrage at the driver, heartfelt empathy for Cann's family and many friends, and fear among regular city cyclists.  A temporary memorial popped up at the site of the crash, which occurred outside of iconic Chicago bike shop Yojimbo's Garage.  In October, Clybourn Avenue was named Honorary Bobby Cann Way.  That same month The Reader featured Cann on its front page with the headline, "Death of a Cyclist."

Others died riding their bicycles in Chicago in 2013.  None of those lives were less important than Cann's.  But there was something about his death that shook the broader community deeper.  Perhaps it was because it happened while he was riding home from work in the early evening, on a sunny late spring day.  Maybe the fact that Cann was known to be a experienced safe city cyclist freaked a lot of people out. He was not the sort to run lights.  If it could happen to him, it could happen to any of us.  Perhaps much of it had to do with the driver, a young man himself, he was a partner with a business venture called  Pictures of San Hamel partying and appearing to drink substantial amounts of alcohol circulated over the internet.  The fact that San Hamel has been criminally charged, a relative rarity where a driver hurts or kills a cyclist, has increased its broad impact.   San Hamel seemed like the poster child of the world's worst driver and an uncaring, self-absorbed asshole.

1.  But the biggest story of 2013 was an undeniably positive one, the launch of Chicago's bike share program, Divvy.  Launched in June, Divvy has taken off with koisks popping up all over the city, a gazillion miles racked up by riders and an impressive safety record.  The idea of grabbing a public bike from one street corner and leaving it at a station near one's destination as proven to be a big hit.  At $75 for unlimited use for a year, or $7 per each half hour on a pay-as-you-go plan, it is an extremely cost effective and enjoyable way to get around town.  So popular has bike share been in Chicago that even during one of the coldest Decembers in recent memory Divvy bikes are routinely seen being pedaled all around town.

The best thing about Divvy is that it is for everybody, old and young, brave and less-so.  The bikes are heavy, slow, convenient and comfortable.  With step through frames and chain guards you can ride them in a suit or in a dress.  The program and its increasing popularity encourages everyone to ride the city, threatening to breakdown the us versus them mentality.  In the future aided by Divvy we are all people who ride bikes.

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