Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chicago's Top Cycling Stories Of 2014

In 2014 the City of Chicago continued its commitment to making our streets better for cyclists. More bike lanes were installed around the city, and old facilities were updated.  Despite those encouraging signs Chicago has a ways to go toward becoming a truly great biking city.  The League of American Bicyclists still only ranks Chicago as a Silver city for cycling, significantly behind Gold cities like Seattle and San Francisco and a Platinum city like Portland.  This lag was seemingly highlighted by the poor condition of our roads and bike lanes after a particularly difficult winter. Also, the number of deaths was up substantially from 2013.  So with a mix of good and bad here are the top five Chicago cycling stories of 2014:

5.  Showing that one person really can make a difference, one fiesty cyclist fought the law and won. June saw the resolution of "Lilly's case," a high profile lawsuit which arose when a pregnant Chicago bicyclist was doored on Halloween, 2012.  Rebecca Resman, aka "Lilly", was threatened with a traffic citation by a Chicago police officer after she was doored by the passenger of a motor vehicle as she passed on the right in a bicycle lane.  The responding officer apparently felt that the cyclist violated a statute prohibiting two wheeled vehicles from passing stopped or slowed motor vehicles on the right unless they were afforded 8 feet of space, a rarity in Chicago.  The law was only meant to apply to motorcycles, scooters and the like.  Our firm, which represented Rebecca, and her employer, The Active Transportation Alliance, worked with legislators in Springfield and with the City of Chicago have the law clarified to permit passing on the right so long as  there was "reasonable" space in which to do so.  With that important change in place and following Rebecca's poised deposition testimony, the case resolved to her benefit.

4.  Our state's appellate court did Illinois bicyclists a solid with its holding in Pattullo-Banks v. City of Park Ridge.  Illinois municipalities may now be held liable for injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists forced into the street by snow piled onto sidewalks and bike lanes by city plows, according to the Court.  The ruling was issued on September 4th and overturned an order entered by Cook County Judge Lynn Egan dismissing the plaintiff's lawsuit against the city.

3.  First, it was in Detroit.  Then it was a television commercial.  In 2014 Slow Roll made a home in Chicago as a new kind of urban advocacy.  Slow Roll Chicago was founded by Jamal Julien and Olatunji Oboi Reed as a means of getting people of all types, young, old, in shape and out on their bikes and into the communities  The idea is to have fun but also to, you know, see stuff and, more to the point, become aware of what is happening throughout Chicago.  The hope is that awareness will encourage action where ever and whenever it is needed.  Slow Roll uses the bicycle as a tool to create neighborhood awareness, not merely as a means of recreating.  In September Julien explained to The Chicago Tribune, "We want to promote the communities that we're riding through.  We'll be  looking at coffee shops, mom-and-pop restaurants and small retailers.  And if there is a historical venue, we can stop and talk about it."  Reed added, "We ride because we believe the more people that ride in our community, the better we stand an opportunity of our communities being improved."

2.  The first half of the year was a rough one for Chicago cycles with an exceptionally brutal winter, and an unprepared or unresponsive administration combining to make getting around by bike very difficult.  Pot holes (more like craters in some spots) and snowy, icy bike lanes were the big story of early 2014.  Back in 2013, the city did a pretty good job of clearing bike lanes when winter weather hit.  But by February of this year, as my partner Jim Freeman noted on this blog, "Now we're seeing how the City handles snow removal during a real winter.  The old folks I talk to admit that the beating Chicago has taken this winter has been the worst since 1979, and it shows in the bike lanes.  Some bike lanes have been maintained, while others are a mess."  By early March, the winter still in full effect, it seemed that the City had thrown in the towel.  Even in the touted Dearborn Bike Lane, snow and ice remained long after storm clouds had cleared making pedaling to work treacherous.  When the weather finally did break, potholes, many of considerable enormity, remained, and the City was spread thin in its efforts to fix them.  

If Chicago is truly committed to seeing the bicycle become a viable means of transportation for its citizens and visitors then it simply must be as committed to clearing the streets for cyclists as it is for drivers.  Let's hope that last winter was a learning experience, merely a blip in the march towards our city becoming more bike friendly year 'round.

1.  Twice as many people died riding their bikes in Chicago in 2014 as did the year before.  Through today, 8 people died in bicycle related crashes this year, compared to 4 in 2013.*  Adding to this sad statistic was a report released in October by the Governors Highway Safety Association which listed Illinois as having the 5th most bicycle fatalities in the nation between 2010 and 2012.  Certainly this is sobering stuff highlighting in the starkest possible terms how far we still must travel to make our state and our city safer for cycling.  

It seems fair to note that cycling in Chicago and statewide has increased in popularity.  Given all of the earnest work done by planners statewide it would be hard to argue that cycling now is more dangerous than it was 10 years ago.  More people on bikes may be expected to lead to more injury and more fatalities. Still, the goal is zero bicycling fatalities and here's hoping that 2015 sees us closer to reaching that crucial milestone.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog