Cyclist menace growing, nationally recognized

Emily Haddad

Illinois saw 3,107 cyclist collisions in 2011, with 1,757 in Chicago alone, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The news regularly reports on cyclists being hit and killed by distracted drivers or wiping out and sustaining serious injuries on abruptly opened car doors. However, it is rare to hear about cyclists being held accountable for their own dangerous maneuvers, witnessed daily by automobile drivers and pedestrians alike. Several recent stories from around the nation have highlighted that police aren’t sitting on their hands anymore. Those hands are now flipping sirens and writing tickets for scofflaws that make the road more dangerous for everyone. “Rogue cyclist” stories have made national news, such as 24-year-old Daniel Greer from Bushwick, NY, who received four tickets for running three red lights in a row and wearing headphones while cycling, racking up a total of $1,555 in fines, according to CBS New York.

Chicago is no exception to this phenomenon. Every day bicyclists risk their lives and the lives of others by ignoring traffic signals, blowing through stop signs, weaving through busy traffic and incredibly, texting while riding. Despite having the right-of-way, pedestrians at crosswalks often have to dive out of the way from bicyclists encroaching on the sidewalks or just riding through traffic to avoid stopping for red lights. Particularly problematic intersections, such as the one at Milwaukee Avenue, Des Plaines Street and Kinzie Street have even been the site of Chicago Police Department (CPD) cyclist sting operations. The last such sting in June of 2011 resulted in 240 warnings being handed out in just two hours, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. If Mayor Rahm Emanuel is looking for a new revenue stream, stationing some of those 500 new police officers he is hiring for 2013 along Milwaukee Avenue as bicycle-mounted officers might prove a lucrative move.

Chicago needs to step up enforcement of bicycle traffic violations. Without a concerted police effort, it would otherwise be difficult to curb the bad behavior of cyclists. Traffic violations that would normally attract the attention of the CPD when committed by an automobile become harder to enforce when committed by a bicycle because of the lack of a license plate and the very maneuverability of bicycles.
Drivers in the United States are lucky to have a fairly orderly traffic system supported judicially with rules enforced by the police. Traffic signals and specific signs make it clear who has the right-of-way in most situations, and every driver’s license holder has had to study the rules of the road to get that license. In other countries such as Thailand and India, traffic is often a dangerous affair with few pedestrian rights, and ambiguous right-of-way rules that often becomes a game of chicken where the biggest vehicle wins by potential brute force. This lesson of size, while not an official part of the U.S. rules of the road should be taken to heart by cyclists in Chicago and all over the country. The bigger the vehicle, the more respect and attention it warrants to because of its potential to cause serious damage to a cyclist. Traffic laws are put in place for everyone’s mutual protection; circumventing them puts cyclists at greater risk than other vehicles because of the lack of external protective material a vehicle such as a car would offer. This lesson was learned the hard way by a Chicago man who wove his bike around the lowered train crossing gates by the Kedzie

Brown Line station, and tried to speed past an oncoming CTA train on Sept. 17, 2012. The bigger vehicle won. It always will.

Having personally experienced cyclists suddenly diving out of the bike lane area without any signals, weaving through traffic, using cell phones while moving, running multiple red lights and cutting in front of my car abruptly, I can say with absolute certainty that cyclists are endangering themselves, and every driver around them who has to stop short to avoid hitting them. On countless cycling advocacy websites, one can find pro-cyclist rants justifying law-breaking behavior because bike riders are saving the earth by reducing their carbon footprint. Or it degrades into an anti-automobile discussion as soon as someone dusts off the old chestnut of “drivers don’t like cyclists.” This is somewhat true. As a driver, I am wary of cyclists because of their tendency to disobey the law and make commutes more difficult with their risky behavior. But as a law-abiding cyclist myself for the last 15 years, I absolutely hate the ridiculously dangerous behavior and entitled attitude my fellow Chicago cyclists are displaying on a daily basis. You are why drivers dislike us, and deserve to be ticketed for every violation you commit.