- Chandler West/Sun-Times Media
- A bike lane—John Kass’s unhappy place.
Conventional wisdom holds that the best way to make something go away is to ignore it. But rules usually have exceptions, this one included. For instance, you can’t ignore away cancer, disfiguring goiters, bleeding hemorrhoids—or, it would seem, John Kass. The Tribune columnist has made a hobby and cottage industry of engendering contempt for Chicago cyclists or, as he calls them, “the Little Bike People.”
Kass is what the kids might call a troll. He writes intentionally inflammatory things that are posted on the Internet to anger people and, since he’s employed by a news organization, drive up that site’s traffic to benefit its advertisers. More egregious examples of his trolling of bike riders have included blaming cyclists who use designated bike lanes for “ramming into” the car doors of innocent unsuspecting drivers of “legitimate vehicles” and writing off cyclists who’ve reacted negatively to his columns as “militant two-wheelers” harboring an “irrational hatred.”
That Kass is a troll isn’t the best-case scenario, of course—the best-case scenario is that he’s a doddering cane waver preaching to a west-suburban choir of fellow coots, content to be the on the wrong side of history in a cultural shift toward more sustainable forms of transportation. But the fact of the matter is, he’s a writer for a major metropolitan newspaper, and he has a huge audience and considerable influence.
He was back at it again on Thursday. In a column about the city clarifying its dog-licensing regulations (which, granted, are bullshit), he attempts to pit dog people against bike people with this bizarre segue . . .
Another problem [with the proposed dog-licensing requirements] involves fairness under the law. While the Dog People have to pay, what about the so-called Little Bike People, Rahm’s darlings, in their salmon-colored pants, thick-framed glasses and hipster beards, riding their bicycles to and fro across Chicago?
. . .
Now, bicyclists aren’t required to have papers, or even a bicyclist license. And the cops don’t make a practice of chasing those who ride their bikes through red lights, something you see almost every day. But you need to carry papers if you’re walking a dog on the same street?
That seems almost, what’s the word, unconstitutional?
Woof. Where to start. How about the “salmon-colored pants” he sees everyone riding around in. Maybe on a tandem bike on Nantucket, bud. And really: Unconstitutional? This premise is so tenuous he doesn’t even attempt to make a case for it—he just tosses it like a grenade and inches slowly out of the room. Also, and maybe this is nitpicky, but it’s very strange to call something “so-called” when you’re the only one who’s calling it that.
He goes on to accuse cyclists of riding on sidewalks and flicking off old ladies, and to make a distinction between good cyclists and bad cyclists. The good ones wear spandex and yellow shirts (even though in a previous column he’d condemned spandex-clad cyclists in yellow shirts).
I had to force my colleague Philip Montoro, a longtime cycle commuter, to read the Thursday column. He’d also written Kass off as a troll, but agreed it was worth calling him out. In a Gchat he wrote:
This column makes it clear (perhaps clearer than ever before) that Kass derives perverse pleasure from bullying and baiting cyclists, who are already threatened, harassed, injured, and even killed simply for trying to get from one place to another. Cyclists are vulnerable to begin with, and this highly paid man with a huge public platform has made it his mission to foment hostility against them.
There’s something pathological about this. It’s sick. If he can’t be shamed into stopping, he can at least be exposed and ridiculed at every turn till no one with two brain cells to rub together takes him seriously.
At the risk of giving Kass too much credit, the vitriol he sows is actually harmful. A bike is a legitimate form of transportation, and encouraging drivers to dismiss cyclists as nuisances, rather than people traveling to work or school or the grocery store, is dangerous. His own publication reported in October that Illinois is fifth in the nation for cycling deaths, based on numbers from 2012, but since then it’s likely pulled ahead. According to Chicago Streets Blog, there have been eight cyclist deaths in Chicago in 2014, twice as many as there were in 2013. Not to mention injuries. (To put it into perspective, there were seven bike deaths in 2011 and 1,300 injuries.) But numbers aren’t as compelling as stories, which put a face on the dirty bearded hipster “Little Bike People” Kass so despises. How ’bout this story about how 26-year-old Bobby Cann was killed by a careless, intoxicated driver on Clybourn in 2013?
If Kass can’t be shamed into giving it a rest—he doesn’t strike me as someone who shames easily—then at least we can go back to ignoring an old malcontent who wants to make Chicago a worse place to live.