To the editors,
I am a dedicated, year-round bicycle commuter and I commend the city for its plan to encourage and promote safe cycling through the addition of bicycle lanes. As Todd Savage’s article of October 22 clearly illustrates, the removal of bike lanes on the stretch of North Halsted from Belmont to Broadway signifies the need for communication amongst the proponents of bike lanes and the residents who oppose them. At its essence, this is an issue about sharing public space. For too long, cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicles have been given priority over cyclists on the road. When cyclists are marginalized and not considered valid users of city streets, conflicts between drivers and cyclists are bound to arise. Bike lanes, as designated spaces for cyclists on busy city streets, ensure that bicycles, motorists, and pedestrians can coexist safely in the city’s throughways.
Some members of the Belmont Harbor Neighbors who oppose the North Halsted bike lanes claim that there simply isn’t enough room on the street to share with cyclists. However, other statements in Savage’s article reveal serious prejudices on the part of these residents which may indeed lie at the bottom of their refusal to make way for bikes. John Robb, president of the Belmont Harbor Neighbors, says of cyclists: “They do not obey stop signs. They do not signal their turns. There really isn’t anything anyone can do about it because the police have their hands full right now.” This blanket stereotyping of cyclists is unfair and misguided. Most cyclists make every effort to follow traffic rules, an easier task were biking taken seriously as transportation and given the proper infrastructure. When drivers bypass stop signs and fail to signal, we don’t eliminate lanes or stop building roads for other drivers.
Lorraine Hoffmann, also of the Belmont Harbor Neighbors, makes a case for pedestrians, especially senior citizens, who are afraid of cyclists riding on the sidewalk: “I wish we had a full-time person looking out for people who are getting run over by bicyclists.” Most of the cyclists I know refuse to ride on sidewalks out of respect for pedestrians, whose designated space we’d rather not invade, not to mention the fact that it’s illegal. However, I ask the opponents of bike lanes to consider this–where should bikers feel safe to ride? Amongst drivers who have little tolerance for cyclists’ right to be on the street?
Ms. Hoffmann goes on to state, “You cannot pretend this is a forest preserve with beautiful bike paths. This is the city that works.” Obviously, Ms. Hoffmann does not understand that bike commuters are as much a part of “the city that works” as anyone else. We are workers from all fields and walks of life who have chosen alternative means of transportation. It’s surprising to me that any representative of Boys Town, a neighborhood which commendably supports and encourages courageous diversity amongst its residents, business owners, and patrons, could be so closed minded to the choice bicycle commuters have made by not participating in our society’s all-encompassing car culture.
Since Ms. Hoffmann is “tired of being preached to like it’s some moral good to ride a bicycle,” I apologize to her for making this point. It is good to ride a bicycle. Simply put, it’s good for the air. Every cyclist is one less contributor to Chicago’s pollution, traffic, and parking problems. Cyclists should be commended for taking this environmentally friendly step. Instead, we are often honked at, cursed at, and told to get out of the way.
City planning that supports bicycling as a legitimate form of transportation cultivates a vibrancy within our community that is so often compromised by the isolation of a car-centered culture. It is my hope that the opponents of the North Halsted bike lane will reconsider their position. I believe that a better understanding of the challenges cyclists face as users of city streets will enable North Halsted residents to effect a positive change in the way Chicago moves into the new millennium. I encourage the Reader to continue covering this critical issue.