Thank you for your article about Thomas McBride’s tragic death, and the legal proceedings against his assailant [September 21]. Like Randy Neufeld I’m not sure this article is really about bicycles and traffic.
I am hoping that the unspeakable tragedy we suffered on September 11 will prompt us as a nation to do more than just wave flags and demand revenge. We need to ask a few questions. Why do so many people around the world hate us so passionately? When do we stop spending our money on the violent dreck that Hollywood tells us we want? Does it really matter how Gary Condit spends his free time? And is there some relationship between the violence inflicted on New York most recently and the violence inflicted on a bicycle messenger two years ago on the west side of Chicago?
As a bike rider myself I begin with smaller concerns. I am an enthusiastic member of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, and I haven’t owned a car since 1985. I pedal everywhere, at least 200 miles a month, and I regularly bike to my office in the Loop from my home in Ravenswood. Still, I couldn’t relate to much of what T.C. O’Rourke was saying. I might wonder why I have less than my share of horror stories of dealing with nasty motorists.
I see lots of adults biking on city streets. To my way of thinking, Chicago is a very friendly town for bike riders. But my ride to the Loop this morning was typical. I played tag with three other bikers. I would pedal along until a traffic light turned red. I would stop. The other riders would ignore the red light and keep going. I caught up with them, passed them, and stopped at the next red light. They didn’t. I also dodged another biker, also an adult, riding north on busy Lincoln Avenue in the southbound lane. Curiously, I didn’t see any adults riding on the sidewalk today, or riding the wrong way on one-way streets.
Sometimes pedestrians compli-ment me for actually stopping at traffic lights. One asked me once if
I was feeling well. Most of the time pedestrians hesitate when they see me, apparently assuming that I believe it is my privilege to run them over if they get in my way. They certainly are justified in thinking that, as bike messengers generally treat walkers as if they are obstacles. I view this conflict with dismay, as cyclists, public transit riders, and pedestrians are natural allies in a peaceful challenge to a culture that is overrun with cars and trucks and demanding of speed and comfort regardless of the acts of cruelty that result.
As long as adults on bikes in Chicago act like ten-year-olds, we can expect people in cars to get angry with us. I’m not apologizing for belligerent and even criminal acts from motorists. But we bike riders share in the general collapse of civility in our society, just as we share in the terrible consequences.