Credit: Jamie Ramsay

This is a bait and switch: I’m a cyclist, and I support bike infrastructure. I use and mostly appreciate protected bike lanes. But the way Chicago lays out its protected lanes sets traps for cyclists. I’m talking specifically about lanes that cross side streets, where only traffic on the side street has to stop. (Milwaukee Avenue is a good example.) Cyclists traveling at cruising speed thus ride directly across the path of drivers turning onto the side street—and when traffic is light, drivers often make these turns with little to no warning. This wouldn’t be worse than biking on any other two-way road, except that the protected bike lane is usually separated from the street by parking spaces—and when they’re full, drivers and cyclists can barely see each other until it’s too late. Even an attentive driver can be taken by surprise when parked cars conceal nearly all of a cyclist’s approach to the intersection.

This arrangement also sucks for cyclists because of the constraints it places on drivers trying to turn from the side street onto the larger road: the protected bike lane is so close to the curb that drivers can’t see oncoming cyclists till they’re practically in the intersection, and the parking lane is so far out into the street that drivers are motivated to nose out into cyclists’ path in order to get a clear look at car traffic. I don’t have to imagine a driver as hostile to cyclists to perceive this as dangerous. I’d almost rather ride on the other side of the parking lane, out in the street, where I’d at least be more visible.

This is part of a ubiquitous pattern, not only in Chicago but across the country: when you squeeze cycling infrastructure into tiny gaps clawed open in a cityscape engineered for cars, you can create almost as many problems as you solve. Fellow cyclists, I wish you at least as much luck as I’ve had—despite too many bad scares to count, I’ve never been struck. Drivers, I wish you mindfulness toward all other road-using humans, especially the ones you might not know are there—these intersections are terrible for all of us, but in the event of a bike-car crash, you won’t be the one who’s hurt or killed.   v

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid, and he’s also split two national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and one in in 2020 for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.