Why are Chicago bicyclists such jerks? Maybe because for years Chicago bicyclists engaged in a Darwinian struggle for existence against cars, taxis, trucks of all sorts, and potholes—leaving only the most fearless to dare to commute by bike. Or maybe its because the riding season is so short that everyone is in a hurry to get to where they’re going. Or maybe people are letting the adrenaline of bike riding get the best of them.
Whatever the reason, it’s fair to say there are a good number of assholes riding the streets of downtown. Approximately 20,000 Chicagoans commute by bicycle on a regular basis. Let’s say one percent violate traffic laws so flagrantly that they endanger pedestrians. That’s two hundred sociopaths zipping through the streets of the city ready to flatten anyone who gets in their way. If you’ve walked around downtown you’ve encountered one of them. At Lake and Canal one morning a female cyclist came within inches of hitting me as I stepped into the street to cross with the light. Her expression said, “I would rather we both suffer horribly painful, disfiguring injuries than I should brake for a stoplight.”
At least she didn’t flip me off as she zoomed by, as another cyclist (also female, by the way) did to Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Grossman in a similar incident. He asks a good question: “When is the last time you saw a cop write a ticket for a bicyclist who failed to heed a red light or a stop sign?” Even New York City police will ticket bike riders. Not Chicago cops.
Grossman goes so far as to propose a bike-free day in Chicago just so pedestrians can enjoy the sights and sounds of the city without worrying about getting a bike tire tread up their back. I don’t know how effective that would be considering how 99% of cyclists already ignore every rule of the road. But even if it worked, there would still be other, equally noxious irritants for pedestrians: people who smoke while walking down the sidewalk, tourists who walk six abreast on the sidewalk, drivers who ignore pedestrian crosswalks, and all those damn razor scooters.
In any case, Grossman's point shouldn't be dismissed as just another complaint about ill-mannered urban bicyclists. As cities devote more public funds to support urban biking there will be–and should be–more demands for greater accountability for bicyclists who violate the rules of the road. Otherwise we will be trading less car congestions and marginally cleaner air for a further deterioration of public space.