NATO Transportation issues? Get a bike!

Friday 18 May 2012

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t live in Chicago and don’t follow world events), NATO weekend is here! Thousands of people—be they dignitaries, VIPs, security, press, protestors, and tourists who didn’t do their homework—will be descending on Chicago this weekend for the big event, and many Chicago residents are scared shitless.

It will certainly not be “business as usual” for the city, but who says that’s a bad thing? Many of the people I know who work downtown have told me their offices are closed on Monday (some were even closed Friday) or that they’re choosing to work remotely so they won’t have to “deal with the hassle.” There were some pop-up protests and marches downtown during the week and may be some Saturday and Monday, but the big protest march is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure exactly what “hassle” people are talking about.

Actually, I do know what they’re talking about. They’re talking about the transportation nightmares that everyone is dreaming about. People trying to get around by car on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will certainly be challenged, especially near downtown and the south side. All Metra riders (though in particular those traveling under McCormick place) have some big issues to deal with, as Metra decided to severely restrict what you can and cannot have with you these next three days (liquids, bikes, briefcases), not only on trains passing under McCormick Place but across the whole system. And there’s also the Lakefront Trail being closed in certain areas and buses scheduled to be rerouted all or a portion of the “three-day weekend.”

As I write this blog post, I should be at a meeting, but I’m not because it was cancelled—cancelled on account of the perceived traffic problems brought about by NATO. I figured  Friday night, before any of the big closures were even scheduled to take effect, cancelling our event was overkill. The e-mail told me to treat NATO “as a major weather storm—it’s advisable for everyone to stay home.”

No thank you.

This is the kind of hysteria that happens because we live in a car-centric culture. As someone who gets around mostly by bike (and when not bike via bus, train, and foot), I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t care about rolling closures on the expressway because of motorcades shutting down some traffic. When thoughts of NATO challenges came up in Monday e-mail, I responded to the group, suggesting people think about taking public transportation, with responses basically proclaiming, “I never thought of that!” or “What a novel idea!”

I’ve been warned to stay away from the Lakefront Trail for a few days, and CTA trains are going to be running as usual, though with possible random delays likely (though, it must be said, this is also business as usual). One bit of advice from a Chicago Tribune article was simply that “people should be extremely flexible about their travel plans.” But shouldn’t that always be the case? However, I think the problem is that car users don’t see their transportation that way, while that those of us who rely on bikes, buses, and trains for our transportation needs recognize the need to be flexible on a regular basis.

So my advice to anyone worried about the transportation issues brought about by the NATO summit: pull your bike out of the garage or jump on the bus and train and join those of us who always leave the car behind; maybe you’ll realize that it’s not so bad after all.

Advertisements

urban biking: a critique

Monday 31 August 2009

So in my previous blog, I shared just how much I love urban biking.  Here, in part two of my writing sample, I share some of the concerns I and others have concerning bikes being on the road.  It’s good now, but how much better it could be!

Urban biking does, however, have its share of detractors who complain about those who choose a bicycle to fit their transportation needs.  It is not surprising, though, that a society both figuratively and literally constructed around the automobile would take issue with those who don’t follow the norm.  Major cities construct roads and direct traffic patterns with respect to the masses of cars driven during rush hour, while those who would take to the streets on a bicycle are lucky to find a bike lane or trail that comes anywhere close to approximating their commuting route home.  However, the urban biker must also take responsibility when at fault for certain complaints.  Because everyone deserves to be heard when it comes to urban biking, I want to address some of the critiques and concerns that surround the issue.

Perhaps the most widely voiced complaint about bikes sharing the road with cars and other vehicles is that bikers regularly fail to observe applicable traffic laws.  I must confess that I have in my life biked through a red light or breezed through a stop sign without stopping, but if bikers are to earn the respect of automobile drivers, they need to begin to obey the rules of the road or face the same consequences to which vehicular drivers are subjected.  By law, bicycles are given equal privileges to motor vehicle traffic on most roadways, and with equal privilege comes equal responsibility.  This means respecting all traffic on the road by obeying the laws required.  Automobile drivers must also recognize that bikes have equal privileges and respect those with whom they are sharing the roadway.  However, it’s understandable that drivers look down on those who continually disobey the law, and for this reason, bikers must be implored to obey the rules of the road and call upon other bikers to do the same.

Another critique of bikers and biking is that bicycles clog up the road for cars and cause traffic to become even more congested that it already is.  However, it must be noted that bikes obeying traffic laws have just as much right to use urban roadways as cars do, and much urban traffic on roads where bikes are present, especially during peak hours, travels at such speeds as to not be affected a bicycle’s presence.  Cars and bikes certainly have different sizes and abilities, but that doesn’t mean bikes need to leave the roadways.  Instead, the use of bikes should be encouraged through the creation of bike and shared lanes that make it safer and easier for all traffic.  Bicycles actually reduce congestion and pollution by removing automobiles from the road, creating a better environment for all involved.

A third critique not widely held but still of concern is that cyclists pay nothing toward the improvement or upkeep of roads in the way automobile drivers do through licenses, car registrations, or taxes on gasoline.  While some might desire the registration of bicycles or cyclists for a small fee, since bicycles have such a small impact on roadways, minimal taxes on the general population should be all that is needed to procure the necessary funds for any roadway upkeep due to bicycle traffic.  This, too, would work as an incentive to get drivers out of their cars and onto a bike, knowing that they are already paying for services of which they are otherwise not taking advantage.

Finally, I have a personal critique, which I know is shared by others, regarding the use, or extreme lack of use, of bike helmets.  I know there is the “cool factor” we all have to worry about, but there is no good reason why one should bike, especially in an urban setting, without a helmet.  Even when all on the road are abiding by the law and attempting to drive safely, accidents can and do happen, and just as someone in a car is required to buckle up, a biker needs to wear a helmet.  If bikers are to be respected on the road, not only will they have to abide by traffic laws, but they must also show others that they take safety seriously by wearing a helmet.

The sharing of the road by automobile drivers and cyclists is a sensitive issue for both constituencies, and all parties need to recognize the concerns of others involved.  Compromises may have to be made by all, but there is no reason why cyclists shouldn’t be able to ride safely side by side with those who drive by choice or necessity.  Indeed, I have no doubt that through organizing and promotion, the streets of and cities around the world can become safer and more efficient for all to enjoy.