Bicycle Diaries: September 2006

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Front to back on the oktoberfest mass

Oh what a night. It rained early. The route shifted off course around Southport then Irving Park. But at the end of the night I successfully brought 800+ rollers to Lincoln Square! This video was originally shared on by ho3ard with a Public Domain license.

And this about a mini-mass in Roi-Et Province, Thailand yesterday. I guess the military junta can't keep good bikers down especially when they're 9, 10, and 13 years old!
Mini biker gang
By Kom Chad Luek
From the Phuket Gazette

Three boys are now safely back at home after a four-day bicycle adventure across Roi-Et Province.

The mini-biker gang set off from the home of gang leader Tawee Senputtawong, 13, in the Kasetwisai District of the province with the aim of visiting his sister who is incarcerated on theft charges in a Juvenile Observation and Protection Center in Roi-Et Town.

On August 18, young Tawee led his two younger accomplices, Tontrakan Phosrirat, 10, and Phongphet Thaonoo, 9, out on two old bicycles. The boys took turns pedaling and balancing on the back for the 70-kilometer journey.

When they reached the town Tawee became confused by the unfamiliar streets and found he could not remember where the detention center was. The boys therefore decided to pedal around the town in an attempt to find it.

When they could pedal no more, they stopped at a sala for the night. They remained there for two days before a park security guard finally noticed them and kicked them out. Soon after, the boys, now exhausted and very grubby, were stopped by a police officer.

After talking with the boys the officer discovered that they had been reported missing and took them to Roi-Et Town Police Station. They recounted their tale to the police officers there.

The officers, taking pity on them, treated them to a meal and held a collection to raise money for them. In total they collected over 500 baht, most of it coming from Pol Sen Sgt Maj Naphrat Supratri who had won money in a recent lottery.

The police then contacted the boys’ parents and told them to come pick them up. Tawee’s and Tontrakan’s parents said the boys might have to wait a bit; they had no money for the bus fare and would have to try to borrow it from neighbors.

In the meantime, Tawee and Tontrakan told Phongphet that they were going out to buy food and would be back soon. After a few hours the two boys had still not returned, so police sent out a team to look for them. They could find no trace. Phongphet was collected by his parents.

The search was called off when the boys turned up at school the following day, having cycled the 70km back home.

After the story was released, reporters went to interview the object of the boys’ quest, Tawee’s 15-year-old sister.

She said that this wasn’t the first time her brother had done something like this.

Two weeks earlier he had turned up at the center in the middle of the night after cycling all the way to see her.

She said that three years before, when Tawee was 10, he had cycled all the way to Nakhon Ratchasima where she had been working, a distance of about 300 kilometers.

She explained that she and her brother were very close and she was the only person Tawee would listen to. When she was living at home she would take care of her brother as the family was very poor and their parents were busy working, she said.

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Deviation day

I'm a little nervous today. I've proposed a route for tonight's Critical Mass route. I posted it yesterday. On the one hand, all my work may be for naught. There's usually competition with 2 or 3 routes that the massers vote on. Some proposed routes roll south while others roll north. Every now and then a west side roll is proposed.

On the other hand, what if my route is chosen? This is the traditional Oktoberfest Ride. It has the support of the Logan Square Draught Beer Preservation Society - soon to be the Chicago Beer Preservation Society. And the Chicago Critical Mass listserv has been strangely quiet about other proposed routes.

Perhaps combining the celebration of rolling with the celebration of draught beer will bring out the massholes. They were the topic of the last Critical Mass Happy Hour. Folks agreed that we should pass out flyers asking everyone to refrain from unnecssary confrontations with cagers, other bikers, and from any other potentially risky behavior that could endanger others and themselves.

I've done my part by developing some graphics. Several are of the Thou Shalt Not... variety. At the same time, I put Roll Responsibly on tonight's route flyers.

After I created them I thought it might be more appropriate to drop the paternalistic approach. Massers are typically an independent, Don't Tread on Me lot. Attempts to moralize could easily backfire.

Well, whatever happens it should be quite a roll. The rain seems to be holding off, although it will be rather chilly. That should keep away some of the sunshine massholes. Even, today's horoscope is pointing to some promising deviations in my normal routine. It stresses novel adventures. Not that I'm obsessed with horoscopes; sometimes, though, they can be very uncanny indeed.
This influence signifies a day when you will make new discoveries, encounter new people and generally have a sense of excitement and interest. And you won't have to go out of your way to experience these effects, for your immediate environment will present all the interest you need. If you find this day disruptive, examine your attitudes and ask yourself if you are being too rigid. Rigidity and unwillingness to allow anything to deviate from a prescribed plan will make this influence more difficult to handle. This is a good day to tackle old problems that you have not been able to resolve in the past. In your communications with others, startling new ideas will come up. All around you, new aspects of life will be opened up for you to experience.

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Oktoberfest critical mass and an open letter to motorists who dislike cyclists

Last night, T. C. O'Rourke and I rode one of tomorrow's proposed Critical Mass routes. We ended up at Resi's Bierstube on Irving Park. There we hooked up with the Central Committee of the Logan Square Draught Beer Preservation Society to get it's blessings for the route. We also talked about setting up a Lincoln Square chapter under the aegis of The Square Wheelman.

The route takes the mass past some of the notable Draught Beer Monuments and Moments of Chicago: The Berghoff on Adams, Rock Bottom Brewery on State, as well as various taverns in Wicker Park and Southport. A little over ten miles long, it ends at Chicago's draught beer ground zero in Lincoln Square. A large version of the route flyer is below. You can get an 8.5 x 11 version that divides into 4 aproximately 4.25 x 5.5 route flyers here.

Riding a route is more diffiuclt than I realized. You have to constantly check for one-way streets, road construction, and those damn speed bumps. You also want to change streets fairly often to keep the route interesting and to prevent the mass from getting stretched out. So whatever route you started with eventually changes.

Needless to say, I'm a bit tired this morning. I'm posting an open letter to cagers from a bike blogger up in Toronto, The Crazy Biker Chick. She posted it on Monday, 25 September 2006. It's Part I of things a non-cyclist might not understand.
I ride my bike year-round as my main means of transportation. My bike is not a toy. I don't aspire to be Lance Armstrong. I'm not too poor to afford a car. I choose a bicycle because its healthier for me, and healthier for the city I live in. I'm not riding in the middle of the lane to slow you down or thwart you. I'm just trying to do the same thing as you - get from point A to point B safely.

I ride in the middle of the lane if the lane is too narrow to share safely. This is actually a courtesy to you, because you don't have to guess how wide your vehicle is versus how much space is available, and decide if you have to change lanes or not. If the lane next to you is wide open, it really isn't necessary to blast your horn or yell things out your window. Maybe you think there's room for me to be riding in the gutter, but I really have a better view of the pavement there than you do. There's debris there that will flatten my tires, and potholes that can break my bones. If I need to swerve to avoid some garbage someone threw out their car window, I need room to maneouver. Its not going to make either of our days if we collide.

While we are on the subject of yelling things out the window, your vehicle is loud. Unless we are both stopped at a traffic light, it is unlikely I can make out the words you are saying. Maybe its better to focus your attention on not hitting things that are front of you rather than letting me know "(mumble mumble)'ll get hit". I also know where the bike paths are, I have a map. But where I'm going is not on the path. Thank you though to the driver that stopped to let me know my headlight made a big difference. It was nice to know it was appreciated.

I put on lights at night so you can see me. I ride in a predictable line so I don't surprise you by my presence. I don't weave between parked cars so I don't startle you when I emerge from behind one. I'm sorry I didn't move over so you could use the three car-length gap between parked cars as your personal passing lane. In an ideal world I would ride far enough away from your car door that it wouldn't matter if you flung it open when I least expected it. But the downtown streets are very congested and there's not a lot of space available. So please look before you open your door. I try to make it easier for you by ringing my bell if I see you parking so you know I'm there. In limited space world, cyclists are often using the rest of a parking lane. Please try to park as close to the curb as you can.

You may think riding a bicycle in a downpour or a snowstorm is crazy. Its actually quite pleasant if you're dressed for it. But I don't expect you to "get it". I only expect you to remember that there's still a human being riding a bicycle out there. Flooring it through puddles to make the biggest splash possible is not funny. Passing too close is never a good idea, but in a snowstorm when the roads are slippery, please leave as much space as you can.

While I may appear to be a very competent cyclist, and you may fancy yourself a very competent driver, its still a good idea to leave at least 3 feet when passing me. While you may not actually brush me when you pass too close, it is still frightening to have 2000 pounds of steel a few inches from your shoulder.

Some roads have bicycle lanes painted on them. In an ideal world cyclists and motorists should be able to share the roadway without special lines. But after being honked at one too many times for taking a narrow lane, or buzzed too close by attempting to share one, bike lanes become a place of refuge. Please try to have some respect for this refuge by finding a different spot to park your car when you want to run into Starbucks, and definitely do not think of this space as the way to get around a left-turning vehicle.

Remember that the bike lane is there when you want to turn right, and that there might be a cyclist in it. The lanes are dotted near intersections for a reason, you should merge into this lane when you want to turn right. Note that merge does not mean cut off. You aren't doing me a favour by waiting to turn right while leaving the bike lane open. I will never pass you on the right when you are signalling right, as I have no idea if you see me or not. If you merge, I have room to pass you on the left in your lane of traffic to go straight while you wait for pedestrians crossing etc. If you don't merge, there's no room for me to go around easily.

Remember those hand turn signals from the drivers education handbook? I try to use them as much as possible to let you know what I'm going to do. While it might seem redundant to signal a stop when approaching a four-way stop, I know that not all people on bicycles stop. The signal is a courtesy to you, so you know that you can proceed because I will stop. Sometimes I need my hands on my bike but you should be able to infer from my lane position what I am going to do. If I am in the left lane of the road it means I am going to turn left. I'm not there to enjoy the scenery. If you want to turn left as well, this means you should wait behind me. Trying to turn left from the right side of the roadway is only going to put us both in conflict.

I try to make my best guesses what you might do next from your lane position. You can help take out the guesswork. While it may seem that the turn signal has gone out of fashion, I really do appreciate when you use it in advance. This lets me move as best as possible so we don't have any conflict.

The world will not end if you cannot make a right turn on a red light. If there was a car in front of you, would you honk because you wanted to make a right turn? Because I am small enough to move over to let you do so does not always mean it is safe to do so. If it is safe, and I see you signalling right in my rearview mirror, I will move over and let you go by. Please do not try to squeeze between me in the middle of the lane and the car in the next lane when there clearly is not enough space. Repeatedly leaning on the horn will only get on both of our nerves.

I can move faster than you think. While you may think a bicycle is too slow to be practical for transportation - in downtown Toronto most of the time, including the time spent to park, I will beat you to your destination. While you were so anxious to pass me, perhaps you didn't notice that I have caught up with you again at the next red light. It isn't a race from red light to red light, so if you need to slow down for a few seconds it isn't the end of the world. Think how much more I would slow you down if I was a full-width car trying to make a left turn onto a side street in busy traffic. If you cannot judge how fast I am moving please err on the side of caution when turning left in front of me, or pulling out of your parking spot. But if in your rearview mirror, you see me waving in the direction you want to move it means I see you and you have time to go.

I appreciate your kind attempts to let me have the right-of-way when it is not mine. Being on a bicycle its hard losing your momentum again and again at every stop sign. But most of the time its easier if you just go. If you stop to let me cross mid block the car behind you might get surprised and rear-end you.

I'm sorry if I break the occasional traffic law, which were designed with the dangers inherent in the automobile in mind. I may slow down and scan the intersection rather than come to a complete stop at a four-way stop, because its really hard on me to constantly lose my momentum. I know this is not legal, but its quite safe at bicycle speed. Just as its not legal for you to be going over the speed limit but I doubt you always are obeying it. Please try not to get angry at me about this when I not disrespecting anyone else's right-of-way at the same time. If you are at the cross street, I will stop. Recognize though that I am human and make mistakes. I may have missed the sign that says "caution northbound traffic does not stop" when proceeding at what I thought was a stop sign for both of us. If we both try to be aware of what each other is doing and compensate for it, then mistakes on either of our part do not have to become crashes. Its much more likely I made a mistake if you see me doing something "dangerous" as opposed to having a death wish.

If you haven't noticed already, there are a whole lot of people riding their bicycles around downtown Toronto. All kinds of people find the bicycle useful. Just as there are drivers deficient in common sense, there are people riding bikes without common sense as well. I don't happen to know the Joe schmoe who you saw riding a bike down the center of a busy one-way arterial in the wrong direction snarling traffic. Please do not assume I'm going to behave like Joe schmoe. Or take your anger at Joe out on me by honking or yelling at me from the other side of the road, where I cannot possibly be in your way. Also be glad Joe was not driving a car where he would be a real danger to everyone.

I am very aware of my surroundings when I am on a bicycle. I can hear when you are behind me by the sound of your engine. You don't need to toot to let me know you are there. I'm never sure whether you are trying to let me know you are there, trying to say hello to me, wanting me to move, or whether you are just angry.

I was going to say that in conclusion all I really want is for you to treat me with the same respect you would treat any other road user. But after noticing the frequency with which motorists hit each other, I would add an extra caveat. Please recognize that cyclists are more vulnerable road users. Before you wish them off the road, remember they are helping to ease traffic congestion. When in doubt as to who should go next, let the more vulnerable road user proceed. And keep in mind that leaving space always helps road safety, whether its an extra foot when passing a cyclist, or an extra few feet stopping behind the car in front of you. When we work cooperatively on the roads rather than a mad competition, we can all get where we are going just a little less stressfully.

Thanks. And thank you to the motorists that already get it. Thank you for waiting before opening your door. Thank you for leaving a safe amount of space when passing. Thank you for waiting patiently behind when it was not safe to pass. Thank you for signalling. Thank you for respecting the speed limit which makes the roads just a little bit saner to be travelling on. Thank you for noticing when I made a mistake and avoiding a collision. Thank you for slowing to let me in when I stuck out my arm because I wanted to move into the left turn lane. Thank you for not using your horn when it was not necessary. Thank you for all the little ways that you cooperate.

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Talk fast, ride slow

This summer I worked with James Ewert at O'Hare Airport for Youth For Understanding. He's a Columbia College Chicago student who shares my love of Critical Mass. He also writes for a student publication, The Columbia Chronicle. A few weeks ago he interviewed me and other bikers about drinking and rolling during the mass. There's a small minority of massers who drink during the ride then get out of hand.

What do you do when massers drink and roll? Especially if the Chicago Critical Mass has good relations with the Chicago Police Department? How do you reign in the massholes without upsetting the balance between anarchy and rules? Or between order and chaos? This is a growing concern for many, myself included, who don't want to jeopardize these good relations with the Mayor and the city.

His article appeared on 25 September 2006 as the final installment of a series on Chicago bicycling issues. Of course I'm posting it because of the ego boost that comes with seeing your name in print. My contributions are highlighted. But it's also well-written, based on the kind of in-depth field research I believe is lacking in most articles about Critical Mass.
To some cyclists it’s a sacred tradition. To others, a slow-moving cocktail party and to some motorists, a bane of their driving existence.

Regardless of the perspective, on the last Friday of every month riders from all over the world gather in their respective cities to participate in Critical Mass, a monthly unorganized ride without any form of leadership or hierarchy.

The meaning behind the ride is consistently debated, but one thing remains constant—cyclists take over the streets once a month to present themselves as traffic— not an obstruction to it.

In Chicago, it begins at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., at around 5:30 p.m., rain, shine, summer or winter. Right as the evening rush hour is reaching its peak, hundreds of bikes begin descending upon the plaza; street bikes with fixed gears, freak bikes six feet tall, bikes with stereos, bikes with barbecue grills on the front, bikes with wagons, bikes carrying children.

At the plaza people pass out flyers of bike literature that debate the purpose of public space and maps detailing different routes for the ride to take. The maps will be voted on later by those at the plaza who are participating.

The atmosphere seems like a low-grade bohemian carnival bordering on the hysteria of a circus-like parade. When the maps are voted on, Critical Mass is ready to ride.

“We’re confounding the expectations of the ruling class by goofing around in the middle of the street and that’s always been a big part of why Critical Mass is so appealing,” said Andy Thornley, program director for the San Francisco Bike Coalition

What was once a survival technique for cyclists in Beijing trying to cross impenetrable walls of automobile traffic, and a form of advocacy for cyclists, Critical Mass has now become a major social event not just in Chicago, but across the whole country and world. But along with an increased awareness of the ride and its growing popularity in Chicago’s bike culture, a new share of problems have cropped up.

“Police officers told me there was too much booze,” wrote Travis Duffey on the group’s e-mail listserv. Duffey has been participating in Chicago’s Mass since about the time it began in the mid-’90s.

Duffey said that on last month’s ride along the city’s north side, alcohol was a problem and at Foster Beach, where the ride ended, it appeared that people had stolen promotional signs for a marathon that was taking place the following morning.

“Anytime you have a group of people together at some kind of social event like a concert or something, there are going to be a few people drunk and maybe one or two who … do something the crowd would prefer they had not done,” Duffey said. “I see it as a function of a large group. You get some drunken ones, you get some crazy ones and you get some that you probably want the cops to arrest.”

Duffey said he has definitely seen a rise in the number of people riding in the Mass and as the number of riders participating each month has risen to over a thousand, Critical Mass has become a different beast with new difficulties.

Since the ride’s early United States beginnings in San Francisco, it has seen its share of problems. In New York, where Critical Mass has attained a notorious reputation with the police for riders’ aggressive behavior, cyclists are arrested almost routinely every month. This past summer in Seattle a number of riders were arrested for interfering with undercover police officers, who allegedly failed to identify themselves while following the Mass.

Thornley said the San Francisco Mass had problems early on when it met resistance from then-Mayor Willie Brown who tried to stop it, but over the past few years has settled down because of a very cooperative relationship with the police.

Thornley said that when he goes on the rides he likes to drift around, mingling from one rider to another. He said that because of the relationship they have with the police, who Thornley said pretty much mark it on their calendar, it has become a staple characteristic of the city with movies and television shows filmed in the city often placing it in the background as sort of a texture.

“By now everyone in San Francisco pretty much knows that if it’s the end of the month and it’s Friday, there’s going to be this appearance of bicycles,” Thornley said. “It’s become a legitimate excuse to ask your boss to get off early.”

The acceptance of the ride even has caused one of the city’s daily newspapers, the San Francisco Examiner, to print traffic advisories informing drivers of the ride, Thornley said.

Motorists may be the only ones not happy with the ride in Chicago, a city known for its bike-riding mayor who has taken great strides to better accommodate bicycles.

While caught in last month’s Critical Mass having to wait for the nearly 1,500 cyclists to pass, Jessica Hammond said there has to be another way for bikers to “show off their presence.” Hammond, who was idling in her car on Washington Street just west of Daley Plaza as the Mass was beginning, said she has no problem sharing the road with cyclists, but the cyclists have to share the road as well, something that doesn’t always happen during Critical Mass.

Aside from complaints and honking horns from motorists, the rides have usually gone smoothly, with few arrests.

Officer Marcel Bright, spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, said there haven’t been many problems since the event is relatively low-key and there haven’t been any intentional attempts by the riders to simply block traffic.

“They’re just being part of traffic and there are a thousand of them just trying prove a point, because of that, and because of the mayor’s commitment to cycling … it’s never caused any severe problems,” Bright said. “When we know its coming we put out additional officers available for traffic control. It’s an extra half hour and traffic slows down.”

Bright did say, however, that although the police don’t feel that drinking has become a problem, if someone is observed riding their bike while intoxicated, they will be cited for it.

Garth Katner, a frequent Mass rider since 2000, said he doesn’t see a problem with drinking as long as those doing it accept the responsibility that a cop will catch them. According to Katner, the increase in popularity of the Mass has brought out many non-bikers to the event who may not understand the reason for it.

He said that at the monthly Chicago Critical Mass happy hour, where riders usually discuss the upcoming Mass, there has been rising concern about the intentions of many of the new participants.

“These are a clear minority who don’t get the potential for advocacy or celebration. Instead they seem to come out just to rattle cage[r]s as much as possible,” Katner said.

Cathy Rigod, a Columbia College broadcast journalism major who took part in the August ride for the first time, doesn’t represent the type of “masshole” that Katner and many other regular riders are noticing, but rather the kind that are discovering Critical Mass to be a social launching pad for friends and networking.

Rigod, who just recently moved to Chicago from San Francisco, said although she never participated in San Francisco’s ride, Chicago’s was much different than her perception of the ride in her hometown. She said she had seen a documentary about Critical Mass in New York and was skeptical about getting involved in Chicago, but when she did, Rigod said she suddenly understood why so many people were doing it.

“At one point I had to step out of the mass to meet someone, and to see the amount of people going by me was just amazing,” Rigod said. “I think that when I was doing it I was more focused on what was in front of me, but when I got a chance to take a step back, it was kind of awe-inspiring to me and it wasn’t so much a social thing so much as it was the unity.”

Before moving to Chicago a few months ago, Rigod had not ridden a bike very much, but when she moved someone gave her one. Still, Rigod was hesitant about getting involved in Chicago’s bike scene— that’s where Critical Mass came in.

“I guess I had the impression that bike culture can be a little closed off and a little hard to break into,” Rigod said. “I showed up by myself and there was another girl standing there by herself and she’s just like, ‘My friends bailed out.’ I made a couple of friends, and me being here only a couple of months, I was really happy about that.”

Stories like Rigod’s, along with the story behind Critical Mass and bike culture and counterculture in general inspired Zack Furness to write his graduate thesis on biking for the University of Pittsburgh in 2001, something he is now expanding into a book to be published by Temple University Press.

Tentatively named One Less Car: Bike Culture and the Politics of Cycling, the book dedicates a chapter solely to Critical Mass and the effect it has on society as well as its social and political impacts.

“By Critical Mass being really political in certain places, I think it really turns off a lot of folks from coming out to rides,” Furness said. “It’s something that is enjoyable and something that is fun. It creates a lot less tension on the street and I think people get something out of that.”

Furness said the politics and networking of the ride reside more in the fact that many of the riders have lives outside the two hours they are participating. Furness said many cyclists are becoming more active, whether it is though traditional forms of bike advocacy or by trying to do more do-it-yourself strategies. Either way, Furness said, because of the popularity of biking and Critical Mass, people are initiating a dialogue that is making transportation an issue.

Despite the Mass’s growing social popularity, many on the Critical Mass e-mail listserv continue to cite concerns over the direction the Mass is headed. While many like Duffey believe the ride to be a sort of low-impact protest, the increased social awareness of the ride has helped people like Rigod connect and break into Chicago’s bike scene a little easier.

Furness said the atmosphere of the ride tends to vary from city to city with some being more social than others, but the issue of redistributing space as the underlying theme of Critical Mass will always remain present.

“It’s this idea of mutual self-responsibility and people being able to negotiate and take care of things on their own terms rather than having the police do it,” Furness said. “There is a great quote from Dan Rather where he says Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.”
Copyright © 2006 The Columbia Chronicle. All rights reserved. Article photos by Michael Jarecki, The Chronicle.

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胡同 - the hutong tour

To continue from Saturday's post - I rolled the streets of Beijing nearly every afternoon with my trusty guide, Ms. Rong Kun Kong, a student teacher at Beijing Normal University. As you can see, she's an enthusiastic biker. Her Giant TCR 6900 definitely put my shabby Flying Pigeon to shame. So much so, she politiely offered to trade. I declined. As a 老外 on a bike, this laowai, or foreigner, was already going to attract enough attention without maxing out his lycra factor.

After my last workshop with the student teachers, she and I would hook up for a meandering tour of the city's many 胡同, or hutongs. The word is Mongolian for water-well. Nearly all Chinese villages and towns originally grew up around them.

In urban areas like Beijing, the hutongs consist of 四合院, or siheyuan. These traditional courtyard homes are connected to one another by alleys. Together they form a tightly-knit neighborhood. Hutongs come in all shapes and sizes; the smallest being a mere 70 cm across, just wide enough for a single person to traverse. Although Beijing has changed a great deal over the last 500 years, the hutong remain much the same as during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Needless to say, the city's hutongs reminded me a lot of Chicago neighborhoods. Like Chicago, each has its own personality. Unlike most of our neighborhoods, they're not unique in terms of ethnicity or religion. Rather, they tend to be organized around specific occupations: butchers, bakers, candlestick makers...

Neighbors typically rely on bikes for both transportation and commerce. Everyone knows everyone else along the alleys since they regularly gather together to buy, sell, and gossip. The face-to-face intimacy of daily life is especially rich in the hutongs where families have dwelled in the same siheyuan for generations.

This also means that neighbors are extremely curious when a laowai rolls into their hutong. At one point I blew a tire. We were imediately sorrounded by a dozen people all pointing and chattering away. Ms. Kong quickly took control of the situation asking directions to the nearest bike mechanic.

Meanwhile several high school students took advantage of the opportunity to practice their English with me. Our diaolgue though was decidely one-sided. The student's approach was to completely exhaust their meager store of English in one shot. Each would ask, Hi! How are you? and without pausing for me to answer, would reply I am fine! I thought, how polite, they don't want to burden me with an obligation to respond.

Such heartfelt hospitality was not uncommon throughout our hutong tour. The bike mechanic didn’t want my money. I was his first laowai customer from America. All the same, I was a bit sad. The hutongs are being gentrified at a phenomenal pace. And with them, their neighborly community life is disappearing.

Perhaps gentrification is the wrong word. The hotungs are being buldozed to make room for huge commercial and residential buildings. Imagine the Trump Tower currently being built downtown along the Chicago River. Chinese developers are in the habit of building 5 to 7 Trump-like towers in one go. The hotung residents along with their bikes are then either resettled in these buildings or sent off to other high-rise apartments in new suburbs.

The sheer scale of destruction is mind-boggling, even for the some Chinese. Community activists have started to oppose this brutal gentrification by exploiting the Communist government's passion for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. They are making the case that loawai tourists will want to experience traditional hutong hospitality. Unfortunately, most of the 350+ hutongs continue to be threatened by the bulldozers.

If you haven't been to China, go and go soon. Don't wait for the 2008 Summer Olympics. There may not be any hutongs left. Or those remianing will be little more than Chinese Disney Worlds. In case, a trip is out of the question, I'm embedding the following hutong bike tour vid from YouTube.

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Two ghost bike installations

This video comes from a Ghost Bike installation back in January 2006 during the monthly Chicago Critical Mass. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to the two Ghost Bike installations last night. The following is from their yahoo group.
Last night two ghost bikes for slain cyclists were installed near where they were killed. One bike is on 2800 Pulaski just north of Diversy for George Chavez. The other is on the 4600 West of Madison for Chris. Now five ghost bikes have been placed in Chicago in about eight months. However, the ghost bike placed at Rockwell and North Avenues is gone.

Anyone who would like to help with Chicago area ghosts bikes should. No group or organization is in charge of Chicago's ghost bikes. Instead it has been an out growth of Critical Mass and happens in the same way and in the same spirit: when people decide to get together and make it happen. The Yahoo group, ChicagoGhostBikes, helps coordinate our activites, but anyone can just start or call events. We also use a wikipage

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Queasy Rider

I won't be continuing with Beijing Bicycle - The Hutong Tour today. A new buddy, Pete, and I are taking a roll down Halstead Avenue. Then we'll show up at Chicago Community Bike Project Monthly Bike Clinic at West Town Bikes. There's also a Ghost Bike Ride later tonight.

Nevertheless, in an effort to have something interesting every day, I'm posting this article from today's New York Times. Steven Kurutz writes about NYC bike commuters and the advocacy roles played by Critical Mass and Transportation Alternatives. Now if only Chicago's papers of note could write about us as sympathetically...
PAUL FORD, a soft-spoken, sturdily built 32-year-old who works as an editor at Harper’s Magazine, sometimes describes his commute between his apartment in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and his office on Broadway near Bond Street as feeling “like a video game, except you can get killed.”

And in fact, watching Mr. Ford weave through the city’s traffic-clogged streets one recent morning, pedaling steadily atop his black and gray Fuji Sanibel cruiser, called to mind a two-wheeled, life-and-death version of the 80’s arcade game Frogger.

At 7:40 a.m., wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, Mr. Ford set out from his apartment near the Gowanus Canal and was soon moving briskly down Third Avenue in Boerum Hill. Mr. Ford is a physical presence on the road, a big guy atop a seven-speed bike, a shiny black helmet covering his short brown hair. But the motorists whizzing by pay him little mind.

Near Third Avenue and Douglass Street, he slowed and hugged the curb to avoid a delivery truck passing on his left. Pulling onto the street again, it was in the firm but cautious way a person might wade into a fast-moving river. Or, as Mr. Ford put it: “You’re fragile out here in traffic. Nothing bad comes from being paranoid.”

Mr. Ford is among an estimated 120,000 regular cyclists in New York, 40,000 of whom commute to work by bike. And increasingly, these cyclists are waging an ever more ferocious turf war with the city.

Like Mr. Ford, the majority of these commuters do daily battle on the city’s 6,000 miles of often jam-packed roadways. At the same time, a small number of cycling advocates lobby City Hall with almost religious fervor, seeking everything from more bike racks to legislation requiring office building owners to install storage space for bikes.

The most public lobbying efforts are the Critical Mass rides in Manhattan, consciousness-raising events that take place on the last Friday of every month — the next one is Friday — and resemble nothing so much as 1960’s political rallies. Before the most recent ride, a bleached-blond hipster preacher named Reverend Billy recited the First Amendment through a bullhorn. Later, police officers issued 65 moving violations and made one arrest.

Despite the obstacles, this may be an ideal moment for seeking a bike-friendlier New York. With issues like global warming and high gas prices at the forefront of public consciousness, many advocates say that after years of struggle, they finally have the political capital to make cycling a top priority in the city.

“This is absolutely a moment of opportunity,” said Walter Hook, executive director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a New York-based organization that designs mass transit in developing countries. “The mayor stood up and took a bold stance and banned smoking. The next step is to stop the air pollution coming out of the tailpipe.”

The Path Less Traveled

Mr. Ford had left home early, hoping to beat the morning rush, but five minutes into his commute, cars were already lined up bumper to bumper at a red light on Third Avenue. Knifing through traffic, he hung a left onto Bergen Street in Boerum Hill, where he could enjoy a sliver of comfort in the form of a five-foot-wide bike lane, designated by two painted white lines. A few cyclists overtook him, pedaling furiously on expensive-looking machines.

Mr. Ford began biking to work two months ago because he wanted to lose weight but didn’t feel like going to the gym. While his legs and lungs are stronger now, he by no means regards his ride as a test run for the Tour de France. “I’m just a chubby guy on a bike,” he joked as he made a right onto Smith Street and scooted across Atlantic Avenue.

New York is arguably the most challenging city in the country in which to ride a bike. The streets are crowded, the pace is furious and danger lurks everywhere, from crater-size potholes to car doors that snap open. When Mr. Ford began biking to his office, he was filled with the sense that he was an irrelevancy to motorists, a moving abstraction. Even now, he feels dangerously exposed. “Everyone is your enemy,” he said. “You don’t want to get killed, and you don’t want to kill anyone.”

Mr. Ford has yet to suffer any injuries on his daily commute, but he is fatalistic. “It’s only a matter of time until I have one of those near-death experiences that everyone who bikes in the city has had,” he said.

According to the latest figures provided by the city, 109 cyclists were killed from 2000 through 2005. During the same period, there were 21,484 bicycle injuries recorded.

This June, in a grim reminder of the perils of urban cycling, three riders were killed in a three-week period. A 23-year-old aspiring filmmaker was pinned beneath a tractor-trailer on Houston Street in Manhattan on a weekday morning. A 41-year-old woman was hit by a truck on Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn in the evening. And a 56-year-old doctor collided with a Police Department tow truck while taking a midnight ride on the Hudson River Greenway in Manhattan.

On June 29, in response to the deaths, about 75 cyclists staged a rally on the steps of City Hall. Standing in front of a “ghost bike” painted white to honor the fallen, Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, the advocacy group that organized the rally, described the city’s streets as “out of control.” A week later, Andrew Vesselinovitch, resigned as director of the Bicycle Program of the city’s Department of Transportation after five years in the job, saying he planned to return to school. In leaving his position, he criticized the Department of Transportation for not making New York safer for cyclists and for creating less than 20 miles of new bike lanes in the past two years.

The numbers seemed all the more striking given the fact that Chicago, with a population of nearly three million, announced a plan this year to put every resident within a half-mile of a bike path. And Chicago’s program seems paltry in comparison with that of Davis, Calif., a city of 60,000 that Bicycling magazine said “has cycling in its veins.” Among Davis’s features are a $7.4 million bike tunnel and a network of bike paths so comprehensive and safe that the city has eliminated its public school buses.

Shifting Gears

As Mr. Ford pedaled along Jay Street, cut across a traffic tie-up at Tillary Street and squeezed precariously through a two-foot gap between a delivery truck and a concrete barrier to get onto the Manhattan Bridge, it was clear that orchestrating the flow of traffic is much more challenging in a city like New York than in a laid-back college town like Davis.

By some measures, New York is doing reasonably well for a large city. In May, a bike lane was built along Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, and, more significant, in 2001 the Hudson River Greenway, an 11.5-mile stretch that runs from Inwood to Battery Park City, was completed. With as many as 10,000 cyclists on the busiest days, Transportation Alternatives says, it ranks as the nation’s busiest bike path.

Two weeks ago, the Department of Transportation announced a plan to build 200 more miles of bike lanes over the next three years, at a cost of nearly $9 million. That would bring the city’s total to more than 600 miles.

The Parks Department also has several projects under way toward its long-term goal of a greenway all along the waterfront in the five boroughs. Bike paths beside every mile of Manhattan waterfront may be completed as soon as the end of 2008, according to Carli Smith, a department spokeswoman.

And this year, Bicycling magazine ranked New York the country’s third-best city for cycling among cities with population of more than one million, just behind San Diego and Chicago.

“New York is by no means a laggard,” said Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, a lobbying group in Washington that issues an annual list of what it calls Bicycle Friendly Communities. “New York is better than Los Angeles, and certainly better than Houston or Dallas.”

But many advocates say the city is making progress too slowly and is not fully committed to bicycling.

“We did 100 miles of bike paths and lanes in the past five years,” said Mr. Vesselinovitch, the former director of the Bicycle Program. “I think we could have doubled it. At D.O.T., we would support bicycling as long as it didn’t interfere with anything else.”

Iris Weinshall, the transportation commissioner, declined to respond specifically to Mr. Vesselinovitch’s comments. “I don’t want to look back,” she said. “I want to look forward.” She then said the city had made progress over the past five years; she cited the Manhattan Bridge bike lane, which was refurbished in 2001 and is used by an average of 840 riders a day.

As Mr. Ford made his way across that lane the other day, isolated from traffic and free to finally experience what he described as “a closer sense of the city,” he was enjoying the one truly peaceful moment of his commute. Halfway through his ride, his pace slackened. The morning air was crisp. The view from the bridge, which took in the entire East Side of Manhattan, was breathtaking. The moment was tempered only by a quarter-mile uphill grade, which left him breathing hard.

“With the subway,” Mr. Ford said, “you’re literally in a tunnel. When I bike, I see faces. I see storefronts. I’ll stop to visit someone. I’m engaged in the city.”

Imagining Bike Heaven

Up to this point, Mr. Ford’s ride had been a journey of extremes. He had passed through a leafy neighborhood of brownstones in Boerum Hill, plunged into the traffic-clogged heart of Downtown Brooklyn and been cosseted high above the East River. Now, with a light sheen of sweat on his face, he cruised off the bridge onto Canal Street into the pedestrian bustle of Chinatown.

The one constant of Mr. Ford’s ride was the persistent feeling that he was carving out a space for himself as a biker on streets where in many cases no such space existed. Except for the Manhattan Bridge, he hadn’t been on a bike lane since Bergen Street. If he were the city’s bike czar, he would change this.

“Cars are here to stay,” he said. “I don’t expect New York City to become bike utopia. But more share-the-road signs would be great, more bike lanes, more places to lock your bike.” All in all, “a little more room here and there.”

The city’s plan to add 200 miles of bike lanes would undoubtedly create much more room for cyclists like Mr. Ford. The new lanes, from Claremont Village in the Bronx to Downtown Brooklyn, would be a sort of interstate highway system for bikes throughout the five boroughs. Responding to safety concerns, the city is also installing five miles of protected lanes, in which riders are shielded from car traffic by barriers like concrete curbs.

But while cycling advocates have applauded the idea of protected lanes, their goals are far more ambitious.

“We’d like to see bike facilities on all the major arterials in the five boroughs, like Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and Houston Street,” said Mr. White, of Transportation Alternatives. “We’d also like to ban private vehicular traffic altogether on some streets.”

Mr. Hook, of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, heartily endorses the idea. “If you did something radical,’’ he said, “like taking Broadway out of the street grid and making it a greenway, not only would you create a north-south bike facility, but you would create a soul to the city and entirely change the feel of the place.”

When it was suggested that such a plan might produce havoc for Midtown drivers and stores relying on truck deliveries, Mr. Hook responded, “We could do what a hundred European cities do, which is allow trucks in during certain times of the day — say, between 8 and 10 a.m.”

But even more modest solutions far from Midtown can pit cyclists against nearly everybody else. That is the situation on Houston Street, which has become a prime point of contention between bike advocates and the Department of Transportation. The cyclists want a bike lane installed along Houston; the department, at least so far, has not concluded that this is a good idea.

In recent years, many cycling advocates have said that while the city officially supports biking, its decisions routinely favor drivers.

“When the city decides whether or not to put a bike lane on Houston Street, they think, ‘Well, we’re going to lose traffic volume,’ ” Mr. White said. “That’s the tradeoff that isn’t going our way, time and again.”

Ms. Weinshall, the transportation commissioner, would be the first to agree that the issue is complicated. “You have to parcel out the real estate to all of these different users,” she said. “Does it make sense to put a bike lane along Houston Street? Would we have to widen the sidewalks? These are things you consider. Bike riding is not made for everybody.”

The Home Stretch

Just a couple of minutes from the front door of his office, Mr. Ford was poised on Chrystie Street, considering a wide, loping left turn onto Houston Street that would deliver him into one of the busiest roadways in the city. “Two months ago I was terrified to make this turn,” he said as he merged with traffic and headed west on Houston toward Broadway. “But now it’s no big deal. You get used to it.”

Still, not everyone is so intrepid. Even if the necessary infrastructure like widespread bike lanes were in place, there would remain the question of how many New Yorkers would commute by bike, given practical concerns like safety, weather and health issues.

“I’ll bet not one person out of 20 would think to ride a bike to work,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a professor of history at Columbia University who for years has led a bike ride around the city for his students. The ride takes place after midnight, the time Mr. Jackson most feels safe navigating around the city.

There is another issue, even apart from safety, that has to do with how biking in the city is perceived. “We take pride in our use of mass transit and the fact that we walk,” Professor Jackson said, “but somehow cycling doesn’t complete the trinity. It doesn’t seem normal.”

In addition, there is no consensus on whether an increase in cyclists would do much to help improve the city’s environment. City Councilman John Liu, of Flushing, Queens, chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee, argues that subways and buses are the answer. “The use of cycles has a place,’’ Mr. Liu said. “But it doesn’t come anywhere near the capability of mass transit in making our city greener.”

For Mr. Ford, however, biking to work offers him a satisfaction that riding the subway or a bus does not. “There’s something great about getting to work under my own mode of power,” he said.

After making a right on Lafayette Street and a left on Bond, Mr. Ford was finally in the home stretch of his commute. He pulled up to the door of his office, dismounted and peeled off his helmet, sweaty but contented. “The hardest part of my day is already over,” he said. His four-mile commute had taken 32 minutes, about as long as it would have taken him on the R train.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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Beijing bicycle

The first time I ever rolled overseas was four years ago in Beijing. I was training student teachers at Beijing Normal University as part of a curriculum reform project with The Great Books Foundation. This video comes from the BNU Zhuhai campus, a little north of Hong Kong ... I warned you that I'd be embedding more YouTube vids %)

When bikers die they probably go China. In Beijing alone over 6 million Chinese roll down the streets ever day. The've held bikes in high esteem since the late 19th Century. Before the Communist Revolution in 1948, bikes represented the technological progress that would confer the repect of the civilized West. Great admirers of H. G. Wells, the Chinese took to heart his observation, Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.

Under Mao's long, maniacal tenure bikes became revolutionary instruments for achieving the equality of workers and peasants alike. All good socialist familes dreamed of the three luxuries: a cassette player, sewing machine, and a bike. Inspired by their example, the Chilean leftist, Jose Antonio Viera Gallo, declared, Socialism can only arrive by bicycle.

Now at the begining of the 21st Century, bikes are a nuisance. They are obstacles for thos government officials building what will be the largest national highway system in the world. Car culture is flourishing. The Western gas-guzzler along with the plasma screen TV and an iPod are the new three luxuries snapped up by would-be capitalists.

Despite the allure of Western cars, bikes aren't going anywhere soon. They remain a cheap means of transport for poor students. Not that they expect to be lifelong bikers; all aspire to the the new three luxuries. So when I asked my hosts at BNU for a bike they were incredulous. Traditional hospitality necessitated a car and driver as a big show of respect. They also genuinely worried that I might get killed.

I insisted that rolling would give me a better understanding of Chinese culture. How else would I be able to effectively train their student teachers? Eventually they relented, I think, because of their hopes for a long-term, lucrative partnership with a respected American NGO.

With that I got an old Flying Pigeon that hadn't been exported to the Netherlands. I was also accompanied by a female grad student, Rong Kun Kong, who would guide and translate for me.

To be continued tomorrow with The Hutong Tour...

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Today is World Car Free Day ... but not in The City of Big Shoulders

The folks in Portland surely are stoked. Here's a little of their inspiration for us flatlanders. John Bacone's Night Falls is a short film of the triumphant struggle against cagers.

You should also check out the imaginative Park(ing) Day activities in San Francisco that happened yesterday.
[This is my first attempt to embed a YouTube video. If it works you can expect more ... well it must or you wouldn't be watching it right now.]

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From a bamboo coup to bamboo bikes

If you're the most unpopular politician in your country, don't ever, ever leave to attend the UN General Assembly in New York. This is particuarly true if George Bush is giving a speech on his vision of a democratic Middle East. There's a good possibility that your military, cheered on by the voters, will boot your ass out of office.

This is exactly what happened yesterday to Thailand's prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. While listening to our president fulminate against the Iranians and Syrians, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, with a key endorsement from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, declared marshal law. It is the first bamboo coup in fifteen years in a country where they used to be commonplace with 17 of them between 1932 and 1991.

Like all good coup leaders around the world, General Boonyaratglin has urged calm. He's invited Thaksin's cabinet to stay at the army's headquarters for their own safety but warned that Thaksin, if he returns, may face trial on corruption charges. He also promised that the coup was temporary; its purpose to appoint a special national assembly to revise the constitution. Currently, the general is busily vetting candidates for a new prime minister.

Thais, in general support the coup. In fact, Thaksin is so unpoular that the country's bikers still plan to celebrate International Car-Free Day on Friday. They will pass by the King Rama V statue, before rolling to the head office of the metropolitan police. There, bikers plan to thank the officers who have provided road safety to bicyclists. Unfortunately, their friendly celebration could turn into a New York-style Critical Mass. General Boonyaratglin, a muslim, has banned all public gatherings of more than five people.

The ban would not only be a blow to a fragile democracy. Bike culture has deep roots in Thailand as well. Bikes are still the preferred mode of transport for the country's 64 million population. Each year tens of thousands of tourists roll through dense jungles and past ancient monuments. In 2003, Raleigh, once the largest bike company in the world, shifted much of its manufacturing to Thailand after closing the factory doors in Nottingham.

And Thailand leads the world in the development of bamboo bikes. Although this early 20th Century model is American, both the materials and inspiration were Thai. Bamboo is a strong, lightweight, enviromentally friendly and relatively cheap. As a result, it's the material of choice among many alternative transportation advocates and bike designers alike.

For these reasons, bamboo is also an excellent material for cargo trailers. Designs for this model are freely available from Carry Freedom, a UK business. They will email them if you
  1. tell them what you are using the bicycle trailer for
  2. send them photos of the bicycle trailer you build
  3. tell them about your improvements and modifications
I've been considering a cargo trailer for that which rolls since I saw one at the Chicago Greentech Family Fun Fair last Saturday. My only concern was the weight for my wallet as well as my back. I think bamboo may just be the answer. All I'm waiting for are the plans and a little help from my friends at West Town Bikes.

Perhaps too it will add a little bit of support to those troubled by the Bamboo Coup in Thailand.

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Clash of the bicyclists?

The following article from the online edition of Columbia College's Chronicle describes an incident I witnessed last month on the Chicago Critical Mass. It involved Jimmie the Saint and an angry cager in a SUV up on Lincoln Ave. While corking he was cited by the police for failing to ride single file.

I'm posting it (with my usual BiG Grafix) because I've been doored three times in as many years. But for each of these I've had a dozen good encounters with drivers. The most recent was last Friday as I was going north on Franklin a little before leaving the Loop. I was waiting at a stop light with an SUV to my left, another car in front of him, and cars parked to my left. Unfortunately both the cager and I decided to enter the slot to our left to move up to the light. He essentially squeezed me and would have pinned me if I hadn't yelled hey while Dave behind me cursed, Motherfucker!!!

The cager stopped so I could back out as the light turned green. He pulled up to the next block, stopped, and got out. Shit, I thought, he's big, really, really big. Later Dave told me he was reaching for his U-lock. Then something happened, rather unexpectedly I might add ... the driver apologized! He asked if I was alright, continuing that he was a regular biker up in Evanston and had been squeezed several times. I was shocked. All I kept saying was, no worries man, the fact that you are saying this is really appreciated. And then, he drove off leaving me a bit more optimistic about sharing the road with motorists.
Motorists, bike riders vie for street space while following laws.
James Ewert, Co-City Editor
18 September 2006

As Chicago’s bicycling scene grows, so does the dichotomy between cyclists and motorists, and many cyclists believe it is as divisive as ever.

The Chicago Police Department does not keep statistics on any type of bicycle-related altercations or bicycling-related citations. Chicago’s bike oriented laws, however, are broken routinely by cyclists, often putting drivers in a tough situation.

Jimmie the Saint, who requested his real name not be printed, said altercations between him and motorists are becoming a regular occurrence in Chicago, especially the downtown area. Jimmie, who has been cycling for a decade, said most motorists are usually antagonistic toward him and other cyclists he knows.

“Just about every day someone says something to me or cuts me off or is openly hostile,” Jimmie said. “I’ve been yelled at, given dirty looks out the window; I’ve been spit on; I’ve seen people go absolutely ape-shit with their kids in the car.”

Last month, during the Aug. 25 Critical Mass, the monthly ride where cyclists join together to overtake city streets and show off Chicago’s cycling presence, Jimmie said he had an altercation with a motorist that left him with a cycling citation.

About halfway through the ride, Jimmie said a car pulled out from a side street into the flow of the mass and almost hit a few cyclists. Seeing this, Jimmie positioned his bike in front of the car, a maneuver Critical Mass riders call corking, effectively stopping cars from traveling through the group.

“I was standing there and the driver started yelling out the window at me,” Jimmie said. “I tend to ignore drivers that are angry when I’m corking, but then I heard the car door open behind me.”

Jimmie called over a few friends to help cork the car and they told the driver to get back in the car and that the ride was almost over. While doing so, Jimmie noticed a police car moving through the mass.

“At that point I knew things weren’t going to work out too well for me because if the cop car was driving in the path of the cyclists, they probably weren’t too hip to our cause,” Jimmie said.

What happened then, according to Jimmie, was the police officers pulled him to the side of the street, throwing down his bike and pulling out a sheet of violations to see what he could be charged with.

“I eventually was ticketed for failing to ride single file, which is a ridiculous ticket because I wasn’t even riding,” Jimmie said. “I was actually off the bike and there was absolutely no way for him to see me failing to ride single file.”

Jimmie’s incident is a paradigm of two major problems cyclists are facing as biking popularity continues to grow and more rights are demanded on the road—motorist hostility and bicycle regulations.

Martin Hazard, a former bike courier and avid biker who has also been ticketed for cycling violations and been hit so many times he has lost count, said he and many of his cycling friends believe altercations with motorists are becoming more common.

Less than a year ago Hazard said he was hit by a car while riding near his home in Logan Square. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and a concussion, but said he didn’t file a police report because the driver fled and he had no information on the vehicle.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever bothered filing a report,” Hazard said. “Most of the time I get hit it’s not noteworthy unless I get injured, so I don’t even remember how many times I’ve been hit. Usually the driver leaves and if you don’t have any information, what would be the point?”

Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, a bike advocacy group based in Washington D.C., said he hasn’t seen anything pointing to a significant rise in altercations between cyclists and motorists. Clarke said although drivers are becoming aware of cyclists while driving, there are probably more distractions for drivers than ever before, a factor that many times leads to altercations, verbal or physical.

Whether it’s because of cell phones, neon signs or in-vehicle navigation devices, Clarke said, there are many distractions out there. Clarke, who has biked for more than 20 years in many U.S. and European cities, said most problems occur when drivers are distracted.

“They don’t realize how fast you’re going, they don’t see that you’re there and they turn across in front of you or change lanes into the one you are in,” Clarke said. “In a lot of cases the [drivers] immediately realize they’ve done something wrong, they were distracted by something, and it doesn’t become an altercation. It usually ends in with a wave and them saying sorry.”

Clarke said in his own experiences with altercations it seems to be a very visceral reaction on the part of motorists, something he said stems from a basic misunderstanding of the motorist that bicycles are entitled to and required to follow the same rules of the road.

According to Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association cyclists disobeying traffic laws puts both drivers and the cyclists in danger because the laws are meant to protect everyone, including bicyclists.

Mosher said hostility arises when anyone breaks the law and that altercations between motorists and cyclists shouldn’t be viewed as one versus the other.

“People expect the laws to be obeyed when they’re out there on the road and the laws are in place to keep everyone safe,” Mosher said.

Clarke said he makes it a point to follow the laws, but added that there are numerous examples of times when bicyclists are in a gray area where it’s safer for them to not obey the exact laws all the time. He said that lack of clarity is a challenge to bicyclists who try to stay within the law.

“There are definitely some unique characteristics with bicyclists that argue there should be some differentiation in the way that we are treated,” Clarke said. “But does that mean that cyclists should go around running red lights? no, but I think there are some areas where we need to take a closer look at the way cyclists are regulated and acknowledge that they are different vehicles.”

Clarke cited examples in Europe where many streets are designated two-way for bicycles and one-way for automobiles as well as Virginia where cyclists, because of the inherent thinness of bicycles, are allowed to ride through and between traffic.

Some cyclists however, like Jimmie and Hazard, believe traffic laws should be changed entirely to better accommodate cyclists on the road. Both said that although it rarely occurs, if the law enforcement were to begin actively trying to apply the very same rules of the road that motorists follow to cyclists, it would put riders at a disadvantage.

Jimmie said always stopping at red lights and stop signs is a major obstacle when riding in Chicago because cycling is all about momentum. He said side streets are ideal for riding, and having to, by law; stop at every block for a stop sign greatly slows him down.

“I think there should be a different attitude toward cyclists on the road because the laws that are written for traffic control were written to control 2000 pound vehicles that are not human powered, where all you have to do is hit the brake and hit the gas,” Jimmie said.

Copyright © 2006 The Columbia Chronicle. All rights reserved.

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