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Sharing the Road


A bike commuter almost hit me yesterday morning. As I was crossing the street in River North, the rider, who was on a shared bike, blasted through the red light startling myself and two other pedestrians. He missed us by inches, never bothering to slow down or let anything get in his way. I shook my head and muttered "idiot" to myself.  As bike commuting increases, bad behavior on the bike seems to be everywhere. It's alarming and unsustainable. 


According to the League of American Cyclists, riding to work has increased more than 60% in the past decade. With more riders on the road, more conflict among drivers, cyclists and pedestrians is inevitable. 


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When I'm riding on the city streets drivers can be quite inconsiderate. Buses and taxis speeding up to pass only to pull immediately in front of me and stop. Cars passing dangerously close when there's room to go around and drivers of parked cars opening doors without looking. As a rider, I feel very vulnerable and become frustrated with motorists who ignore my presence, or worse try to intimidate me. 


Although I ride almost everyday, I'm also a driver and a pedestrian. As a driver, I clearly want to avoid hitting anything, or anyone including cyclists. However, some bikers behave in unpredictable manners, cruising through red lights, weaving in lanes, and disobeying traffic laws with reckless abandon. Acting as if the rules of the road are meant for everyone else but them. At times, it makes me angry. And I have heard many other drivers complain about bikers. 


Last week, the Chicago Tribune ran a commentary article Pedal a Mile in My Shoes. The author (a bike commuter himself) notes the announcement of a new bike lane opening is an inconsequential matter since the real issue is the inability of people to share the road. He makes several good points about the need for a better understanding by drivers of the rights of cyclists, and a better understanding by cyclists of their responsibilities. At the end of the day each of us needs to take responsibility for our actions, including yours truly. 


Future Implications

How will all of this conflict be resolved? Perhaps we can look to history for some insights. As the growth of automobiles soared in the late 19th and early 20th century, so did the number of drivers and accidents. As a result, a new government function emerged: authorizing of vehicles and drivers. In 1899, the cities of New York and Chicago became the first municipalities requiring drivers to pass an exam. In 1901, New York became the first state to require vehicle registration. And by 1908, Rhode Island became the first state to test individuals before issuing a license. It was only a matter of time until all of the states regulated the driver and the vehicle.


Is that what will happen as the number of bikes and riders increases? Perhaps in the long run. Certainly, there are positive developments like more bike lanes which help since they make drivers more aware and legitimize the presence of bikes. And most riders do not cruise full speed through red lights, most likely out of self-preservation. What is clear however is that the current path is leading to more frustration. We need a better way. What are your thoughts or proposed solutions?

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