CHICAGO — Bicyclists say cars can't stay in their lane, and #bikechi has had enough.
Last week's well-documented fight between a bicyclist and an angry driver who blocked a West Side bicycle lane underscores the years-long rift between Chicagoans who commute on four wheels versus two.
Bicyclists say the issue is particularly acute Downtown, where cars use the protected bike lanes on Dearborn Street as turn lanes or parking spots.
Police wrote 51 tickets for parking in the Dearborn bike lanes from 2010 to 2015, but bicyclists believe the bike-lane-squatters are much more prevalent. They also say the practice endangers cyclists by forcing them to either stop suddenly or swerve into traffic.
"I see it every day," says Tom Burdick, a 30-year-old Logan Square resident who bikes to his job in the Loop. "It’s kind of like herd mentality: once one person does it, the lemmings seem to follow along."
Jim Merrell, a campaign manager for the Chicago-based Active Transportation Alliance, said "cars have been parking in bike lanes since bike lanes were first installed." He doesn't think too much of the practice is malice, but rather a product of a learning curve given the Dearborn bike lanes were just built in 2012.
"We’ve only got about 20 miles in the city, so you can imagine there are a lot of drivers out there that have yet to encounter a protected bike lane," Merrell said.
Unlike Colton Sodt, the college student who was attacked after calling out a motorist last week in Austin, Merrell says bicyclists should report cars in bike lanes via 311 to create a city record, or contact the neighborhood alderman.
Bicyclists can also use a #enforce940060 hashtag — a nod to the city ordinance number — on social media to shame drivers and promote awareness. Otherwise, Merrell is encouraged by the city's new focus on concrete-buffered bike lanes like the ones built last year on Clybourn Avenue. The number of bicyclists here has tripled since 2000, Merrell said.
"We’re going through this transition in the city right now where we realized we need a transportation system that’s ready for the 21st Century," Merrell said. "Building new bike lanes is kind of the first step in that transition."
The city opened a new concrete-buffered bike lane on Washington Street in December, and others on Clinton Street and Roosevelt Road earlier last year. Work on a buffered Randolph Street bike lane is set to begin once utility upgrades on the street are done, said Michael Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Burdick, the Logan Square bicyclist, said scofflaw drivers haven't prevented him from biking to work, but he would like to see more enforcement. His commute is "probably the easiest way" for him to get daily exercise, he said.
"I’m not going to be infuriated or frustrated having to go around cars or on the sidewalk or whatever, but it's good for the city," Burdick said. "I hope they’d like to get their money back for all they spent on this stuff."
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