Tailwind Hero

It’s that time of year again.

Temperatures are creeping towards 70 and the Lakefront Trail has again become the most dangerous place in Chicago to ride a bike.  At fault, not the least of which, are the dudes who seem to think that the Trail is their personal virtual reality playground to go play bike racer during the most crowded times of the day because of course training early when most real athletes train makes too much sense.

No matter if they’re riding a BikesDirect.com special that fits them like a Volkswagen Bug does Andre the Giant or a whip that costs more than an engagement ring.  Both are wearing a 70.3 tech-tee and Nashbar shorts.

Please don’t think I’m judging all amateur bike racers.  Bike racing is a wonderful sport, and if weren’t for amateurs, there’d be no pros.  But there’s a difference between someone who rides early in the morning, away from conflicting crowds of walkers and commuters, or who trains with a group of teammates on the road (riding road bikes, oddly enough) and the guy who demands that the path is for him: “dammit, rush hour after work is the only time I have to get a freakin’ ride in, dude!”

I give you, Tailwind Hero (sung to the tune of the Foreigner classic):

Sitting on the couch, watching the Tour
Used to like Lance, but now he’s not sure
Heard of a group ride, wasn’t sure he could hang
Hung out at the shop, tried to learn the slang
And all that carbon, just blew him away
He saw stars in his eyes, and the very next day

Bought a Motobecane, on the online store
Didn’t know how to ride it, but he knew for sure
The Lakefront Trail, ridden with the wind, was the answer, you understand
The Lakefront Trail, ridden at rush hour
Got some new Primal Wear, it’s his power
So he started ridin’, with a new tear-drop
Gotta keep on ridin’, screaming at joggers and dog walkers to stop

And be a tailwind hero, it’s hammer time, he’s a tailwind hero
He’s on the Lakefront Trail, tailwind hero, it’s hammer time
tailwind hero, (hammer time) on the way back he’ll draft on you.

He’s down near the Pier, wearing a sneer
This is his Lakefront Trail, in front of you he’ll veer
Like a trip through the past, to that day on the couch
And the Lakefront Trail means that he’s no slouch
Now he needs to keep on ridin’, he just can’t stop
Though a kid’s in his way, he’s got to stay in his drops

And be a tailwind hero, it’s hammer time
He’s a tailwind hero, it’s hammer time
Yeah, tailwind hero, hammer time
On the Lakefront Trail, (hammer time)
On the way back he’ll draft on you

Yeah, he’s gotta keep on ridin’, just can’t stop
Though a kid’s in his way, he’s got to stay in his drops

And be a tailwind hero, it’s hammer time
He’s a tailwind hero, it’s hammer time
(On the Lakefront Trail) tailwind hero, (aah aah aaah) it’s hammer time
He’s just a tailwind hero, aah aah aaah
tailwind (hammer) hero, (drop it, drop it) tailwind hero, (dropped that hammer)
He’s dropped the hammer, it’s hammer time

Debunking the myth that “cyclists don’t pay”

Three things are certain in the now permanent post-cheap-oil economy:

  1. More people ride bikes
  2. Motorists, pissed at having to share the road – that they believe they are 100% entitled to – with vulnerable users, write their editors and politicians about “scofflaw” and “deadbeat” cyclists, possibly while driving and speeding, who then propose helmet laws or fees, ostensibly in the name of “safety,” but in reality that are meant to discourage cycling
  3. John Kass trolls people who ride bikes for social-media-outrage-driven page views.

Let’s back up here for a minute

Everyday cycling – riding a bike as a form of transportation, as opposed to riding for its own sake – is growing more popular across the nation.  We can see it every day: new bike lanes, more racks, new bike sharing programs, more accommodation at the workplace, and, of course, lots more riders.

After nearly 100 years of more and more road-share being claimed by cars with brute force – through abundant capital, cheap-gas, and easy credit – the Age of the Automobile in America seems to be coming to a close:

Why?  Many reasons, but most important is the disappearance of cheap gas: as we drill and recover an increasing amount of our oil supply from difficult and expensive sources - the $100 oil that is making shale and tar sands profitable – our economy is experiencing critical problems with capital formation.

Without the high rate of energy-driven growth (i.e. building more and more of the stalled suburban sprawl that paradoxically needs cheap oil) we can neither generate new credit, nor pay the interest on old credit to issue loans to pay for economic expansion. It’s a vicious cycle.

Therefore, it has become very difficult to pay for the upkeep, replacement, and expansion of all of our autocentric infrastructure; not to mention the other externalized public costs related to driving, such as crashes, pollution, obesity, and real-estate impacts.

Mostly because potential new debt is an increasingly difficult sell, with tax-payers already squeezed to the limit.   And asking them (75% in Chicago who still primarily use their car for most trips) to pay for alternatives is just as painful – especially when the places they live are so car-centric that car-free tactics can hardly change anything.

This is why any increase in parking or vehicle registration fees are such melodramatic fights, and why it’s been impossible to raise both the federal Highway Trust Fund fuel tax (18.3 cents/gallon, last increased in 1993), and the Illinois Department of Transportation’s fuel tax (19 cents/gallon, last increased in 1990).

More generally, there is a knee-jerk reaction from a large portion of the 7,300,000 people that make up the driving public in the Chicago metropolitan statistical area towards footing the cost for alternative modes, despite that fact that they benefit from them, particularly bicycling.

And on subject of cycling in Chicago, no one better represents the self-appointed representative of bloviating anti-progressivism than the anti-Royko, faux-everyman, faux-Chicagoan, Tribune columnist and resident bridge-troll John Kass (raised in Oak Lawn, a current resident of Western Springs), whose literary alter-ego, “Old School,” allows him to act as though he remembers the “good ol’ days” of the South Side.  He trolls the Chicago bike-community like no one else. I will not link to him here, so that I will not contribute to his value for the Tribune’s advertisers.  It’s not hard to find him.

The issue

The Chicago Department of Transportation has been removing and narrowing (a ridiculously tiny amount of) traffic lanes to implement new bike-only infrastructure, most notably for the Kinzie and Dearborn protected bike lanes.  It has implemented one of the most successful bike-sharing programs in the nation, Divvy.  The number of people riding a bike to work in Chicago has more than doubled in the last five years and continues to grow.

Also growing: conflicts with motor vehicles.  Crashes are up as more people are riding in the city. Chicago has taken a two-pronged approach in dealing with getting cars and bikes to safely share the same space: increasing fines for drivers who open a door in front of a cyclist and causing a crash, as well as clarifying the law to allow a cyclist more leeway in taking the entire lane or moving past cars in the interest of their safety; but also increasing fines for riders who run red lights, etc.

It’s not Copenhagen, but it’s a start.

Occasionally – as with 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell last week, and former 33rd Ward Alderman Richard Mell, in October 2011 – cycling-specific fees are proposed.  Alderman Dowell floated a $25 annual fee, plus a mandated one-hour traffic safety class.  Licensing bicycles is not the solution to stopping reckless cycling or making it safer. There are myriad reasons for the conflict between motorists and cyclists, but the biggest of all is that the streets are simply not designed for anyone but someone driving a car.

The myth

But mostly, besides the unworkable accommodations for bikesharing, rentals, and children, and the fact that a $25 fee probably won’t even pay for the cost of administrating itself, the idea that cyclists should pay fees to ride on city streets, and for the dedicated infrastructure they’re increasingly receiving, leads to the misconception that cyclists are somehow scofflaws and freeloaders who don’t pay their way.

Trib-troll/columnist John Kass is one of the chief propagators of this lie, and makes a decent living baiting cyclists, based on the social media traffic to his articles, in between his smoke breaks, flicking butts at the feet of tourists on North Michigan Avenue.

The truth

Cyclists, in fact, do pay for the infrastructure they use, by the very act of riding their bikes and paying their taxes.

Let’s suppose a local car-owner drives 8,000 miles a year (the average for Illinois is 8,300 miles annually, and more than 75% of the state lives in the 7-county area).  This driver will pay:

Vehicle registration $101
City sticker $110 (Passenger vehicle, with residential parking)
Additional parking costs $100
IPASS and other tolls $200
Fuel taxes (based on 25mpg, with fed & state levies mentioned above) $120
Total estimated annual user-fees $631
Annual public costs @ $.39/mile ($3,120)
Grand total ($2,489)

Yes, the public – or indirect, externalized – costs of driving.  You know: crashes, congestion, obesity, pollution…that stuff.  Those costs that user-fees are supposed to repay. It really does add up to 39 cents per mile, on average; more in urban areas, since the land-use impacts in a dense urban environment cost more.

And while Chicago motorists can pay as much as, if not more than, $700 annually just for the privilege of driving, they are still costing the public many times that amount.  And these fees don’t begin to cover the costs of driving infrastructure, supporting services, and it’s impacts.

That’s what property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes pay for.

Let’s next make note that most people riding bikes also own cars.  So even if they never drive them, they’re still contributing as much as 30% of the total possible user-fees.

UPDATED, 14:11, 10/29/2013: @SFCitizen notes that California vehicle owners pay a usage tax when registering their vehicle, tied to the value of the vehicle, which is almost wholly returned to the city where the driver lives.  The case of a hypothetical midsize passenger car, purchased and driven in Culver City, the total annual vehicle registration fee of more than $2,000 includes a $1,800 usage tax.  

But even if, hypothetically, none of Chicago’s (or even more improbably, Los Angeles’) bike commuters owned cars, the fact that cyclists aren’t driving is saving the public many times the money they aren’t paying back for roads they use.  And cyclists, along with drivers (never mind that most cyclists are both) are all paying property, sales, and income taxes.

It’s simple math: cyclists do pay their way.  And if the city council – and John Kass – are really going to start a taxes-and-fees fight over who really pays for the roads, they should be talking about rebating cyclists, not charging them more.

Thursday Hate: we should be over the Bike-share fear by now

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Just as I finished digesting the news this morning that another Chicago cyclist had been slaughtered in a car crash last night on a route I ride weekly, Jon Hilkevitch’s Chicago Tribune transportation column was brought to my attention.

Again, our intrepid “watchdog” was alerting us lumpenprole to the “hidden fees” lurking within the (gasp) 17-page Divvy Bikes membership contract.  The same “hidden fees” that have been transparently communicated in all of Divvy vendor Alta’s bike share implementations, here in Chicago as well as Washington, DC and New York.  A fee structure that uses — wait…free-market dynamics (!!!) to ensure that the 4000 bicycles efficiently circulate among the 400 bike-docking stations.

The column follows a litany of crass, redbaiting, and insensitive opinion pieces over the last two years by Trib columnist and resident bridge-troll John Kass, as well as Hilkevitch, himself.

If he were looking out for us, Hilkevitch would be celebrating new options for Chicago commuters that give them even more ability to leave the car at home, that lessen the crippling cost traffic crashes and congestion and its epochal waste of money, to the tune of $11 billion and $8 billion a year, respectively.  Rather, he chooses to press on the $1,200 cost of each of the bikes, a mere total of $4.8 million, ignoring that commute options, mostly transit, prevent that $8 billion from being $10 billion.

And that is what bikeshare really is – a complement to transit, a last mile solution, that will only relieve Chicago’s traffic costs and undoubtedly pay for itself in the not-too-distant future.

More than 40% of all urban travel is less than two miles (90% of those trips are taken by car in the US), perfect for Divvy’s 30 minute free window, and a big part of the reason why 97% of other bikeshare trips around the country fall below that threshold.

As he did in last November’s know-nothing swipe at the just-opened Dearborn protected bike lane, Hilkevitch quotes only contrarians or others out of context – seemingly because anybody who supports bikeshare or bike lanes must be a 20-something trust fund hipster with no job, or just drinking the Kool-aid: nobody worthy of serious consideration.

Well, last night’s death and the outrage it has inspired should brightly outshine the sociopathic, piggish entitlement of Chicago’s violent car-culture that has until now relegated cycling as a legitimate mode of transportation to the gutters and sidewalks.

Hilkevitch ponders, quoting his current column’s contrarian, if Chicagoans will really spend $75 to ride a bike “a few times a year” and posits that DC’s Cabi and New York’s Citibike are apples to our orange because tourists make the former so successful.

Capital Bikeshare reported 22,000 annual members as of November 2012, of which 58% reported primarily using the bikes to ride to or from work. Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (a Chicago republican) retweeted Citibike’s boast today that over 21,000 annual memberships had been sold in just a month since opening registration.

Must be the tourists.

 

Mark Konkol still doesn’t get it

He’s at it again.

Bitch-slapped in 2012 by many in Chicago for his ignorant, trolling rant in the Chicago Sun-Times, Konkol once again is trying to cash-in, just in time for National Bike Month.  I’m not sure if DNAInfo pays anything, but it can’t be much.  So if he’s hard up for cash (gas ain’t cheap, eh, Mark?), I’ll be generous: you can read his know-nothing bullshit by clicking right here.

I won’t argue that with cyclists like these out there, who needs Konkol, Kass, et al?

But ultimately, that’s not Konkol’s argument, and it wasn’t last year.  He’s still trying to make the grossly incorrect assertion that cyclists don’t pay for the bike lanes that the city is implementing.  That they’re getting a free-ride from drivers who pay all that money to drive.

My fingers are calloused from typing it so many times, but until Chicago has the bicycling modeshare of Copenhagen or Amsterdam, I’m resigned to keep on typing it:

Cyclists do pay their way, and subsidize drivers as well.

Open your eyes, Mark, and read this.  Local roads are not paid for by gas taxes.  And are in no large part paid for by parking fees, registration fees, or licensing fees, either.  Local roads are paid for out of the general tax fund; meaning state income tax, state/local sales tax, and property tax.  Guess who pays that?  Everyone, including people who ride their bike to work.  To the store.  To their kid’s piano lesson.

It has been estimated that for each mile driven on public roadways, 39 cents per mile is passed on to the taxpayer.  This figure includes crashes, congestion, pollution, land use impacts, etc.  Mark, the average American drives 10,000 miles year; are you telling us that you contribute $3,900 annually in your local taxes to the upkeep and capital improvement of Chicago roadways?  Well, you don’t.  So guess who’s covering the difference?

Cyclists and transit riders, that’s who.

Surprise, look who hates bikeshare?

No, it’s not a surprise.  Here come the naysayers to Chicago’s newly announced bike sharing program.

Just in time for…

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Dear Illinois Policy Institute:

Look guys, this is a capital investment.

Nationally, especially Capital Bikeshare in DC, bikesharing programs have proven to be phenomenally successful; “Cabi” has logged over a million trips each year since it was implemented in 2010.

Whereas that each trip not driven by car prevents $.39 per mile of cost borne by the public (Litman, VTPI),

Whereas that the out-of-pocket cost for driving is over a $1 per mile (ibid),

Whereas the congestion costs in Chicagoland were measured to be more $1,500 per capita annually (TTI, 2011), and a $1 billion annual investment in driving alternatives (mostly transit) yields a 2:1 ROI, preventing another $2 billion from being added to a total of $8 billion in annual wasted fuel and time,

Whereas obesity and type 2 diabetes (the single greatest health scourge, in terms of dollars spent, we have ever known, over 2% of GDP in symptomatic treatment) are most strongly correlated geographically in areas with the highest rates of driving,

Whereas there there is not a lick of similar criticism on your site regarding highway construction projects, such as the recent Dan Ryan resurfacing or the new Circle Interchange Project,

Be it resolved that you’re all a bunch of trolls who couldn’t find a way out of their car if Lee Iaccoca himself hooked a hose to the tailpipe and ran it into your window,

And be it also resolved that you’re just a bunch of Tea Partying assholes who label programs as government fiat which negatively impact your personal choices, while ignoring waste that doesn’t, so fuck you anyway.  You’ll all be dead in 10 years.  None of you are reproducing – did you know that among 18- to 34-year-olds, car ownership is down more than 30% over the last 5 years?

Must be the erectile dysfunction.

Thursday Hate: Unfair Media

I hate you.Choose your -ism, everyone will still drive when forced to.

It’s a good thing Noah Feldman has a nice law professorship in a Harvard ivory tower, because as a columnist on the sociopolitical economics of transportation he’s pretty unemployable.  As if that ever stopped the Chicago Tribune from baiting bike commuters:

Driving is the optimal individual choice, given the conditions created by everyone else’s individual choices. The market prefers cars. More market, more cars. And the effect of the free market in transport choices is a disaster in the making…

Regulating the transportation market distorts individual choices. For instance, bike lanes in Boston’s narrow streets slow down cars that are already crawling…

But market regulation is necessary where collective action leads to rational madness. China has made amazing progress by bringing the market and its individual choice into daily life. It needs more experiments in that direction, and more individual freedom to go with it. But it also needs to notice where the free market must be managed. Bring back Beijing’s air, and bring back its bikes. A one-party state must be good for something.

Is it just me, or was that all over the fucking place, in order to justify some good, old fashioned red-baiting?

Listen up, Feldman. Public roads are as much a socialist enterprise in a capitalist country as in a communist one. Bike lanes relieve congestion, which was created by the extra car lanes in the first place. That’s collective action no matter the political ideology.

The true market distortion are the publicly financed roads themselves. They’re all paid for out of the public kitty (fuel taxes pay for highways, not local roads, so stop right there) by cyclists and drivers alike. But why would anyone but the committed choose to bike when there’s but a few paltry bike lanes to ride in safely because the legislature in charge of the public works budget is being constantly lobbied by automotive interests with far deeper pockets than the Sierra Club?

Capitalist or communist, that’s just plain fascist.

Ventra-ing my frustrations

Last week, the Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch shined a light on some of the hidden fees within the CTA’s new debit card fare system from Ventra.  It supposedly offers freedom from owning a separate fare card and is also accepted by Pace, but it’s rife with convenience fees, reload fees, customer service fees, activation fees, and reactivation fees.  Hilkevitch’s original expose was followed by several days of histrionics in the Op-ed pages on how the CTA is screwing its ridership to fill budget holes.  My response:

What did you expect?

Across the spread from one such editorial was a blurb under the “What others are saying” feature, from the Washington Post’s Matt Miller:

While philosophers have debated the question in broad terms for centuries, I’m happy to report that we can now definitively quantify the difference between a pinko communist dystopia in which the leviathan state crushes the very soul of freedom, and a neanderthal right-wing hellscape in which the poor, frail or otherwise unlucky fight for whatever crumbs John Galt cares to spill.

It’s about 4 cents on the national dollar. That is, it’s the difference between a federal government that spends about 19 percent of gross domestic product and 23 percent of GDP in the year 2023.

Introducing Ventra.  Welcome to your right-wing hell-scape.

For Christ’s sake, everyone: stop blaming CTA!  They’ve got bills to pay and schedules to keep.

Twenty percent of our entire state budget – one-fifth of the whole fucking greasy, stuffed pizza – is going straight into the gaping, moistly sucking, crusty, spittle-flecked, breathlessly panting [moarmoarMOAR] moufhole that is the Illinois state employee pension system.  Which became the $96 billion monster it is by politicians reaching into their employees pockets to pay for that whole late-90′s-irrational-exuberance-let’s-subsidize-the-McMansions-in-the-exurbs-so-soccer-moms-will-vote-for-Bill-Clinton thing.  (I won’t get into why those politicians promised such sweet-ass retirements to city clerks who always seem to be on break when I delay mine until two o’ clock to do my personal business while working to fill my 401K, which is at the mercy of the market.)

A hundred fucking BILLION DOLLARS! New York City’s 1975 $4 billion bankruptcy, by comparison, was less than a quarter of that in inflation adjusted dollars.

Thanks to our vacated political leadership, it’s austerity for everyone.  So, don’t act so surprised now that CTA is paying it forward.

Thursday Hate: Your new car sucks

Tips from Steven Vance and @erik_d red-lined the rage-o-meter and inspired an all-too-infrequent edition of…

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Leave the car, take the bike

After viewing the laughably misguided video below, I was delighted to find that Opel was a subsidiary of GM, who were recently bitch-slapped last year for equating bike commuting with loser status in a series of ads targeting college students. Here is further evidence of the desperate attempts automakers are taking in trying to reverse a startling trend in ownership and even licensing among 18-34 year-olds, down over 30% in just five years.

So , under a perverted guise of mobility-management, Opel recruited “hipsters and designers” (such as the one wearing a helmet visor  at 0:52? – I guess they didn’t have room in the shot for the helmet mirror and charity-ride half-zip) to breathe horribly-mutated life into the idea that “sometimes the perfect urban car is a bike”.

These people think they’re so brilliant: “We’ll use bikes to sell them cars! And they won’t even NOTICE!” [high fives, smarmy grins, someone tosses back a 5-Hour Energy]

Fuck you.  Keep your car. Because when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you can to-o-o-o-tally find a parking space right away and hop on your bike! [Makes jerking-off motions.]

And on second thought, keep that poseur, Chinese-made, too-cliche-now-even-for-Urban-Outfitters, brakeless fixie that your “crew” clearly can’t ride safely, as evidenced by the painfully slow, jive-ass Keirin “race” over some cobbled garden pathway.  Nice job keeping a Hyde Park regular from her evening walk with Muffy:

Der Beestvagen

The question I’m asking is: does it fit in the drive-thru?

Because, as Erik pointed out, there’s gotta be at least 12 cupholders in there.  From Yahoo Autos: at $450,000 “…if you have to ask about miles per gallon, then clearly you don’t own enough oil wells to afford one.”

 

We know the Wells Street Bridge reconstruction hasn’t been easy so far, but…

I know someone must do it: wear a glasses or cap-mounted microcamera so you can instantly take pictures of assholes acting like assholes. Like the guy who got off the Red Line at Grand this morning and stood on the platform screaming profanities at the motorman, who was leaning out the window checking the doors and had provided extraordinarily courteous and professional updates over the train PA on the delays being caused by the Wells Bridge work.

Seems like the ideal candidate for an Opel Adams.

 

And finally…

Here’s two bus-bunched 147s, one of which I rode to Bryn Mawr and Sheridan this evening from work. One is reticulated and the other a standard shorter model. Guess which was packed tighter than a bowl making the rounds in Cypress Hill’s green room?

887101_10151390710438778_438399370_o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yours in hate,

RJH.

The hater’s guide to Chicago public transit

Prologue

The average Chicago transit rider takes a lot for granted on a daily basis.

Commuter rail service stretches over three states: from Aurora, Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin to South Bend, Indiana.  The suburban bus provider, Pace, has a service area alone of 3,500 square miles.  The CTA has 144 rapid transit stations, and its buses carry nearly 1 million riders daily.  It’s consistently ranked among the top 5 highest quality transit agencies worldwide, and one of just four services in the United States that offer round the clock metro rail service, on its Red and Blue line trains.

Yet, without a doubt, the constant litany of fare hikes and service cuts, the often deplorable condition of the platforms and rolling stock, litter, service delays, and poorly lighted stairwells reeking of urine (or worse) are the most common subject of complaints about our renowned transit system.

But none of this is truly the fault of the CTA, Metra, or Pace.

It’s time you directed your anger at IDOT, which flexes less than two percent of their federal transportation funding to transit, even though the daily ridership of these services accounts for 18 percent of the entire population of Illinois.

Cast your invective at the people who treat driving as an entitlement and won’t reckon with the fact it is massively subsidized with devastating social costs.   They bitch and complain about having their taxes pay for something they “don’t use” when in reality Chicago transit prevents an additional $2 billion in wasted time and fuel from one of the worst commutes in the nation.

You can focus your hate on the lawmakers, union leaders, and lobbyists in Springfield, who’ve seen the now $91 billion pension crisis coming since the mid-nineties, and have yet to do a goddamn thing about it except ignore it, forcing you, the transit rider, to make do with diminished service.

But, right now, here in this space, we’re zeroing in our vitriolic spew on…you.  The riders, the drivers, the motormen, the employees and staff whose personally misguided choices and selfish actions make our daily commute the living hell that it is.

Rest assured, all the guilty parties will be covered here:

  • the bag-on-the-seat
  • the doorway stander
  • the still-moving-crowded-car-“excuse me, I’m getting off, excuse me I’m getting off”-yeah-I’m-so-fucking-sure-you’re-the-only-one-getting-off-when-the-doors-open whiner
  • and much, much more


…but you really can’t launch into a proper tirade on this subject without addressing the historical context behind many of these behaviors – the legacy of the “Godfather” of the Chicago ‘L’, Charles Tyson Yerkes.

Simply, Chicago’s transit system began as a profit-making venture, and Yerkes at one point controlled more than half of the elevated systems, obtaining ownership of rights-of-way through bribes to Aldermen and other corrupt dealings.  Yerkes is most responsible for the current infrastructure used today and the tight turns in the Loop that Yerkes built cannot accommodate cars longer than 48 feet or wider than 9 feet, 4 inches at the window sills.  And further, Chicago’s entire network is Loop-centric (except for buses which are mired in the grid’s private auto traffic) so it’s impossible to get anywhere quickly between two non-loop destinations and bypass downtown with the spoked rail network.

The interior of an MTA subway car.

In contrast, New York City’s MTA cars are primarily 60 feet long and 10 feet wide on a network that blankets the Five Boroughs with more than 450 stations.  Anyone who has ridden the New York subway can attest to the comparably vast roominess of these cars and the relatively efficient movement of people.

Our own ‘L’ cars become crowded much faster, the vestibule panels create a funneling effect, and the front/rear-facing bucket seats crowd the aisles, not to mention do not comfortably fit the average Chicago ass. An MTA car features long bench seats that span from door to door (to door, yes three pairs), allowing for more people to move in and out and away from the doors easily.

The new 5000 Series CTA cars with side-facing seats add very little room

A CTA rider who will not move into the aisle from the doors with 30 people behind them on a crowding train does so because it’s the easiest thing to do.  The new 5000 Series cars the CTA debuted in 2012 feature side-facing seats, but this really misses the root of the overcrowding problem: the bucket seats and vestibule panels are still present.  Someone can’t easily slide down to let someone else have a seat; and the available standing space is still about a foot narrower than an MTA car, so riders still must funnel into a single line to move into the car.

Certainly there are many different ways to assign blame here for this perfect storm of behavior triggers – lack of innovation, defaulting to status quo, Midwestern “sensibilities” (read: we’re a bunch of Ohio/Michigan suburban-transplanted, nouveau-urbane, provincial thumb-suckers who don’t want to sit on side-facing benches) – but Charles Yerkes was such an arrogant, corrupt bastard – the quintessential Chicago businessmen who profited at the expense of the taxpayers – so let’s be sure to give him some blame right off the bat.

And now, let us hate…

The trolls within

1. The person that thinks they won’t make it off the train or bus before the door closes.

This archetype manifests his or herself in several different ways.

First, as alluded to above, is the rider who tries to move forward toward the door of a still moving, very crowded train, whining “excuse me, I have to get off…excuse me,” as though they are the only person who could possibly be alighting at the next station.  On the bus this is even worse because there is less room and much more vehicle movement, combined with the very real fear of an impatient bus driver.

Even worse is when the person is sitting next to you in front-facing seats, making you get up while in motion.

The worst is when they wait until the bus is pulling 3 Gs into the stop and they start with that passive-aggressive shit with their coat and bag and sunglasses and gloves and throat cleariOH FUCK YOU JUST WAIT YOU’LL MAKE IT OFF I PROMISE.  

2. The Seat-Hogger.

These come in two varieties:

A: The-bag-in-seat.  I always ask a bag-on-the-seater to move their bag, even if there are other open seats nearby.  Especially on Metra.  Metra conductors who ask people to move their bags – or their feet (this is a TRAIN not a college dorm room you spoiled fucking brat) – are my favorite people in the world.  This is the only reason for conductors to exist, and they should get full pay for this duty alone.

Have you ever noticed that a white person will never ask a person of color to move their bag?  Is it for fear of causing a scene?  I once asked an African-American woman to move her bag on a packed inbound Green Line car filled with white, hipster-cum-yuppie Pitchforkers (myself included) who just stood there. It blew up into a HUGE. SCENE.  (I got the seat.)

B: Seated-on-the-aisle-and-make-you-climb-over-them-to-get-to-the-other-open-seat

This is actually a subset of the person who thinks they won’t make it off the train.  They’d rather sit on the aisle so as not to have to interact with you at their stop, and then they barely acknowledge your presence as you try to get to the open seat, because then they’d have to explain what a weird, whiny, fucking asshole they are.

3. Won’t move in

Bus subset: won’t move back.  Train subset: standing in the doorways.  Both are actually a third variant of the “I won’t make it off” rider.

The bus variant is particularly pathetic.  It all starts with one poor fuck, forced to stand, who thinks that, for some stupid reason, they have to exit through the front door at their stop.  Or they won’t move up the small staircase to the very back.  This sets off a chain reaction of increasingly agitated riders getting on whose meek pleas to “move back” gradually grow in strength – while the original offender takes a small step back each stop, caring more about fiddling with his phone, as a sea of open space remains behind him and pressure grows in front – to climax when a 5’ 1” Montessori teacher begins shrieking and unsheathes a samurai sword.

The train variant just stands in the middle of the doorway, or leaning on one of the fucking useless vestibule panels making people trip over his feet, no matter how many are getting on the train, like the Karate Kid crane-kicking the ocean.

I make sure to give these people a knock with my shoulder or bag while moving past into the car.  Speaking of bags…

4. Standers with incredibly heavy, full backpacks who swing them back and forth while talking to their dipshit Roosevelt University friends.

“Either that bag or you are going to the floor.”

5. Litterers

There should be a dark room in the bowels of the Thompson Center – behind the Sbarro, maybe – with nothing but a metal chair beneath a bare, swinging, tink-ing lightbulb where people who litter on public transit are sent.  They’ll sit there, barely controlling their increasingly panicked breathing, a bead of sweat rolling itchily down the bridge of their nose, eyes darting back and forth, as a shadowy figure, barechested and hooded, slowly approaches from behind…fingering a rusty razor blade, and gently, playfully, shaking a canvas sack of ball-bearings.

I have never actually seen a person litter on the CTA (except for the time I did) – they are either stuffing their face from a styrofoam container of orange chicken from Sixty Five Chinese, or the only empty seat on the car is occupied by a McDonald’s bag half soaked with ketchup, the hot summer air stinking of its fermenting, rancid, acidic sweetness.

I was once on a bus, watching a woman not mind her kid stuff her mouth hole from a sack of peanuts, throwing all the shells on the floor. I told her she was the reason that transit bleeds money, and I was given a blank stare in return for about five stops. As I was getting off, whatever was stewing inside her brain suddenly became words, and she started yelling at me that I was a racist, and since I was white, and therefore “rich,” shouldn’t be riding the bus anyway.

This rolling bottle will drive you to the brink of insanity.  (credit: fellow hater)

This rolling bottle will drive you to the brink of insanity. (credit: fellow hater)

6. Remember the guy carefully perusing the ringtones on his Nokia, looking for the perfect one?

In the 70s he had a transistor radio.  In the 80s, a ghetto blaster. Now that guy is playing the most annoying game/app ever created, sans headphones, on the pay-as-you-go mobile device of his choosing. Right. Next to you.

And on to the platform…

7.  Standing on the escalator.

Yeah, I realize that some people have issues.  Plus, “it’s not a ride!” is so cliche.  But most of you…Jesus Christ, come on.

8. Crowds the door.

These people stand directly in front of the opening doors, after having first ran to the car most likely to have an open seat, forcing those getting off to go around them.

I use a technique, like a box-out move in basketball, where I anticipate which door is going to be closest when the train stops. I time it so I am right at the edge, cutting off a door-crowder coming up behind me like Rodman going for a rebound.  Now I’m perfectly positioned at the edge of the door, yet out of the way of the alighting traffic, and I slide in just past the last person off,  while Miss “Ooooh! Oooooh! Oooooh!” can’t figure out why everyone is bumping into her.

This next person takes it one step farther…

9. Trying to get on while people are exiting the train or bus.

This obsessive-compulsive worry-wart is the exact-opposite of the Door-stander,  taking thinking-only-of-themselves to new heights and obliviously charging forward through the gauntlet, eyes locked on the first open seat they can reach.  I laugh with glee when someone already standing grabs it out from under them.

Your policy is ill thought-out and ineffective

10. Bikes on trains.

Bikes on CTA is what it is: a square peg in a round hole, but in off peak hours, who cares?  There’s a rush hour ban, but the policy could be entirely self-enforcing and most people would rather ride than deal with getting their bike through the turnstile and up the stairs.

But Metra.  Sigh.  Oh, ho ho hohoho Metra’s bike policy.  This abortion has birthed a realm where the easy-going utopia of transit has died and a twitchy, huffy grousing reigns.

For the record, Metra allows two bikes per handicapped-accessible car, with a published limit of 8-15 bikes per train, depending on the line.  No bikes on inbound AM and outbound PM trains (so much for a relevant, viable policy there). Each bike is to be secured with a bungee cord to the handicapped seating that’s not in use. Able-bodied folk have to move for both bikes and handicapped; bikes give way to handicapped. Usually to the platform where they have to frantically run to another available car.  Luckily (or unluckily, as the case proves), bikes are far more frequent on the trains than handicapped.

But, good luck getting a train with more than three of these cars. Or getting an able-bodied person sitting in the bike space to move or even acknowledge your request without getting the conductor involved.  Not that it matters because the consistency of enforcement by the individual conductors is as varied their personal hygiene.  (Apparently, the union-required deodorant stipend wasn’t squandered on razor blades, either.)

Since there is often less space for bikes available than published, or cyclist-riders have no real way of quickly finding a car with room, bikes can stack up three, four, even five deep; some conductors couldn’t give a lessor fuck.  I was once on a car with 10 bikes in it. (Others will throw your ass out quicker than the Soup Nazi.)  Soon, a train car overloaded with bikes takes on a Lord-of-the-Flies vibe, thick with tension, being generated primarily by the guy with the mirror attached to his helmet visor (on the helmet he’s still wearing…while riding a train) and wearing a charity-ride half-zip jersey, incessantly whining, “What stop are you getting off at?!  What stop are you getting off at?!”

If Metra would adopt some state-of-the-art fare collection tactics and not continue to be stuck in the 1950s, maybe they’d have some revenue to dedicate to a bike car like the rest of the civilized world.


Infra-suck-ture

11. Poorly designed access

Damen Brown Line:  why the fuck did they add an exit on the west side of the street, right next to the bus stop, without including fare-card-only entry?  Bus transfers still have to jaywalk – from behind a large bus, I might add – to board the train.

Irving Park Blue Line: same goes here for the Pulaski entrance: riders have to cross a very dangerous intersection at the Kennedy exit ramp because of an exit-only.  Maybe if more people used this point for entry someone would clean up the pigeon shit that coats this station like paint.

Please, piss on this house.

Addison Blue Line: This is probably pie-in-the-sky, but why not add access to/from the north end of this platform to the Independence Park neighborhood via catwalk spanning the Kennedy to Lawndale Ave (much like a catwalk extends the access point of 35th Red Line to 33rd)? This way, more people can piss on the rapper’s Castle.  Win-win.

12. Platforms in the middle of expressways

The ultimate in Soviet-apartment-block chique.  Lacking one iota of aesthetic charm, these stations are awash in literally inches-deep litter in varying degrees of identifiableness, ranging from legible logos on recently discarded fast food containers to material that maybe was organic at some point and may become organic at some point again if left uncleaned.

One hater who contributed to this piece seethed, “…standing in a highway median early in the morning while dipshits in their luxury sedans yammer on their cell phones, staring me down, cruising in from their bullshit suburbs on their way downtown. The station is filthy and the sound of the eight-lane highway is deafening.”

However, I experience a certain amount of Schadenfreude while standing for a train here, ruefully watching people either gridlocked, screaming into a cell phone, beating their kids, reading a paper, jerking it (true story), and/or causing a three car pile-up after merging without looking.

And finally, Chicago’s “finest.”

13. Drivers and motormen

Leapfrogging around bicyclists, driving aggressively around bicyclists, passing too close, and honking at them.  Dude, we’re on the same team.

Taking their sweet time at a shift change, as if nobody in the seats has anywhere important to go.  Usually these drivers are so morbidly out of shape they can’t set down their bag or take off their coat without needing a break.

This bus driver.

I understand the need for express trains – but for some reason I hate it when they come barrelling through a station blaring that fucking horn or whistle or Casio keyboard held up to the PA mic or whatever the fuck that sound is – as if they have to sound all important like it’s no one’s fault that there was a 15 minute gap in service at rush hour.

They’re a transit-version of Goofy running after someone.

14. Wake up.

Bike lanes should connect, not divide us

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” — John Lydon

After seeing the headline of today’s Chicago Tribune, I know what it felt like to hear about Fort Sumter in 1861:

Chicago Tribune, Dec 13, 2012

It was otherwise a great day for cyclists, indeed for every Chicago commuter.  For those of us who are excited about the opening of a cutting-edge facility through the heart of the Loop – a two-way bike lane down one-way Dearborn, separated from traffic – this above the fold placement on the front page is a double-edged sword.

“…keeping cyclists in line.”

Author and Tribune transportation columnist Jon Hilkevitch includes the standard, cliche and uninformed Man-on-the-street quotes:

“I don’t know who to feel sorry for — turning cars or pedestrians or bikers bumping into each other,”

I’ve ridden in the similar protected lanes in Washington, DC, implemented by former DDOT and current CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein – they flip the traditional car parking/bike lane arrangement (with curb, bike lane, then car parking, and car traffic). They have their problems but they solve more than they create. Crashes will happen when a rider who feels he is entitled to pass someone who has the gall to be slower, or ignores a signal. Like what happens when drivers do the same thing.  Much later, Hilkevitch cites crash data that supports the claim that protected bike lanes are much safer than traditional bike lanes or none at all.  And people are pissed because they have to wait longer for a green light, or because they can’t drive 40 mph through downtown anymore?  Boo-fucking-hoo.

“I wish I had time to pedal around, but I have kids at home to feed.”

As if all cyclists are jobless, trust fund hipsters.

Protected bike lanes are being sold to the driving public and to users (and potential users, more importantly) in two different pitches: for the latter it’s safety; for the former, it’s segregation.

The result, as seen in New York City, is the fomentation of civil war.  Gotham cyclists are now mistakenly believed to be restricted to bike lanes only when riding on streets – like the kids table at Thanksgiving dinner – and are being ticketed for not using them.The public backlash has been reported – with bias – by NBC’s Brian Williams.  However, most often riders are leaving a bike lane to get around an obstruction (such as a double parked truck or construction barrier, or to make a turn not accessible from the bike lane otherwise.

Configuration of a protected bike lane

Source: Chicago Tribune

The new lane on Dearborn addresses these issues, in theory: cars can’t park in it, users can turn at each intersection from the lane, via special “turning boxes.”  Most cyclists shouldn’t have a reason not to use it, other than to hang on to some sort of iconoclastic status.  It’s not as though you’d need to leave it before reaching an intersection: the blocks aren’t long, and most building entrances are at the corners.  If you feel like a pussy for being forced to make a box turn so other people can feel safer biking, you’re a petty and selfish person with a shallow understanding of how important it is to get more people riding their bikes, who would otherwise be afraid to.

The Chicago Sun-Times today supported the bike lane with an enthusiastic editorial, citing:

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found that 71 percent of Americans would like to bike more, but fewer than half feel their community is safe for bikes. Protected bike lanes address that. A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found the risk of injury is 89 percent less on protected lanes than on streets with no bicycle infrastructure.

It’s the other streets without facilities or with regular bike lanes where I feel conflicts will grow due to the precedent propagated by Hilkevitch.

He seems intent to toe the line laid down by the Tribune’s self-styled “watchdog” news team in recent months, who have opposed all efforts to slow down drivers and ease congestion, such as speed cameras in school zones and congestion pricing, on the grounds they are just money grabs (more on that below).  He paints an equivocating Commissioner Klein on cyclist red-light enforcement, and portrays Chicago’s new bike lanes as a magnanimous gift to “reckless” cyclists from an exasperated driving public.

(I’ve certainly withheld no vitriol towards cyclists, when deserved.  But we don’t “keep people in line” by marginalizing them, we recognize that behavior is a result, and address it, and improve it further through education.)

He points out that only one percent of Chicagoland bikes to work – about 22,000 people – ignoring that this figure has doubled in the last five years, pushed by high gas prices, attentive DOTs providing new infrastructure, and people simply fed up with driving.  As well, census data doesn’t count people who rode bikes to transit – since only one mode of travel can be reported.  Safe biking infrastructure is absolutely crucial to the viability of dependable transit.

If you build it they will come: one month after Chicago’s first protected bike lane was implemented in July 2011 – along Kinzie, from Des Plaines to Wells – bike traffic at Kinzie and Des Plaines jumped nearly 60%.

Hilkevitch backhandedly intimates the very real effect bike-specific infrastructure has on cyclists, in giving them a sense of place:

“I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t stop at every stoplight or stop sign,” said Greg Heck, general manager at Trek Bicycles on Michigan Avenue. He said bike stoplights would make cyclists “obey the rules of the road a little bit better” and benefit motorists and cyclists by better integrating bikes into the regular traffic flow.

The article is a timely follow-up to yesterday’s ignorant rant from the Tribune’s resident bridge-dweller, John Kass.  Kass (whom I will not link to here) has bleated endlessly throughout recent years that it’s time to end the free ride for scofflaw, latte-drinking, red light-blowing cyclists.  Nearly a thousand annual traffic deaths in Illinois don’t matter to Kass in declaring that one percent of Chicago commuters are to blame for making the streets dangerous, and that innocent drivers who pay for them just want to get home in the suburbs to Fox News and their Norman Rockwell coffee table books.

The conservative, reactionary Kass proposes that cyclists be licensed and ticketed more.  I’m all for fair enforcement  - empty intersections and the risk carried by a 200 pound rider/bike vs. a two-ton automobile aside – so I’ll leave that one alone.  But, does he really believe in proposing more bureaucracy to regulate a group that has such a positive impact to region’s bottom line and can only contribute more by growing?

Drivers kill 34,000 people a year in this country, including themselves and the solution is to regulate bikes?  George Carlin once riffed on a similar solution for gun violence:

In Chicago alone, congestion and wasted fuel is an $8 billion drag on our economy.  It has been estimated that for each mile driven on public roadways, 39 cents per mile is passed on to the taxpayer.  This figure includes crashes, congestion, pollution, land use impacts, etc.

Today’s bike lane opening. Credit: Steven Vance

Take the per-mile total of someone like, oh, say…John Kass who lives in the south suburbs, a place that can only exist because of cars, and the cost that each driver is passing on to the taxpayer far outweighs what they’ve paid back in taxes.  That’s because gas taxes in most cities and states – Chicago and Illinois included – do not pay for road infrastructure.  Local roads are paid for almost entirely – excepting federal highways that recoup about 50% of expenses from the national gas tax (which hasn’t been increased in over 20 years) – from the general tax fund, i.e. sales tax, property tax, income tax.  Guess what that means?

Cyclists already pay for the road infrastructure, and then for drivers, too.

So it is infuriating – but not surprising – that that the Chicago Tribune and Hilkevitch (who should know better) are giving official credence to the myth  that rogue cyclists are somehow the problem.

That the risk inherent in automobiles is just the cost of doing business, and is an entitlement to be borne by taxpayers and victims instead of what should be completely obvious:

There are too many cars on streets that accommodate nothing else.

Honda knows you’re a shitty driver

The all-new, “smart-sensing” 2013 Honda Accord is designed with you in mind:

  • Road rage
  • Too tired to be driving
  • Distracted driving
  • Sudden lane changes
  • Tailgating
  • Speeding on neighborhood streets

So, stop trying to be a more responsible person while piloting what is essentially a lethal weapon that everyone else around you must beware of – Honda’s new, infallible technology has got your back: