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Cyclists are blocking streets to demand safer riding

Cyclists are blocking streets to demand safer riding

aS PROTESTS GOFew are as good-looking as those driven by Bike Grid Now, a group of Chicago-based cyclists. One day early in the morning of October 26, thirty or so cyclists gathered outside the Loop, downtown Chicago, before cycling together to Daley Plaza, next to City Hall. Riding different types of bikes—ranging from basic bikes for the city’s “Divvy” rental plan to electric ones with child seats—they cycled around the building, spread across the three lanes, before pausing outside the entrance to block vehicular traffic. After a police officer, who was also on a bicycle, told them politely that they had five minutes before he had to arrest them, they rang their bells and chanted for bike lanes. After a few minutes, the group, made up largely of 30 white professionals, dispersed to their jobs in neighboring offices.

Such protests now occur in Chicago almost every week. The Windy City has at least six groups that demand greater safety for cyclists. In September, on “World Without Cars Day,” several hundred cyclists staged a “death,” blocking an eight-lane highway that runs along Lake Michigan. A larger group drove around the Jane Byrne Junction, a highway intersection that is typically among the busiest in America (and bar cyclists). Similar protests were held in cities including Oakland, California, Portland, Oregon, and Miami, Florida.

Bike activity is nothing new. The highway trespassing was organized by Critical Mass, a movement that emerged in San Francisco 30 years ago. However, the pace accelerated, thanks in large part to the trends unleashed by the Covid-19 virus. Although official data suggests that fewer people are cycling to work (and only about 0.5% of Americans do) than before the pandemic, reflecting the long-running slow rise, this is probably because more of them work than before the pandemic. the home. In fact, there are probably more cyclists on America’s roads than ever before. Bicycle sales are up — with sales of electric bikes outpacing electric cars last year — and municipal bike rental schemes in New York, Chicago and elsewhere registered more users than ever this past summer.

With more and more people riding bicycles, they are also realizing how dangerous many American streets are. Although bike lanes are common in many cities, they are rarely protected or enforced. The protests escalated “because of the tragedies,” says Courtney Cobbs, a Chicago activist. In June, three-year-old Elizabeth Grace Shambrook was killed when her mother’s truck driver rammed her bike by a truck driver who ignored her while trying to get around a car parked illegally in a bike lane.

In 2020, 1,260 people died nationwide in accidents on bicycles, a 44% increase from the previous decade, according to the National Safety Council, a nonprofit group. Some of that increase may be because there are more bikes on the roads, but it also appears that people are driving more dangerously too. Last year, nearly 43,000 people were killed in car crashes of all kinds, the highest number since 2005.

Christina Whitehouse, who created a website, Bike Lane Uprising, to report on people parking in Chicago’s bike lanes, says the site is inundated with such reports. But she thinks cyclists are making at least little progress in enforcing the change. The city, for example, has put concrete barriers in some bike lanes to prevent motorists from entering them. Whitehouse says officials did so in response to the protests. “There are a lot of motorcyclists who have become voters for one cause,” she says. They may have started a benign cycle.

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