Dreaming of the day bikes will outnumber the cars
John Bachtell/PW

CHICAGO- Before pulling my bike from the garage, I run through a mental checklist. Water, energy bar, small towel, sunblock, reflective vest, lights, lock, pump, tools. I do a quick check of the bike: tires, brakes, and wheels securely fastened.

 

It’s a beautiful sunny day. I strap on my helmet, and I’m set to go. I would prefer to take the bike path along Lake Michigan, which provides a stunning view of the lake and Chicago skyline. But I decide to go the direct route via city streets. It’s an 11-mile route and cuts 30 minutes off my commute time.

 

Before I shove off, I take a deep breath and mentally lock-in. I need to be totally focused riding through city traffic. I’m always reminded of the potential dangers. A couple of weeks ago, I read about two cyclists killed in New York City. Every year 700-800 cyclists are killed in accidents, and another 45,000 are injured.

 

I remember I was petrified when my son, an excellent cyclist, decided to bike from Chicago to Houston, Texas. With nightmares of him being buffeted by semi-trailers, I did everything I could to dissuade him. He finally relented and decided instead to bike around the five Great Lakes. He’s completed two now, and of course, I still worry about his safety.

 

Back to my more modest ride. I pull out and make my way to Lincoln Avenue. Things feel more chaotic than my last journey. Drivers seem more impatient, nosing out into traffic or blocking the bike lane, and construction sites jut out along the way.

 

Damn! It dawns on me after 10 minutes on the road that I left my water bottle in the garage. Thankfully it’s not a super-hot day, so I’ll just make do.

 

I’m always aware of my surroundings. I scan the bike path for glass, projectiles, ruts, potholes, and crevices. Once cycling down Lawrence Avenue, I approached a newly painted pickup truck illegally parked in a bus stop. I veered to get around the vehicle, and my wheel went into a crevice. I struggled to regain my balance and ended up being thrown into the pickup. I was okay, but the truck suffered a sizeable dent and long scratch. Who knew I could do so much damage?

 

Other things I look out for include stop lights, car doors opening into the bike lane, cars double-parked or pulling out from a parking spot. It only takes one motorist in a hurry, not paying attention and unaware of cyclists, or distracted on a cell phone to cause an accident or fatality.

 

I’m always aware of other bikers, and most are very cooperative and communicate when passing. We can be reckless too. I nearly collided with a cyclist who darted by me without warning as I was getting ready to pass another biker. Sometimes cyclists can be discourteous, like the one puffing on a cigarette in front of me.

 

My favorite stretch of the ride is along Milwaukee Avenue. There are a lot more cyclists, for one thing, so you tend to feel secure in numbers. In places, the city has constructed barriers and painted the bike lane green. At one point there are two lanes, one for passing. I feel much safer there.

 

Unfortunately, even here there are accidents. I pass one of the hundreds of “ghost bikes” that dot this city. The white painted bikes are usually chained to lamp posts, decorated with photos, signs, and flowers. They stand as eerie monuments to cyclists tragically killed nearby. This one is for a young person named Lisa Kuivinen, described as “radiant and shining.” It’s a reminder that life can end in an instant.

 

I was riding this stretch home a few weeks ago when I was flagged by someone inviting cyclists to stop for pizza and beer. Scores were gathering at the Keating Law Offices for an after-work reception co-sponsored with the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA), advocates for mass transit and cyclists. They’ve led the fight to expand bike routes and make them safer.

 

The ATA was not waiting to see what Chicago’s new mayor would do. They were gathering signatures for a petition calling on Lori Lightfoot to fulfill her campaign promises to build more and safer bike lanes. It was great seeing the cyclist community so involved.

 

Then I turn onto Halsted Street going south. It’s far more chaotic now. The street is in worse shape, and metal plates cover holes in places. There’s a lot more traffic, more trucks including some stopped for deliveries, while others are pulling in and out of construction sites.

 

As I’m heading down Halsted a white Mustang convertible charges past me going well over the speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic. The driver is a young guy with flowing hair sporting sunglasses. His girlfriend is seated next to him. They stop at the red light, and I pull up beside them. Another sports car pulls up to my right. The two alpha males rev their engines.

 

When the light turns green, the Mustang spins its wheels and shoots through the intersection. Another cyclist looks at me, and we both just shake our heads.

 

There’s a lot of cars and traffic lights, so Halsted is jammed. After about a mile, I realize I just passed up the Mustang again. What a loser. Passing a long line of cars caught in traffic is a very satisfying part of cycling.

  

I finally arrive at my workplace and give my blessings that I’ve arrived safely. I give thanks to all the respectful drivers and those who have fought for safe bike lanes, and to turn “rails to trails,” or unused rail beds into bike paths for the recreational pleasure of millions.

 

I’m relieved and as I unwind, I’m also overcome with a great sense of satisfaction, and thoughts of the glorious day bikes will outnumber cars. 


CONTRIBUTOR

John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is a regular writer for People's World, and active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

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