Sir, I’m sorry, but I can’t find the bike lane you’re referring to

August 26, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Since Divvy has installed more stations in Chicago I’ve been using it a lot more for short trips when I don’t have my bike. Especially on hot or rainy days, it’s been useful to get from Jackson (red line station downtown) to my job near Union Station. The trip by Divvy is about 5 minutes compared to 10 walking. I use it in the morning and evening when I take the CTA. I haven’t had an issue yet.

Tonight I was riding down Jackson toward State. I usually use the bus-only lane since it’s free of cars and usually buses, too. There were more buses than normal tonight so I did have to occupy one of the two-ish car lanes to get through. As you may know, the Loop has nearly no bike infrastructure. Of course, there’s the great Dearborn protected lane, but aside from that there is almost nothing. There are sharrows on Wells and a painted lane on Madison, and that’s it. With the crazy amount of taxis and buses that meander all over the place, it’s hard to get by on bike. Sometimes it actually is faster to walk.

Jackson near Franklin. Image: Google.

Jackson near Franklin. Image: Google.

As I’m occupying the second-from-right lane on Jackson, heading straight (no weaving!), I hear a honk behind me. There’s a lot of honking cars in Chicago, so I don’t really pay any mind to it. I heard it again after crossing Wacker, so I threw up my index finger, which I understand to be a symbol for “wait.” (Yes, it was my index finger, not its neighbor).

We both get to the signal at Wells at the same time. Since the driver honked at me, I assumed he wanted to talk — why else would he honk except to have a conversation, right? I knock on his window gently and he rolls it down, rolling his eyes. Here’s how it went:

“You know, bikes can take up an entire lane if they need to, especially to stay safe.”
“Oh really? I didn’t know that.”
“Yes, there’s lots of lanes here, and none for me, so I can be in this lane.”
“I saw a bike lane there.”  (No, you didn’t; maybe further west, but not on this part)
“No, there isn’t one,” I pointed to the lanes, “not on this whole stretch past the river.”
“Well you know how you guys are—”
“Who?”
“Bikes! You’re always weaving around!”
“When was I weaving? I stayed in this lane the whole time.”

I’ve been told this kind of conversation is “calling people out on their bullish—t.” Honking drivers usually don’t expect a response with, uh, words.

At this point the light turned green and I went, laughing, because we’ve all heard this before. Several lights later I see him a few blocks behind me, waiting in a line of traffic.

I have no intent with this post other than to anecdotally make a case for better bike infrastructure — you know, the kind that keeps the “weavers” in line. This was the first driver conversation I’ve had in a while, and thankfully a mellow one. Last time I was honked at, the driver “just wanted to let [me] know [he] was there.” When a driver honks at me, I usually try to talk to them, because they’re obviously trying to communicate with me, right? Being isolated in a soundproofed metal box makes it difficult to start a conversation, so I try to make it a little easier for them.

Usually they tell me about a phantom bike lane only they can see or tell me how awful other people on bikes can be (I’ll tell the other bikers at our next biker meeting, I assure the driver). Clearly they’ve just spent too much time waiting in traffic, isolated, so it’s best to keep the conversation short and simple, avoiding more conversation than they’re used to. At the end of the day, the main objective is to remind them that I’m a human being, just like they are, and that I just want to get to Point B in one piece.

Fortunately this conversation was not very hostile. What’s the best and worst driver conversations you’ve had?