Photo: Steven VanceThe two-wheeled revolution has arrived in the Windy City, thanks to its bike-loving mayor, Rahm Emanuel. (Finally, a way to describe the man without calling him a potty mouth!) During his campaign, Emanuel pledged to build 100 miles of new separated bike lanes within five years. The first of them went in this summer.
Under the steady hand of Chicago’s new transportation commissioner, Gabe Klein — who arrived in Chicago from Washington, D.C., where he helped create the nation’s first bike share program — things seemed to be running smoothly. It was a remarkable feat, particularly when you consider the bad-mouthing New York City’s bike lanes have received in recent years.
The relative calm came as no surprise to Keith Griffith, who penned a nice piece for Construction on Chicago’s rich cycling history, which includes separated bike roads and cycling clubs that boasted a combined membership of 10,000 riders in the 1890s.
In the past several years, bike/car relations in Chicago have, if not quite warmed, at least descended from the fiery heights of mutual hatred, to the point where opposition to the separated lane plan seems quaint and goes mostly ignored. Bikes are finally being considered a legitimate piece of the infrastructure-planning puzzle in Chicago …
Enter John McCarron, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who apparently doesn’t look so great in spandex. In a barnburner of an op-ed last week, McCarron dubbed the new bike plan and other transportation initiatives “Rahm Emanuel’s undeclared war on the automobile.”
In his 2012 budget, Emanuel has proposed hiking the tax on downtown parking garages, increasing fees for parking violations, and bumping up prices of vehicle stickers. He recently won the state’s blessing to install speed cameras around town, and he has famously required city employees to ride public transit. Most offensive to McCarron, however, are Emanuel’s plans to create a system of “rapid transit” buses with their own designated lanes (“You read it here first: They won’t work,” McCarron wrote) — and all the new bike lanes:
Who among us has the time, stamina or ego to ride a bicycle to work? Ego? When was the last time you saw a cyclist stop for a stop sign? Or wait his turn at the end of a line of cars backed up at an intersection? Besides, I’d look silly in cyclist couture. Imagine me in a Castelli Sorpasso bib tight cycling suit (available online for around $179.95 plus shipping). I’ve never paid that much for a real suit.
McCarron was obviously asking for a drubbing from the bike crowd, and the bloggers have been happy to oblige:
“It’s the sort of screed we’ve come to expect, full of outdated stereotypes, faulty logic, and straight-up misinformation,” wrote Jason Tinkey.
“This isn’t a war on cars,” ranted Brent Cohrs. “This is a war on declining living conditions. It’s a war against air pollution and the health issues toxic emissions exacerbate for everyone. It’s a war against congestion and all the precious time, effort, and energy it wastes for everyone.”
Steven Vance with GRID Chicago methodically dismantled each of McCarron’s arguments, going so far as to find one of those fancy Castelli Sorpasso bike suits online for a mere $149.95 (before shipping), and adding, “I’m not aware of a requirement to buy new clothes in order to ride a bike to work (or anywhere). If McCarron wore that while cycling to work, he’d probably be the only one.”
Is there a lesson in all this? Be sure to look at your butt in the mirror before you set out on your daily bike commute?
Well, OK, there’s this: It’s one thing to keep heads cool during the planning stages. But as New York City’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, has learned, it’s another thing entirely to hold things together when bike lanes actually start hitting the pavement. (Of course, Sadik-Khan isn’t exactly helping combat McCarron’s classification of the new Chicago bike plans as “New Age”: Her latest effort is using haiku to calm traffic.)
And if it’s any consolation to McCarron, Klein is being hailed for bringing new heights of stylishness to the post of transportation chief. RedEye reports that Klein is “more fashionable than your average city employee.” (His “fave” shoes? A pair brown leather Cole Haans with blue suede trim. Ooh la la.)
Whether McCarron and bike-haters like it or not, Klein and Emmanuel are leading Chicago toward a more sustainable — and stylish — future. That McCarron won’t end up in a skintight jumpsuit is all the more reason for gratitude — or as Rahm might say, “Thank fuckin’ god for that.”