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Monday, July 28, 2008

Cycling Infrastructure

posted by on July 28 at 14:18 PM

As I read the entries on Slog about the recent Critical Mass debacle, the thing that most struck me, besides the Rashomon aspect of the multiple versions of the story, was the blinding insight that Critical Mass doesn’t accomplish much in terms of concrete improvements in cycling infrastructure. All Critical Mass really does, in my experience, is piss people off. Pissed off people tend not to support the political causes of the people who piss them off, so I’ve never signed on with CM’s agenda.

What does get things done? Corrupt politicians.

So, the only solution to Seattle’s endless Process regarding a cycling map (whoo-hoo! Cartography, however inaccurate, will serve!), inadequate bike lanes on appropriate streets and bike routes and so forth: trade Nickels for Daley.

Richard M. Daley, Chicago’s Mayor-for-Life-or-Until-Indicted, is a recreational cyclist. And he is an absolute dictator who pretty much gets what he wants (he has appointed or directly got elected the majority of the City Council’s Aldermen, either to replace Aldermen who died or were indicted). So Chicago has a comprehensive bicycle plan that actually, you know, gets done. You want bike racks outside your business or local El station? Contact the city and they’ll install ‘em. Roads appropriate for bike traffic get sharrows and those which are perfect get bike lanes. A new park is built downtown, put in a bike center, with lockers and showers for bike commuters. Keep expanding the lakefront path. Drivers endanger cyclists? Increase the fines and have cops out writing tickets for drivers who door cyclists or cut them off.

All of this has happened because Daley wanted it to happen and then made it happen, not because a bunch of gear-heads block traffic one Friday rush hour a month. No single businessman can call up the city and whine and get a street taken off the plan for bike lanes. No community meetings, no endless planning, just corruption (Daley’s supporters make money on all the road work, for instance) and a bike-able city.

And you Critical Massers who are about to go to comments and tell me to go fuck myself, thanks in advance for your sentiments. You want to change people’s minds about cycling in the city? Organize a ride which starts in twenty remote locations, and consists of several dozen cyclists from each location riding downtown, single file to allow cars to proceed, while obeying all traffic laws. This will demonstrate to drivers that cyclists and drivers can co-exist peacefully, instead of the unmitigated asshattery of taking over the whole street. Yeah, you can do it, but all you do is piss people off.

RSS icon Comments


Hooray for Chicago Fan. First sensible post on the Slog in weeks.

Posted by hohoho green giant | July 28, 2008 2:25 PM

Well said.

Posted by cw | July 28, 2008 2:26 PM

The ride you're suggesting takes place every single day. It's called "commuting", and it does not often end in violence.

Posted by Fnarf | July 28, 2008 2:31 PM

What a rational notion.

Posted by Phenics | July 28, 2008 2:33 PM

As a pedestrian, I still come close to getting run over by bikers pretty regularly here in Chicago, be it on the sidewalks (WE HAVE BIKE LANES!), or in crosswalks as asshole bikers breeze through stoplights they're supposed to be obeying. I don't drive, so I share sympathies with the cyclists of Chicago, but I find myself more pissed off by them than drivers on a regular basis.

Posted by Jeffrey in Chicago | July 28, 2008 2:34 PM

I bounce between Seattle and Chicago for work and let me say this: Seattle would be much better off with a Richard Daley in place of that fucked up whining lard bitch Nickels.

Seriously Seattle, get some populist corruption in your politics. You know the corruption that gets stuff done.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | July 28, 2008 2:36 PM

In response to your bolded portion: I think that's called "the morning commute to work".

Posted by Brian | July 28, 2008 2:37 PM

The last time I was in Chicago I was surprised by how often I saw Rich Daley's name and face plastered on different pieces of public property... Trash cans, walls, PSAs... The man is a propaganda machine.

Posted by Lobot | July 28, 2008 2:37 PM


Commuting doesn't make the point, obviously. Commuting cyclists are too spread out, too sporadic. The key visual point here would be the column effect, as bikers take up space for a block or two all at once along many streets, gradually converging downtown.

Posted by Chicago Fan | July 28, 2008 2:37 PM

I whole heartedly agree with you!

The only language people in Washington speak is Money.

We cyclists need to raise cash, buy off politicians and ramrod pro-cycling bills through Olympia.

At last we agree.

Posted by John Bailo | July 28, 2008 2:37 PM

Haha. You've repeated what I've been saying ever since I moved here from Chicago two years ago.

Chicago is run by the mob (and don't tell me Daley isn't part of that) and things get done. Maybe we should elect Dino (Soprano's theme music) Rossi after all.

Posted by thaumaturgistguy | July 28, 2008 2:38 PM

I would gladly trade Daley for Nickels any day of the week for about a dozen different reasons.

Posted by John | July 28, 2008 2:38 PM

Good post.

Posted by Sir Learnsalot | July 28, 2008 2:39 PM

Critical Mass is not about advocating for specific infrastructure improvements. There are capable organizations in this town that serve that purpose, and being two.
Seattle's bicycle advocates know that a 400-lb mayor will never truly fight for workable biking solutions, so we've taken our cause to the streets and gained specific improvements on Stone Way, the Burke-Gilman Trail and the SLUT route.

But you wouldn't know that because you live in Chicago, which is the biggest fucking sprawling testament to the automobile in the United States of America.

Posted by DOUG. | July 28, 2008 2:42 PM

Once in the university district critical mass was riding through a red light as I was trying to cross the street at a crosswalk. They started yelling at me to get out of the way and wait for them. I ended up almost getting hit several times as they engulfed me in the middle of the street. The irony was lost on them.

It made me want to start my own critical mass for pedestrian awareness.

Posted by M | July 28, 2008 2:45 PM

CF's column nails it. Well done!

Posted by Jason Josephes | July 28, 2008 2:46 PM

Actually Fnarf, it ends in violence over 20,000 times a year in the US and the daily commute is the most violent of any trip.

Posted by El Seven | July 28, 2008 2:47 PM


Ever been to LA or San Diego or Houston or Phoenix or Tucson or Denver? You want to talk sprawl, at least get your urban facts straight. Chicago is the center of a semi-sprawling metropolitan area, but it has comprehensive if imperfect rapid transit that extends to inner-ring suburbs, densely populated walk-able neighborhoods and bike stuff everywhere. Seattle and people in it talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk, much less ride. Yakyakyak, 70 percent zoned for single-family housing, that's sprawl's magic number. The only thing green about Seattle is the pine trees and the envy you all have in your heart for real cities.

Posted by Chicago Fan | July 28, 2008 2:51 PM

@14 that's a dumb comment. LA is America's car town.

Posted by davej | July 28, 2008 2:53 PM

I've always been a little conflicted about Daley. On the one hand, he gets stuff done, and much of the time, I agree with his priorities, so am generally happy with the stuff that is getting done (e.g., all the bike-related stuff in this post).

On the other hand, sometimes something so crazily dictator-like happens (e.g., ordering bulldozers to carve huge X's into the runways on Meigs Field in the middle of the night to shut the thing down??), that I think we'd be better off with a little more due process and a little less political machine.

In the last election, I didn't vote for Daley just to send a pointless little message about him not actually having a job for life (knowing he would obviously win by a landslide).

Posted by Julie | July 28, 2008 2:56 PM

Doug@14 just doesn't see to get it. Try being nice instead of purposely offending people you want something from. It works. Now, I don't want a damn thing from you so I'll just tell you to fuck off.

Posted by WFP | July 28, 2008 2:59 PM

Seattle has corruption, it just isn't usually on your side.

Posted by Dougsf | July 28, 2008 3:09 PM

Professor Savage @18: I lived in LA for six years. I've spent time in Chicago. Your waterfront bike path is lovely. As is the eight-lane highway that runs alongside it.

But you ignore my main point, which is that we have an activist bike community in Seattle that actually FIGHTS for better infrastructure.

Yes, it would be a hell of a lot easier if we had a mayor who actually rode a bike, but Greg Nickels readily admits that he's too afraid to ride a bike in Seattle, so we do what we have to do.

Posted by DOUG. | July 28, 2008 3:12 PM

To WFP @21 (aka What a Fucking Prick). What you brainwashed idiots don't get is that some of us aren't asking anything from anyone. We're taking it. But if you're offended that's your problem. Perhaps if you were a little more intelligent you'd realize that we in fact are being "nice" except when confronted by assholes like you.

Posted by joe | July 28, 2008 3:13 PM

civil disobedience is a traditional part of a protest (which is what CM is).

it is not an advocacy group.

Posted by max solomon | July 28, 2008 3:13 PM

Oh Chicago Fan, I agree. But if we actually got things done here in Seattle, what would the hipsters bitch about? I mean, where would the teenage-level angst go?

Jesus man, think of the children!

(and their desire to not actually do anything productive and then complain about how the process 'doesn't work')

Posted by Original Monique | July 28, 2008 3:19 PM

Please God don't take away our sharrows because of our transgressions.

Posted by Sam Hill | July 28, 2008 3:21 PM

1)Despots do serve a purpose and they don't necessarily have to be corrupt, just loud and strong and determined, (rich also helps). If Paul Allen was a biker, this town would be a biker's paradise.
2)Chicago is a dense sprawl with good transit. L.A. is a non-dense sprawl with almost non-existent mass transit. Trying to compare the two is infantile.
3)CM HAS really accomplished a lot in the last few years, that is, if infuriating the general public and gaining horrid p.r. was at the top of their to-do list...

Posted by michael strangeways | July 28, 2008 3:27 PM

@24 - Oh, you're taking it, are you tough guy? You, on your bike, are you going to take the road from the cars? It's been working out pretty well for you so far. Great job.

It's exactly that attitude that makes CM such a joke.

Posted by sleestak | July 28, 2008 3:28 PM

Every day more people ride to and from work on the Burke-Gilman in numbers that make Critical Mass look like a bike outing by children.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 28, 2008 3:30 PM

Who knew Daley was going to hang on to the job like a Pope?

Posted by scott in chi-town | July 28, 2008 3:41 PM

@9: If you're in Chicago, there's no way you'd know this, but Dexter in the mornings looks exactly as you describe: a steady column of bikes riding intelligently on the right. No thugs blocking the intersections, nobody waving bike locks at people's heads, nobody getting run over. I think that display, 200+ times a year, has infinitely more impact than Critical Ass could even dream of -- but then, conflict is all they ever dream of.

Posted by Fnarf | July 28, 2008 3:48 PM

I am a fellow cyclist from LA and unfortunately we are also experiencing a higher rate of accidents and confrontations between riders and motorists. Regardless of your opinions as to where and when cyclists belong on the road, please keep in mind that A BIKE IS NO MATCH AGAINST A CAR IN AN ACCIDENT. A Seattle cyclist was hurt. Even if you are frustrated by the temporary (and yes it IS temporary, you will live another day if you are held up at a light for a whole 10 minutes) delay that these group rides can cause, you are essentially ensuring the safety and livelihood of cyclists. An accident between a car and a rider guarantees injury for the cyclist, but it can also cause a fatality.

Posted by nesoxochi | July 28, 2008 3:57 PM

Yes, the warm weather bicyclists are out in'll be interesting to see if they continue to ride once our 9 months of drizzle start at the first of October...

Posted by michael strangeways | July 28, 2008 4:36 PM

@26 for the cyclist-friendly win.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 28, 2008 4:38 PM

Agree totally: about Da Mare getting things done (I grew up in the western suburbs) and about CM. Still, rank corruption isn't the only path to cycling nirvana. Not to brag or anything, but the Twin Cities have all the bike amenities you mentioned (except cops making a point of ticketing drivers for dooring, etc) - and with absolutely none of the corruption.

Oh, and do we have CM rides, but I can't for the life of me understand why: cyclists get all their due respect from motorists and cops already. I totally agree that CM rides seem to accomplish little besides pissing people off, and convincing non-cyclists that you have to engage in angry displays of "civil disobedience" in order to take biking as transportation seriously. Kinda limits the appeal, you know?

Posted by MplsKid | July 28, 2008 4:43 PM

OK, if you're going to call me Professor, I'll get all professorial on your ass. "Sprawl" is a term from the Land of Urban Studies, with an actual definition: Often associated with lack of regional planning, "sprawl" is the condition which prevails in expanding cities, suburbs and exurbs where residential development is primarily or entirely single-family homes, in subdivisions and on large lots, with housing, shopping, and cultural activities (schools, libraries, government buildings) spatially segregated, creating a culture of dependence on the automobile. Sprawl can be created either by zoning laws which require such spatial divisions, or by unregulated and unplanned growth into formerly rural areas, where lack of comprehensive regional planning leads to the same result.

Sorry, but the presence of Lake Shore Drive (hardly a superhighway with its median planters and 45 mph speed limit--40 in the winter, to prevent salt spray from killing Daley's beloved trees and flowers) next to the Lakefront Bike Path does not change the fact that Chicago is not a sprawl city, it's a dense 19th Century city.

And as for "taking it," Long Live the Revolution! CM is taking it just like Ralph Nader gave it to us all, right up the infrastructure. This sort of convoluted political posturing (There's no difference between Bush and Gore! Critical Mass will take the roads away from cars!) must require years of yoga training.

Posted by Chicago Fan | July 28, 2008 5:01 PM
Posted by Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board | July 28, 2008 5:06 PM

@28, @37, you're being sentimental when you think Chicago is 19th century, not sprawling, or that L.A., almost entirely 20th century, is sprawling. LA, viewed as a Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (which is the only census category useful in this debate), is denser than any American megalopolis other than Honolulu. Chicago (okay, Chicagoland!) has a lake on the one side, but on the other sides, it basically never stops, and it's almost all single-family houses on large lots.

I laughed at a guy who introduced his Peoria band, in Moline, as being from Chicago. Turns out he wasn't far wrong.

Posted by Eric F | July 28, 2008 5:21 PM

I'm so amused by the CM riders who keep claiming "civil disobedience" cred.

Exactly what are you protesting may we ask? Civil disobedience is about actively demanding what you are ALREADY entitled to.

If you want to take 100+ cyclists onto the streets, stay in the right-hand lane, stop at red lights, use hand signals to indicate your intention to turn or switch lanes, I will gladly applaud you. And I'll gladly demand that the police ticket motorists who threaten you for not getting out of their way, who race past you, or who don't watch out for you as they turn corners.

What CM is currently doing is NOT civil disobedience, it's controlled anarchy.

Posted by Mickymse | July 28, 2008 5:31 PM

You are wrong by conflating "Chicago" and "Chicagoland." As I acknowledged in comment #18, Chicago exists in the midst of sprawl, but Chicago proper--the fucking city, the place where almost 3 million people live--was mostly built by 1893, and so was not designed for car culture (even some of the densest neighborhoods, in an historical irony, were originally railroad commuter suburbs annexed to the city in 1890--hence their subdivisiony names: Edgewater, Lakeview, Englewood, Hyde Park). the city itself was built for pedestrians, horses and streetcars, and so emphasizes multi-family buildings (which were also more profitable for developers, then as now). There are outlying city neighborhoods where single-family homes predominate, areas not developed till after World War II and the institution by Mayor Daley I of a residency requirement for municipal employees, and the growth of car culture. But the city along the lake and the urban core is far denser than the metro area as a whole: that goes without saying, just as Seattle proper is denser than the whole damn region.

Posted by Chicago Fan | July 28, 2008 5:36 PM

Huh. I was just reading about this this morning, in fact:

Between Daley, Gov. Ventura in MN, and others, I often get the feeling that at least Midwestern leaders Get It Done. It's an interesting contrast between the Seattle process (all discussion, no action) and this method (no discussion, all action).

Posted by Cow | July 28, 2008 5:47 PM

Great post ChicagoFan. Outside of the collective circle-jerk/echo-chamber that is CM, no one likes these tools. At the very least nearly everyone I know who encounters a CM event ends up pissed off or confused (at best) and often less sympathetic next time a cyclist and car get in an accident (i.e. more disposed to think the cyclist had it coming). That's been the reaction of everyone I've talked to (all liberal Seattle-ites, and generally eco-concious) about this event. No one thinks that CM is "in the right" about what happened (even if some of the facts support them).

That's what they get for drunken macho posturing with a self-righteous streak.

If cyclists want to impact change they'll quit thinking of CM as a mechanism for anything positive.

Posted by jcricket | July 28, 2008 5:48 PM


Every day more people ride to and from work on the Burke-Gilman in numbers that make Critical Mass look like a bike outing by children.

UHHH, CM is a bike outing by children.


Posted by wisepunk | July 28, 2008 5:53 PM

Professor B.S. @37, et al:

Thanks for the class in Urban Development Semantics. Is that an upper division course?

Since you don't seem to be getting my point, I will make it easy for you: You are talking out of your ass by making assumptions as to how bicycle advocacy functions in Seattle. Critical Mass is NOT bicycle advocacy.

The People have successfully fought The Mayor and his Developers on several bike-infrastructure counts in the past year. Critical Mass was nowhere to be found.

If you want to lecture Seattle on how shitty our baseball team is, then fine. But don't pretend you know how bicycle advocacy works around here. You do not.

Posted by DOUG. | July 28, 2008 5:57 PM

@41, it's attractive to think of the political category of "city" as meaningful, but it's not particularly useful when you're discussing development, transit, roads, or people. In most real ways, people living in Gary and Aurora and Batavia and Elgin and Antioch and Kenosha are sharing a city with you, just as Malibu, Pasadena, Burbank, San Bernardino, and Anaheim are part of Los Angeles. The difference is, they're part of a denser pattern of development. And you can take trains between many of them, too.

Posted by Eric F | July 28, 2008 6:01 PM

Hey Doug:

How bike advocacy--or any political advocacy--works in Seattle is how it works anywhere else. Seattle is not a unique City in a Bottle, like Kandor. And CM postures as a vehicle for radical grassroots political change: that's why its habit of pissing people off doesn't work. And the Urban Studies Seminar is Remedial, which is what you clearly need. And I will be filling you in about how much your baseball team sucks soon enough, never fear.

@Eric F:
The only reason the cities in Southern California you list make Los Angeles as a metropolitan region "denser" is because of the fact that you cannot build subdivisions all the way up the sides of the mountains in that region, while Chicagoland is mostly flat and therefore more sprawl-worthy. And while trains and PT are increasing in LA, what percentage of the population can live without cars? In Chicago, you do not need a car. Period. In Chicagoland, you would.

Posted by Chicago Fan | July 28, 2008 6:30 PM

Well now you're just talking nonsense, Professor Piniella. Bike advocacy works the same everywhere? You mean you advocate the same to a pro-bike mayor like Richard Daley as you would to Greg "I'm Afraid to Ride" Nickels? Your whole argument is how EASY it is to get bike infrastructure built in Chicago, where there are "no community meetings, no endless planning". It's NOT the same everywhere!

Since Central time is two hours ahead of Seattle, I'll assume you were shitfaced drunk when you wrote that.

Posted by DOUG. | July 28, 2008 6:56 PM


You are retarded and your dumbass friends are shitstains on society.

The only problem that I can see is that the poor guy you guys ASSAULTED didn't actually kill a bunch of you.

I look forward to reading your obituary in the Times and I hope your girlfriend gets gang raped by a bunch of hobos just prior to her getting hit by a bus.

Fuck you

Posted by ecce homo | July 28, 2008 7:12 PM

What's a sharrow?

Posted by Mark | July 28, 2008 7:28 PM

@ 50
A sharrow is an arrow painted on the street, indicating to drivers that they should share the lane with cyclists. Not as effective as separate bike lanes, either set off with paint or with small curbs, but better than nothing.

@ Doug
Political advocacy is the same wherever you are. Make your case. Make allies. Convince people you are right, then get the change you want made actual rather than theoretical. This applies to bike lanes, medical marijuana, whatthefuckever. Yes, it's easier doing pro-cycling work in a city where the mayor is a cyclist, but you're not trying to convince the mayor: you're trying to convince your fellow citizens.

Posted by chicagofan | July 28, 2008 7:36 PM

There's one little thing about Chicago that Chicago fan doesn't mention and that is the fact that it's flat as a fucking pancake out there. Flat, flat, flat, flat. I'd love to see some of those fucking candy-assed Chicago bike commuters try to make it up East 23rd or Ballinger Way, those sniveling little midwest bitches would be dropping like flies before they hit the half way mark. Hell, Mayor Daley would probably have a heart attack riding from downtown to the U District via Eastlake.

Speaking of Eastlake if the city really wanted to do something for cycling they'd ban all on-street parking on Eastlake. Eastlake is a nasty ride in the afternoons. I'm always worried that I'm going to get clocked by someone coming out of a side street, who won't be able to see me because of the cars parked up and down the street or that I'm going to get taken out by someone opening their car door. Unfortunately the useless fucking cunts on the Seattle City Council are too busy engaging in masturbatory and ineffective bullshit like charging a fee for plastic grocery bags to actually do something that would be useful and benefit the environment.

Posted by wile_e_quixote | July 28, 2008 10:01 PM

I hear Mussolini made the trains run on time.

Posted by Trevor | July 29, 2008 12:13 AM

Also: Chicago Fan: I assume this is something you've organized before? Or are you another armchair activist tossing out advice that you yourself won't follow?

Posted by Trevor | July 29, 2008 12:15 AM

Chicago Fan, you miss the whole point of Critical Mass. It's not about bicycling, or the community, or cooperation. It's about a bunch of meth-addled thugs thinking it's "chill" to take over the streets and bully everyone around them.

Posted by Seattle Resident | July 29, 2008 1:18 AM
Seriously Seattle, get some populist corruption in your politics. You know the corruption that gets stuff done.

There is no lack of good old-fashioned corruption in Seattle civic affairs. The locals here are too blissed-out to give a shit, that's all.

Posted by Seattle Resident | July 29, 2008 1:21 AM
Critical Mass is not about advocating for specific infrastructure improvements. There are capable organizations in this town that serve that purpose, and being two.

Okey-dokey, but where are these bicycle organizations in the face of the Critical Mass thugs? Why don't those groups stand up and say what needs to be said about Critical Mass?

Posted by Seattle Resident | July 29, 2008 1:30 AM

Hooray for corrupt politicians!

Daley helped bicyclists in Chicago. With few side effects.

Hitler helped Germany with rapid economic expansion. With a Holocaust.

Posted by robot2501 | July 29, 2008 7:56 AM

@52 wile_e_quixote said, "There's one little thing about Chicago that Chicago fan doesn't mention and that is the fact that it's flat as a fucking pancake out there".

And Chicago Fan said, "Chicagoland is mostly flat and therefore more sprawl-worthy" back on comment #47.

Posted by kile | July 29, 2008 8:07 AM

@53 So do the Japanese.

Posted by theo | July 29, 2008 10:22 AM

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