Travel – at your own peril!
Times I yearn for the horse and buggy days. The invention of the car, buses, trains, airplanes changed life on this planet forever. Most of the changes have been very good indeed. We can get places much faster now, see many more of this world's wonders, take work that in years past would have been unavailable to us because of the distance and stay in touch with loved ones.
But it's time to re-evaluate. Our scientists have told us so. There's a strong link between our excessive use of fuel for travel and a looming disaster to our planet. (Keep in mind that cars aren't the only culprit – but they are one thing that we average joes can control.)
In Chicago travel around the city has been a nightmare for some time. Our freeways and tollways are gridlocked every workday morning and evening. They aren't much better the rest of the time either. People started taking public transportation more frequently. That, of course, helped some. Chicago's buses and "L" are, after all, among the best in the country for getting around the city.
Now the Chicago Tranist Authority which runs the public transportation system has embarked on a massive upgrade. It's going to have the city in turmoil for the next 2-3 years. Many of the "L" stations are going to be shut down for renovation. People are being told they can expect to spend an extra hour trying to get to work and again getting back home if they use public transportation.
What does that mean? Well, my daughter lives 5 miles from work. She bought a bike last year and discovered that she can get to work roughly half an hour faster on her bike than she can using the "L" — that was before the new public renovation program went into effect today. Now she's looking at saving 1 1/2 hours travel to work and another 1 1/2 hours travel back home.
But, we may have a disaster waiting to happen, if we're not careful. Biking is not particularly safe in the city. Drivers just haven't learned that the bikers share the roads – and, in fact, have bike lanes set aside specifically for their use and protection. It's common for cars to cut bikers off, drive in bike lanes, open their car doors into passing bikers — sometimes on purpose, sometimes just because they aren't thinking or don't watch what's going on around them.
Now with people looking – again – for alternatives to travel, we're seeing — beginning today — a whole lot more cars and buses on the streets. Roads everywhere will be congested and it won't be surprising if we see a lot more accidents, with drivers in a hurry taking advantage of open spaces like bike lanes to get around.
My daughter saw it this morning, here's her report: "This morning was by far the WORST commute I have ever taken in the 1 1/2 years that I have been biking in the city…"
"Had I been a new bike rider without 1 1/2 years of experience, I'm not sure I would have been able to negotiate two near misses with buses who put me and other bikers at risk….I just happened to get lucky this morning…"
Drivers — and that includes all the buses and those going back to driving their own cars to and from work to save time — must be hyper aware of the bike lanes. And they must understand that bikes do need to have room to maneuver in tight spaces. This is not a matter of putting bikers at risk of sustaining a broken limb or a concussion. When push comes to shove, it's a matter of life or death when a biker meets with several tons of moving steel. Bikers are keenly aware of this. But bus and auto drivers need to understand – a split second is all it takes to snuff out a life.
Hats off to the bikers – they are making responsible choices…minimize damage to the ecology, save money, stay fit (biking is terrific exercise). They recognize that speed isn't everything.
If the rest of us choose not to join them, that's ok. But it's unforgivable to put them at risk of death by our carelessness or rush to save a few minutes.
In fact, I am beginning to think it might be very wise to consider requiring anyone who applies for a driver's license to demonstrate that they have experience biking in traffic for six months or a year.