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John Kass Rains On Bike Lane Expansion

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 22, 2012 7:15PM

Photo Credit: John W. Iwanski

We thought we’d be able to get through the summer without reading a nakedly-antagonistic-to-bicyclists story. Leave it to Tribune curmudgeon John Kass to piss in our Corn Flakes yet again.

Kass penned a sarcastic column in today’s paper where he scoffed at the idea of 34 miles of bike lanes being constructed in Chicago by the end of the year; accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of “sucking up to bicyclists;” labeled bicyclists as the “One Percenters of the Commuter Class,” and dreamed of a day when cyclists would be subject to the same fees and fines as motorists.

As columns go it was classic Kass: blatant trolling with satire lacking humor and dripping in the condescension of someone who drives back and forth to work from a home in the suburbs, probably in a vehicle with low gas mileage and a high center of gravity. Kass sides hard and fast with motorists who believe bicycles have no right to the streets and tries to frame the bike lane expansion as a campaign issue that could make Emanuel a one-term mayor.

In one of the more insulting corollaries of the article, Kass made a big deal of the price tag for the bike lane resurfacing—$4.7 million—and wondered why that money couldn’t be spent hiring cops to help curb Chicago’s escalating murder rate.

Listening, Rahmfather? How can anyone argue that the city should spend cash to create bike lanes for pedaling One Percenters while not having the cash to hire enough cops to protect neighborhood folks dying in gang wars?

What Kass failed to mention were the funding sources for the bike lanes. Thanks to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Peter Scales, we have those: tax increment financing; state and federal transportation dollars; and CDOT’s own general obligation funds. None of that is money that could have gone to hiring more cops.

Then there’s this nice passage where Kass theorizes that Emanuel is undertaking the bike lanes project to burnish his credentials for national office.

The Rahmfather isn't the mayor of Portlandia. He's the mayor of Chicago. But his sucking up to bicyclists seems less about serving Chicago and more about appealing to hipsters on the East and West coasts as he stokes his national political ambitions.

Symbolism costs money, though, and addressing an understaffed police force is more important than bike lanes, don't you think?

You know who also “sucked up to bicyclists?” Emanuel's predecessor, Richard M. Daley, who was a major champion for bike lanes and was known to take long bike rides. And Daley had no aspirations to be anything other than Mayor of Chicago.

Kass does make a couple of salient points in his column. There is a segment of the population who view new bike lanes as a sign of gentrification. GRID Chicago’s John Greenfield put that lie to rest a few months back with separate articles about the Red Bike and Green program promoting cycling to African Americans and Humboldt Park residents slowly coming around to the idea of bike lanes. It isn't only privileged whites with carbon frame racing bikes using the streets. Scores upon scores of bicyclists use the bike lanes because they either can't afford or choose not to buy a car, or want another transit option besides CTA.

That isn’t the ‘One Percent of the Commuter Class;” this is what democracy looks like. Scales emailed the number of downtown bike commuters has doubled from 2000 to 2010, but is still under two percent of total commuters. By comparison, Portland has about six percent of their commuters riding bikes.

"We plan to spend the same amount (of money) on bike lane construction, and probably more, in each of the years leading up to 2020 in order to reach our goal of a network of 650 miles and a bike lane within a half-mile of every Chicagoan," Scales said. "That investment is definitely worthwhile."

We also agree with Kass that if the roads are to be shared equally, then bicyclists should be subject to the same fines as motorists when they violate the rules of the road. I speak from experience here: once I was ticketed by a Chicago police officer for a moving violation on my bicycle. I’ve also known others who have been ticketed for riding their bikes on the sidewalk. It’ll require bicyclists to know the rules of the road and police to enforce them, but it’s a far cry from calling for a “Rahm-PASS.”