Biking In The City

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This weekend I had my first experience biking in the heart of downtown Chicago. My husband and I rode to Grant Park for the start of Bike the Drive and, before we could enjoy a car-free Lake Shore Drive, we got to navigate the city streets. Honestly, I was very impressed at the protected bike lanes on Dearborn and Kinzie, including the bike signals. The city instantly felt different – smaller, friendlier, even more interesting. The accommodations weren’t perfect – but were very promising signs of even better things to come!

It is not uncommon that I hear people express concern over biking in traffic and in higher density areas. To those people I say, YOU CAN DO IT! Of course, there are some helpful things to keep in mind before you hit the streets.

1)    Wear your helmet! I don’t need to elaborate on this one do I??

2)    Act and Think Like A Vehicle: You have the same rights and responsibilities as a vehicle. This means signaling, following all laws (coasting at a stop signs isn’t actually stopping), and also acting as confident as you would if you were surrounded by two tons of steel. This even means you are allowed to take the full lane if you don’t feel safe sharing the road– people may honk, but it is your right. Just be courteous and move to the side for a bit if traffic backs up behind you.

3)    Stay in the right third of the rightmost lane that serves your destination. Sound confusing? It’ll make more sense as you do it. Staying to the right of traffic allows faster traffic to pass you and also gets you out of the way of others. Please note the second part of the sentence, “…that serves your destination.” For example, if there is a right turn lane and you’re going straight, be in the rightmost lane headed straight.

4)    Be visible! Bright colors, reflectors and lights are all great ways to make sure everybody sees you – be it cars, pedestrians, and others. Don’t want to wear all neon? Purchase a bright and/or reflective sash that you can wear while you bike and ditch when you arrive.

5)    Be aware. Don’t assume that others are going to abide by the rules or know how to react to you. You’ll soon find that some drivers just seem to freak out in the presence of a cyclist. Just be patient – bike defensively and assertively, and, as always, be courteous.

6)    Be predictable. This is a combination of many of the above but it bears repeating. Be and do as bikes are expected to be and do.

7)    Remember the road is never the place to settle an argument. Hear some angry honks and hollers? See a hand with one select finger up? Just stay confident and calm. I don’t think any cyclist has successfully quipped a persuasive, anger-diffusing defense of cycling that can be delivered in 3 seconds over the sound of a horn and through a car window. If the driver gets aggressive, note their information and/or head to a safe place and call the police.

Ready to give it a go? I highly recommend finding an experienced cyclist to try it out with first. In Chicago? Check out Chicago Bike Buddies, a group of volunteers that are pros at navigating the city by bike and will coach you through it (for free!) Want to fly solo? Take your first ride in the early morning on the weekend, when traffic will be lighter.

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