It seemed like a fair question to ask on the day Chicago sent its fifth bicyclist to the morgue this year following a fatal collision with a vehicle.
Is it safe to ride a bike on the streets of “America’s Best Bike City” of 2016, as proclaimed by Bicycling magazine?
Tens of thousands of Chicagoans answer the question every day by climbing aboard their bikes and pedaling to work, to run errands, to visit friends or to get their exercise.
That’s a pretty powerful statement that those individuals believe bike riding in Chicago, if not necessarily safe, is safe enough.
But I would guess just as many more who might be interested choose not to do so because they do not feel safe riding in traffic, a category in which I would include myself.
Even for the cyclists who fearlessly traverse the city every day, the answer can seem less clear on a day like Monday, when a woman riding her bike on Damen Avenue was struck and killed by a truck making a right turn at Addison.
Cycling circles were abuzz with sadness and anger over her death, some questioning the relative sense of safety they had come to take for granted.
Officials said the five fatalities are right in line with the city’s average bicyclist death tally during this decade, and considering an uptick in ridership during that period, the actual fatality rate has likely declined.
But it still hit hard with Meg Boyle, 26, who also relies on the Damen route to ride to work and said her “heart broke” as she came upon the tragic scene.
“On a day like today, I don’t feel as safe on my bike,” she said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has certainly taken steps to make the city a safer place for cyclists, primarily through miles of dedicated bike lanes that have lured more riders into the streets.
In part, it’s the increase in ridership that makes it safer for everyone else by alerting motorists to be on the lookout for bikes.
I’m not one of these people who begrudges the bike lanes, although I’m not always sure they work very well, certainly not the ones that rely on painted lines on the roadway to keep bikes and cars apart.
I know there’s a lot of anger out there on this issue, with drivers blaming cyclists and cyclist blaming drivers. If you’re on the road enough, you see plenty of reckless individuals in both camps.
I’m happy to share the road. But like many motorists, I find it difficult to do so safely at times.
My biggest fear is making a right turn and failing to observe a cyclist coming up from behind in my blind spot. This seems to occur most often in the areas where bike lanes get lost amid heavy traffic congestion.
Chicago personal injury lawyer Brendan Kevenides said accidents involving drivers striking cyclists while making right turns are so common they have their own name, the “right cross.”
Kevenides said it’s the third most common type of accident handled by his Freeman Kevenides firm, which does nothing but bike cases. The firm sees enough “right crosses,” “left hooks” and “doorings” to keep three lawyers and two paralegals busy.
Despite his familiarity with the potential carnage, he is unequivocal in his assessment of Chicago bike safety.
“Chicago is a safe place to ride a bicycle,” said Kevenides, who bikes to work daily from Logan Square.
The Active Transportation Alliance, the city’s biggest biking advocacy organization, also says its safe — and getting safer — to ride a bike in Chicago.
But Kyle Whitehead, ATA’s government relations director, said the organization “believes every one of these crashes is preventable” and is working with the city on a long-range plan to eliminate fatal accidents.
Until then, I’ll stick to the bike path. It’s dangerous enough.Tweets by @MarkBrownCST