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02/09/2004: Some groups soft-pedal Auto Show
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Some groups soft-pedal Auto Show
Jon Hilkevitch, Chicago Tribune
February 9, 2004

This is probably the most difficult week of the year for the Chicago area's diehard bicyclists, the folks among us who see pedaling as not only an alternative way to get around or to stay fit, but also as a path to a better life for humankind.

The sense of an endlessly uphill trek has nothing to do with the dangers of navigating ice-rutted streets or knowing that it's still months away from what non-gear heads would consider true biking weather.

"I wear a nylon baseball jersey, a merino sweater, a fleece and a Burley windbreaker, scarf, wool cap, leather gloves, long johns, cotton twill pants and wool socks with Columbia Bugataboo boots," said year-round bicyclist David Callahan, one of many hard-core riders who have invited Getting Around to t! ry commuting by bike this winter.

What makes this week so hard is the city's annual mass celebration of horsepower and chrome, the 96th Chicago Auto Show, through Sunday at McCormick Place South.

As thousands of car enthusiasts filed into the exhibition center over the weekend, a much smaller group pedaled over from Daley Plaza Saturday for the fifth straight year during Auto Show week to mount what organizers called "a good-natured poke against car culture."

"Cars are assumed to be necessary, as essential to life as a human partner, and sexualized to reinforce the proxy human-partner relationship," says an excerpt from "My Mother the Car," by Joaquin de la Puente, posted on the Web site of Chicago Critical Mass, a bicycling advocacy group. But "cars offer only death, domination and convenience, and cold detachment to the human heart and mind."

Although the protesters outside McCormick Place might not have won many converts, progress can be reported! on other fronts to make drivers more aware they must share the road with bicyclists.

The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation worked recently with the Illinois secretary of state's office to update the Rules of the Road book used by driver's education students.

The bicycling part of the previous Rules of the Road study-guide section "dealt too much with bike riders' responsibilities and didn't identify the moves drivers made that often put bikers at risk," according to the February edition of Bike Traffic, the federation's newsletter. The new Rules of the Road broadened the discussion.

See if you can correctly answer the following true-or-false questions from the study guide. Getting them right could help prevent many common car-bike crashes, according to Dave Glowacz, the federation's education director.

"If a motorist is turning right and a bicyclist is approaching on the right, let the bicyclist go through the intersection first before making a right turn."

"Drivers must yield the right of way to a bicyclist just as they would to another vehicle."

"Bicyclists are required to travel in the same direction as vehicles."

All of the above are true.

The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation will hold a conference on improving bicycling and walking conditions in the Chicago region March 18-20 at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Details are online at

Traffic mess here to stay

A new report by the Brookings Institution on easing traffic reaches the grim conclusion that eliminating congestion during peak travel hours will be virtually impossible in most U.S. metropolitan areas, mainly due to increasing population and wealth projected during at least the next few decades.

"For the time being, the only relief for traffic-plagued commuters is a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle with a well-equipped stereo system, a hands-free telephone and a daily com! mute with someone they like," wrote Brookings traffic economist Anthony Downs.

He said 88 percent of daily commuters in the U.S. use private vehicles.

Downs said methods exist to reduce traffic congestion, including some strategies already implemented in the Chicago region. They include placing red and green traffic-metering signals on expressway entrance ramps; coordinating traffic signals, traffic patterns and signs on main arteries better; creating high-occupancy toll lanes reserved for use at a premium price by drivers carrying at least one passenger; and tailoring construction of roads to the fastest-growing metro areas.

He said greatly expanding mass-transit services to shift more people from cars to buses and trains would help, but not nearly enough.

"Even if America's existing transit capacity were tripled and fully utilized, morning peak-hour transit travel would rise to 11 percent of all morning trips," Downs said. "But that would reduce all morn! ing private vehicle trips by only 8 percent--certainly progress, but hardly enough to end congestion--and tripling public transit capacity would be extremely costly."

"The only feasible way to accommodate excess demand for roads during peak periods is to have people wait in line," he said, adding that the problem will get worse regardless of policies adopted to combat congestion.

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