Wednesday, February 27, 2008

An Alley Cat dies in Chicago

This past Sunday’s ABC group ride was a lot of fun. I was running a little late to the start after a bit of delay in shift change for Dad Watch, and so as I rolled up to the I-430 trailhead, everybody else was starting to roll out. I spun around the circle and poured on a little bit of gas, and caught up to the bunch just before they crossed Jimerson Creek.

There was a bit of a breeze blowing down the river valley, and we were rolling happily along, merging onto Rebsamen Park Road and chatting briefly about BACA projects and volunteers for the upcoming Trails Symposium in November, when I heard a little bit of clatter to the rear, and the Fast Girls Slow Guys came blowing by in a fast double paceline. Roman yelled, “hey, Tom, let’s jump on – catch the draft!”

After a couple seconds thought, I stood on the pedals and accelerated up to catch the tail end of the line, with Roman on my wheel. Rolling along about 22-23 mph, I was pretty pleased how we could hang, without a whole lot of effort… and we’d just accept the tow up to the front group of ABC. We caught them just before the turn onto Riverfront Drive, and kept rolling. FGSG apparently had some new riders who were pushing hard to keep up with the pace, and were a little squirrelly, so I backed off from the wheel I was following to give some reaction space. A little ways down Riverfront, the pack raised the pace a little bit, and then spread all over the road… taking up not only the bike lane but both traffic lanes. Little Rock is the one city in Arkansas that has not only a mandatory bike lane (MBL) and as-far-right-as practical laws as well as an ordinance prescribing riding no more than two abreast. We were way beyond legal at that point, so I dropped off the back of the pack and sat up, waiting for the ABC group to catch up. But it was fun for awhile!

I put the bike in the big ring and kept it there all through the ride, and then went back and did another loop for a total of a little more than 55 miles for the day at a little over 15 mph average, and still felt good at the end of the ride. Heading home to feed the dog, log the ride on, and rest up a bit, the BikeJournal news forum reported that a cyclist had been struck and killed in Chicago that very morning.

Apparently, this rider was part of a pack of 40+ riders taking part in a stage of the “Tour da Chicago,” an “alleycat” (e.g., illegal and unsanctioned) road race through the city streets of downtown Chicago. The pack was scorching down Lincoln Avenue, blowing every stop sign and traffic sign on the route, and then at a three-street, six-way intersection they blew another red light as an SUV entered the intersection on the green light. The driver managed to miss the first four riders in the pack, but struck the 5th guy squarely. He died there – painfully – and with lots of witnesses, in the middle of that intersection

The Chicago Sun Times and the Tribune covered the story on Monday morning.

More details were available on a Chicago club bulletin board, as well as the Bicycling Magazine web forums.

More background on the fellow who was killed:

And And as folks are noticing, the Tour da Chicago has a long legacy of lawless racing.

FGSG has tamed down a lot from their early days of racing on the River Trail, but still have a strong reputation of recklessness. I remember being run off the trail and into the bushes a time or three back in those days, and finally learned to avoid the area on their ride days, or simply time my departure for after they had already gone up the road. I felt a very little guilty for hopping onto the train for awhile Sunday, and then sobered up a bit with the Chicago news.

Fast riding is fun, and bike racing has got to be one of the biggest thrills you can have on two wheels. But this should be saved for the open rural roads, and for events where controls have been set up to minimize the risks. Bikes are covered under the same laws that prohibit racing on the highways. Not the least, these big packs of cyclists, recklessly spread across the entire traffic lane, hugging or crossing the center line to ride against oncoming traffic, and generally disregarding traffic laws are the worst example that we can show to other lawful or mostly lawful road users. That’s what gets tempers inflamed, road rage ignited, and anti-cyclist letters written to newspaper editors and public officials.

Traffic laws apply to you as a cyclist just like they do when you’re driving a car. As the Principle says, “cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

And if you make a habit of running stop signs and red lights, you are eventually going to get hit. Might be today, maybe not… maybe next week… how lucky do you feel today?

Matt Manger-Lynch’s luck ran out at approximately 10:15 Sunday morning. A chef and caterer by trade, he leaves behind a wife, two young children, and a promising business.

Ya’ll do be careful out there…

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