DOWNTOWN — More than 200 cyclists took to the streets Thursday in honor of World Car Free Day, convening in Daley Plaza to advocate for safer streets and better public transit for cyclists and pedestrians.
World Car Free Day, which is celebrated Sept. 22, encourages drivers to give up their cars for a day. This year’s gathering came as cyclist and pedestrian deaths are at record highs and CTA service lags across the city.
Chicago, Bike Grid Now, an organization that holds weekly “bike jam” and “bike bus” events to advocate for safe streets, planned the event. A bike bus is a group of people who cycle together on a set route.
“The first thing you think about when you decide how to get where you’re going shouldn’t be safety,” said Daniel Streicher, an organizer with the group who led the Lincoln Park bike bus last week.
The group is calling on the city to make 10 percent of city streets part of a larger network with 10 mph speed limits.
“What Chicago needs is a bike grid, not gridlock,” according to a Chicago, Bike Grid Now news release. “The world is facing a climate crisis that requires drastic action.”
Chicago, Bike Grid Now’s proposed network of safe streets is “actually infrastructure for everyone,” Streicher said.
Having safe routes “empowers people to take the bike trips without needing to worry about getting injured, traumatized or even worse,” Streicher said.
If people feel safe to choose biking, walking or public transportation over driving, there will be less traffic, Steicher said.
“Lowering the number of trips people take in their car benefits everyone,” Steicher said. With proper safety infrastructure, “you can comfortably bike, you can comfortably walk. And if you need to use your car, you can at a safe and slow speed.”
Every Wednesday, Chicago, Bike Grid Now has two bike buses run along North Halsted Street and North Milwaukee Avenue.
“There are a lot of people who commute that way who are either uncomfortable biking with the infrastructure the way it is or who feel more comfortable” biking in a group, Streicher said.
A driver killed Sam Bell, 44, while he rode in the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane two weeks ago. Bell is at least the eighth cyclist to be killed by a driver in Chicago this year.
The bike bus is a way for cyclists to “keep each other safe,” Streicher said. “It’s scary on our streets right now to get where you need to go on a bike. It’s less scary if we do it together.”
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