Chicago Bicyclists Recording Rides for Their Own Safety

Over 2,000 people were hurt on bikes across Illinois last year

Chicago's streets are bustling with cars, trucks, people and bikes. But the tight spaces can lead to heated confrontations and some are getting caught on camera.

Last month Ryan Lawber was riding his bike north on Clark Street when the driver of an SUV passed him at a high rate of speed. Lawber said the driver passed him again, this time closer and faster, to get into the left turn lane at Armitage.

“Since he was stopped at the light, I tapped on his window to get his attention to slow down,” Lawber said. “This apparently triggered him into an all-out rage,” Lawber said.

Lawber’s bicycle-mounted camera recorded the driver cutting in front of him in the bike lane on two separate occasions. The driver then got out of his vehicle and unleashed a verbal tirade against Lawber.

“You need to (expletive) learn the rules!” the driver yelled. “You don’t (expletive) hit somebody’s car!”

The driver’s outburst continued for several seconds and a second camera from a nearby bicyclist recorded the driver smacking Lawber across his helmet.

Lawber posted his video to YouTube, which has been viewed nearly 30,000 times. Lawber declined an on-camera interview, but he told NBC 5 Investigates that he filed a police report and has been in contact with an attorney over the incident.

The driver’s license plate was clearly visible in the video and online commenters identified him as Laurence van der Horst.

NBC 5 Investigates could not reach van der Horst for comment. However, we learned that he lost his job at the Clinesmith law firm after the video was released.

“The conduct on the video does not represent the values of our firm,” said Curtis Clinesmith, principal owner.

Ernesto Martinez-Ordaz is an avid cyclist who often records his rides through Chicago’s loop.

“If something happens to me, I have proof,” Martinez-Ordaz said.

His videos often show cars, trucks and people blocking bike lanes.

“I have had very close calls with cars. Drivers texting. Rideshares texting. Drivers that just do not know how the bike lane works,” Martinez-Ordaz said.

The obstructions continue to be a major concern in Chicago, according to Christina Whitehouse of Bike Lane Uprising.

“Drivers continue to use bike lanes as free parking and additional travel lines,” Whitehouse said. “Blocking bike lanes puts cyclists lives at risk by forcing them into faster moving traffic.”

Whitehouse maintains a database of user-submitted photos of passenger cars, delivery trucks, rideshare cars and other vehicles blocking bike lanes.

“We’re currently working with city officials and corporations to act on our collected data,” Whitehouse said.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Finance said parking enforcement aides have issued 1,856 blocked lane violations so far this year. There were 3,946 violations issued in 2018 and 3,460 violations issued in 2017.

In 2018, five people were killed in bike crashes and more than 2,000 cyclists were injured in bike crashes across the state.

A 2012 Chicago Department of Transportation study on bike crashes cited “failure to yield” is the biggest driving error that contributes to bike crashes.

“When we get the green light there's drivers that do no have the capacity to judge when they should not go and so they continue going on the red light,” Martinez-Ordaz said.

However, the same study shows the most common cyclist error contributing to crashes is riding against traffic.

Martinez-Ordaz and other riders acknowledge that cyclists can do a better job of following the rules of the road.

Larry Nazimek is a driver and cyclist who said he often sees bike riders blowing through red lights. He’s calling for a moratorium on building new bike lanes.

“I’ve seen problems with traffic. The city’s got to worry more about gridlock,” Nazimek said.

It’s unclear if drivers or bicyclists contribute to most of the bike accidents in Chicago because it appears the city and state do not keep those records.

The Chicago Police Department also does not keep track of traffic citations issued to bicyclists, according to a Freedom of Information Request.

Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27th Ward) is chairman of the city’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety and said everyone, including police, needs to adjust to the influx of bikes and scooters on city streets.

“We all need to stop at the light. Bikes, cars, people walking. Everyone needs to obey the rules,” Burnett said. “It’s not just to penalize people. It’s for safety purposes.”

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