A guerrilla-style traffic study of the place where a cyclist was killed helps partisans draw attention to deadly footpaths

Downtown — not much has been done to stop motorists from hitting cyclists on the streets of Chicago, bike advocates said — so volunteers are taking matters into their own hands.

On April 21, about 20 cyclists and their supporters conducted a guerrilla-style traffic study at DuSable Lake Shore and East Balbo Drive, near where he injured and killed cyclist Gerardo Marciales in late February while passing through the footpath. They hoped to document the behavior of drivers on the busy street, and to raise awareness of the dangers faced by pedestrians and cyclists.

What they said they saw: People running red lights and driving pedestrians into the crosswalk, drivers threatening volunteers and other troubling behavior.

Marciales’ sister, Dobrasca Diaz, said in a tweet that she saw a driver use the same maneuver – going straight when on a turning lane, ignoring a red light – killing her brother. She wrote when she complained, the driver swore to her.

“I don’t want other families to experience this tragedy,” Diaz wrote on Twitter.

Related: Ghost Bike set up downtown to honor Gerardo Marciales – but officials say it will likely be tossed soon

It was not a scientific study, said Christina Whitehouse, founder of Bike Lane Uprising, a bicycle advocacy group that organized the study. But she did ask volunteers to send in their photos and videos from the event so they can be put together to show what they saw and experienced. They review the findings and plan to send them to officials so they can see the dangers pedestrians face and bring about change.

Tour guide Michael Perino – who has it He received the following as Segway Batman Volunteer while studying. He has also made a similar solo effort, documenting obstructions to internet traffic at the same intersection.

“There have always been problems here,” Perino said. “I always made my tourists stay behind me at that particular intersection.”

Perino said the traffic violence at Balbo Drive appears to be getting worse, and he estimates he’s crossed DuSable Lake Shore Drive at that spot more than 1,000 times in four years.

Just this year, Perino made five close calls as the driver nearly crashed into him or one of his surfers near Balbo Drive. He said he changed his route and now crosses DuSable Lake Shore Drive at another point.

An average of five to six cyclists are killed each year 2012-2019 in Chicago. But nine cyclists were killed in 2020 and 10 killed in 2021, including 16-year-old Jose Velazquez.

This year, drivers have killed at least three cyclists: Marciales was killed in late February. Paresh Dinesh Chattrala died in late April after being run over by a driver in the West Loop. A driver bumped and killed Nick Barlingayan while walking on Milwaukee Street, the bike highway, last week.

Knowing the danger he faces riding in his car on a daily basis, Perrino sports full-body pillows and a helmet with a “BAN CARS” sticker on his back.

On the day of his guerrilla movement study, Perino counted 1,827 drivers who entered the crosswalk against a red light 1:50-7:15 p.m.

But this particular problem isn’t new: A resident spoke to officials during the mayor’s pedestrian advisory board meeting in February 2018, and warned them that drivers on DuSable Lake Shore Drive are passing through a red light and entering the crosswalk near Jackson. The resident said it was only a matter of time before someone was injured.

Related: It’s been two years since the city’s Bicycle Safety Council met. Defenders defend it in order to return

And police said that only a few years later and only two blocks away, the driver who killed Marciales committed a traffic violation.

Volunteers recorded hundreds of drivers who committed the same traffic offense during their studies, just a few months after Marciales’ murder.

“It’s a whole thing, do whatever you want,” Whitehouse said.

One of the volunteers, who said he’s biked in Chicago since 1985, set up a camera in a tree near DuSable Lake Shore Drive and recorded the drivers from 1-4 p.m. Traffic violations near Balbo Drive are “much worse” than he had imagined, he said.

“It’s frustrating,” he said.

The city could make simple changes — like changing the length of the lights so drivers don’t pile up at the intersection and pedestrians get more time in the crosswalk — to protect people, he said.

Perino said she believes something more – ideally a bridge or tunnel – is necessary to protect pedestrians. The junction is near Buckingham Fountain and the southern end of Grant Park, which are popular areas for people to visit and wander around.

“This is our commercial area and our tourist area,” Perino said. “A lot of people move along the lake trail [or] They want to move from their hotel to the lake front, and it is very difficult to do without risking your life.

“For city dwellers, it’s very frustrating to put up with this every day.”

Perino said traffic violations posed a greater danger to tourists.

“They don’t know what’s going on here – it’s all new to them,” Perino said. “They don’t know what to expect, and that could make their crossing more dangerous.”

Whitehouse plans to share their findings with the Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation. She said she has “high hopes” the agencies will give her a chance, but she also tries to be cautious and realistic.

Bicycle advocates have taken safety matters into their own hands before: they have long pressured the city to create safer cycling infrastructure. In 2019, after motorcyclist Carla Aiello was killed while she was in a faintly marked bike lane, they lined up and formed a bike lane to protect other commuters. They donate their time and resources to create ghost bikes that commemorate murdered cyclists and raise awareness of the need to protect pedestrians.

For the latest study, some volunteers took time off work to participate, Whitehouse said. She said the work it takes to “actually ever move the needle” is full-time, unpaid work that street advocates do to protect themselves and others.

“I don’t know about traffic – that’s not my job,” said Alec Schwing, a volunteer who lives in Ravenswood. He works at Trader Joe’s. “I just want to walk around safely.”

Earlier this month, Schwing was at the intersection to help prepare him for the Marcialis Ghost bike when he saw a driver flashing the red light from the turning lane.

“It’s just bad design,” he said. “I don’t know what design is better, but there has to be something, because that obviously doesn’t work.”

Whitehouse said she hopes to finish the study results soon.

“We were literally drawing Gerardo’s bike when the news of Parrish’s death broke,” Whitehouse said. “We can’t end one person’s death before the next.”

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