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Want a Better City? Join a Bike Jam.

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

bike activism
CyclAvia in LA. Photo credit:

Suffice it to say that recent local and national events don’t exactly instill confidence that government can solve problems and make life better. But in this moment in Chicago, we have the power to transform that perception and to make Chicago a shining example of a livable and equitable city.

Bike Grid Now, the grassroots campaign to make 10% of our streets prioritized for bikes, is THE LEVER we can collectively pull to bring transformational change to Chicago and beyond. Here’s why. We need City Hall to do something that visibly and quickly improves our quality of life and starts to restore our faith in government and our civic pride. City Hall needs to see that Chicagoans are fired up, engaged, and on the march for change. Bike Jams (which also include people on foot, scooters, wheelchairs, and skateboards) empower every Chicagoan who walks, bikes, or rolls to show up and demand something that will have a big impact for a relatively small financial and political price tag.

If we care about climate change, access to good jobs/education/affordable housing, and safe streets for kids and other vulnerable users, then there is nothing that would bring us closer and faster to those goals than creating a city-wide grid of bike-prioritized streets. (Bike-prioritization also includes wheelchairs, scooters, and skateboards.)It’s a moon-shot idea without the complicated engineering, billions in funding, or vast sums of political capital. It simply requires a modest amount of political courage to tweak a few laws, to install inexpensive traffic calming measures (speed cameras, street paint, signage, and physical obstacles to fast driving). This could all be done in a matter of months, not years or decades. The key ingredient is political courage, and our role as Chicagoans, as bike jammers, is to help City Hall find its courage.

Because bike jams are visible and disruptive and can happen anywhere in the city, they can get the attention of the mayor and city council and help them find courage and take action. It doesn’t take lots of people to jam a street, but more people makes it more fun and more noticeable to politicians. Bike jams are also a force multiplier because they engage people beyond the obvious beneficiaries of a bike grid. When we snarl traffic, motorists will complain, especially when they can put a name to it. “It’s those damn bike jammers! Make them stop!” Yes, make us stop, by creating a bike grid.

The race for mayor is ramping up right now; we need every candidate talking about creating truly safe streets. But the ones who really want to win me over will weave that into their vision for a world class city: where bikes and transit become the preferred way for getting around; where more and more people want to live and visit because getting around is safe and enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities; where the lakefront is a destination rather than a highway; where housing becomes more affordable because all neighborhoods offer a good quality of life.

This is how we make change; we demand it before, during, and after we give politicians our vote. And when people elsewhere see how we do it in Chicago, they will see what is possible and they will demand it too. Now, go forth and bike jam!

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