On a Thursday night in September, 300 or so people were mingling inside Specialized, the bike shop under the L tracks at Lake and Sangamon. They were there to celebrate the sixth birthday of Bike Lane Uprising, the grassroots advocacy group that helps cyclists document vehicles illegally blocking bike lanes in cities across America. The Chicago-born organization is the rabble-rousing brainchild of Christina Whitehouse. “Back in the day,” she told the crowd, “this was something I used to try to hide on the internet. I was worried that the government would find out.” The audience roared, very much in on the joke. State representative Kelly Cassidy, after all, stood behind Whitehouse. Next to Cassidy was 40th Ward alderperson Andre Vasquez, and state rep Kam Buckner had the mic earlier. 

“We’re trying to get the city to pay attention to something that was directly in front of their face.”

Whitehouse founded Bike Lane Uprising in 2017, after a commercial truck almost ran her over while she was biking in the Loop. She was a Northwestern graduate student at the time, earning a master’s in product design and development management. She created an app, at first focused on Chicago, to let cyclists upload photos of vehicle obstructions and other biking nightmares — snow plowed into lanes, potholes, faded safety paint. As the incidents ticked into the thousands, Whitehouse started working with city officials to identify repeat offenders and obstruction hot spots. Her group uses its database to publicly call out individuals and companies who put cyclists’ lives at risk. “We’re trying to get the city to pay attention to something that was directly in front of their face,” she explains.

In a city that often pits cars against cyclists, where ghost bikes punctuate the landscape, Whitehouse has galvanized a movement and created policy change. All by refusing to back down. Just ask those politicians, many of whom have joined the cause. Vasquez credits Bike Lane Uprising for getting the City Council to pass Smart Streets, allowing the use of cameras to enforce bike lane laws, in March. And in July, when Cassidy was fielding constituent complaints about antiabortion protesters blocking a bike lane, she turned to Whitehouse for help. On X, Bike Lane Uprising posted footage and called on cyclists to show up and encourage the protesters to move. The bikers responded.

Video by Ross Feighery