We have a superabundance of smart people in Oak Park. In fact, nearly one of every 10 residents works at a university. I learned this and other important trivia from longtime resident and professor in the Department of Statistics and Other Arcana at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Henry Hornblower.
Professor Hornblower said resident professors are studying all kinds of data about the village, including how green it is (both the numbers of trees and electricity usage), recent trends in historic housing, and the interplay of cell towers and brainwaves. Significantly, he directed me to his own longitudinal study on the increasing number of cyclists in the village.
"Velocipedists are increasing at a geometric rate," he said as he cleaned his glasses. "And they have been for many, many years."
"Some are short, some fat, old, young, fast, slow. Ciclisiti — that is what they call them in Italy — are increasing on our streets. They are everywhere and it is only going to increase."
I asked the good professor what percentage of local cyclists are the morons who ride unsafely.
"Ah," said the professor, cocking his left eyebrow, "here is where it gets interesting. Exactly 6 percent of the dangerous cyclists in Oak Park can be defined as what you call a "moron." By the way, the Latin term is "cyclus periculosus."
"These cyclists ride through red lights," he said. "Never stop at stop signs. Some aim for pedestrians and go out of their way to annoy car drivers."
I asked him whether he has studied similar data on any other group of Oak Parkers.
"Of course," bleated Hornblower. "That is the genius."
He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper: "The percentage of dangerous cyclists in Oak Park is exactly the same as the percentage of dangerous drivers."
"Yes. You might say that morons are morons, whether they bike or drive. Oh sure there are a few differences but they are not material. Dangerous drivers are more likely to have a cigarette hanging from their mouths, for example, while dangerous cyclists tend to wear spandex. Otherwise, their behavior is the same."
So when drivers take out their frustration on the 94 percent of cyclists who are not morons?
"They are targeting the wrong group. And this is a bipartisan problem. Drivers who buzz close by cyclists or attempt to run them off the road while pretending not to see them are just as likely to have Obama bumper stickers on their cars as Romney stickers. Though I have to admit that my sample of aggressive drivers in Oak Park with Romney stickers is very small.
"And my coup de grace?" said Hornblower, fumbling through some papers. "My study proves that when an Oak Park driver retaliates against cyclists in general because of the bad behavior of one cyclist, there is a one in three chance that the driver will meet the cyclist again at a local block party. And the numbers don't lie."