Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Cyclist Protection, Chicago-Style

After the (stupid) death of a (stupid) cyclist participating in an unauthorized street race in which said (stupid) biker ignored traffic signals, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is proposing an ordinance that specifically targets reckless drivers who endanger cyclists.

Yeah, it’s a little hard to follow the logic path there, but it’s some sort of progress. Chicago politics is a bad place to apply logic, traditionally.

The ordinance has some interesting elements, including fines for turning left or right in front of a bicyclist, passing a bicyclist with less than three feet of space, and opening a vehicle door into the path of a bicyclist. It also establishes a fine for double-parking in a marked shared lane, and increases the fine for driving, standing or parking in a bicycle lane.

If enforced, it could provide some quality revenue for the city. (Come now. It’s Chicago. All fine-worthy offenses are about city coffer enhancement. Ask any Chicagoan!) Enforcement is a key question, of course: Just as many states already have 3-foot buffer rules as I referenced earlier today, there is little precedent for enforcing them. Enforcement requires the education and cooperation of the police force. It’s quite easy for a police force to quietly not bother, particularly in a city of the size and nature of Chicago.

I’m a little wary of too many ‘special’ rules applied to bicycles, as when proper road planning and vehicular cycling principles are applied, a lot of special rules shouldn’t be needed, and existing rules may be sufficient if enforced. Beyond that, many special rules are municipally-specific, which can make keeping track of them as a road user of any type a challenge – and creates specific challenges for educating road users in such regulations. Some of the special regulations can be especially vexing, such as certain of the right-turn/left-turn rules proposed in the Chicago ordinance – given some of the, uh, creative engineering on certain of the city’s bike lanes, compliance with the rule and enforcement of the rule may be a dual challenge.

I’m fairly sure that if one were to look into Chicago ordinances on parking, double-parking, parking outside of parking zones, and causing an accident by opening a door in traffic even when parked in a parking zone are all already ticketable offenses. Large cities tend to have large (and strict) parking codes by necessity, and any of the above offenses would be detrimental to traffic flow, regardless of bicycle involvement.

Speaking of which, the City Transportation Commissioner is promising a summer crackdown on cyclists who violate traffic laws. He points out that laws are already on the books that allow for such enforcement – standard traffic rules. Once again, it gets into the idea that you need to have your police involved in the enforcement. Red light cameras in Chicago have been doing a good job of reducing motorist red light violations, but I’ve seen no stats on what’s happening with cyclists in violation, if anything.

Might be interesting to watch. If you tap into any articles in the Chicago mass media on the cyclist death in the alley cat race (it’s been well-established that the rider wasn’t just taking an ‘orange’ light, but was outright blowing a signal at an intersection that good sense would suggest wouldn’t be worth blowing for victory in a street race), there’s a lot of typical surliness about ‘unregulated’ cyclists. While some of this comes from the idea of bikes as toys and the bullying response, it really isn’t appropriate for cyclists to presume special rights on roadways, even those with bicycle lanes. Traffic laws need to apply to all, and be followed predictably by all, else public safety is at risk.

(Source: Chicago Sun Times)

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


  1. Excellent! I’m glad you agree that everyone (not just cyclists, and not just drivers) should follow the rules of the road. I can’t believe some of the comments on that article. I’ve never ridden in Chicago, but it sounds like a dangerous place for drivers and cyclists alike, and I would probably be the first one to swear at another cyclist who was breaking the law.

    I know to some people it seems like we’re giving up to actually follow the rules, but it’s better for all of us in the long run not to have to be relegated to bike paths and regulated to having a “cycling license.” Madness!

  2. The important thing is that we keep the laws sensible, and consistent, and well-publicized. There are a lot of discriminatory rules that are applied to cyclists in various states – a pair of fellow LCIs did a great article on those in a recent American Bicyclist. But maintaining and following consistent standards – like red means stop, green means go – helps everyone share the road safely.