Big benefits for people biking and walking in new safety ordinance

With summer approaching and warm weather finally here, I'm thrilled to see more people walking and riding bikes on my daily commute to work.

We can no doubt expect the number of cyclists to continue to climb given the success of Chicago's bike week and Active Tran's Bike Commuter Challenge. And don't forget that Chicago's newest bike lane was just unveiled on the city's busiest bikeway, Milwaukee Ave., and there's Divvy, Chicago's bike sharing program, which is bringing 3,000 "Chicago blue" sharable bikes to Chicago by the end of the summer.

For the increasing number of Chicagoans on bike and foot, I want to take a moment to highlight some of the significant new benefits and protections that they will enjoy under Chicago law thanks to Mayor Emanuel's 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Ordinance, which the Chicago City Council Council adopted last week.

Active Trans provided much input on the ordinance as it was being drafted. Although earlier news coverage of it was all over the map, all-told, the ordinance includes a number of very significant provisions that will improve the way people riding bikes, people walking and people driving cars share the road.

It will ensure that people biking and walking have the same rights in Chicago as they do under state law and help reduce the nearly 4,500 reported bike and pedestrian injury-crashes every year in our city. Here are some of the improvements the ordinance will bring when it becomes law on July 6:

  • Combatting doorings: Perhaps most importantly, the ordinance is part of a two-pronged strategy to combat "doorings"--instances when car drivers or passangers open car doors into the path of people biking--which cause fully one-fifth of Chicago's bicycle crashes. The ordinance doubles of the fine for someone who causes a dooring crash to $1,000 and complements a new Chicago initiative to place "Look!" warning stickers on taxi windows--to alert passengers to check for people biking before opening their car doors.

  • “Taking the lane" when necessary: People biking frequently encounter conditions that make it unsafe for them to ride outside of car traffic on the right side of the road. Potholes or ice on the road's right edge, roads too narrow for a bike and car to travel safely side by side, and preparing to turn left all are cases when a person biking may need to "take the lane." In these cases, the safest thing for someone on a bike to do is to signal to drivers and occupy the full traffic lane. The ordinance clarifies that people biking may "take the lane" when necessary for safety.

  • Riding two abreast in a single traffic lane: People and families riding bikes together for fun sometimes want to ride side by side to talk. As long as they're not slowing traffic, people biking are no longer required to ride single file.

  • Passing on the right: The ordinance clarifies that people on bikes may pass slower moving cars and other bicycles on the right side of the road. This common practice is accepted and expected by people driving and cycling alike. But ambiguities in both state and Chicago laws have meant that people biking weren't always assured of this right. The ordinance makes cyclists' right to pass on the right crystal clear in Chicago law. An Active Trans-backed bill, which the state legislature adopted in May, is doing the same thing statewide.

  • Riding on the sidewalk to access bike facilities: People biking are now allowed to ride on the sidewalk for short distances to access the nearest roadway, bike path, intersection or bike share station.

  • Signaling turns and stops with either hand: The ordinance provides that people biking may signal turns, slowing, and stopping with either their right or left hand.

  • People walking have the right of way: People driving cars must yield to people walking at any crosswalk, not just marked crosswalks. Most intersections have "crosswalks" whether marked on the pavement or not. They exist anywhere a sidewalk leads up to the roadway--imagine a virtual extension of the sidewalk across the road.

  • Include pedestrians with disabilities: Pedestrians with disabilities are assured the same rights under the traffic code as other pedestrians.

Positive steps forward

These are great, well thought out enhancements/changes to the existing ordinances.

I was worried about the no bikes on sidewalks issue with the introduction of the new Divvy bikes. It is a relief to know the issue has been addressed.

Additionally, I frequently wish to ride beside my kids in the city. Adding language to allow two riders abreast when they aren't affecting traffic is a great improvement.

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