Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Friday, July 12

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


On Wednesday City Council's Traffic Committee unanimously approved the mayor's proposed bike safety ordinance which would dock drivers $150 for several types of fouls against cyclists. The fine would jump to $500 for reckless driving that results in a crash.

The new law covers five dangerous moves by motorists: opening a car door on a bicyclist; parking or driving in a bike lane (which forces pedalers to swerve into traffic); passing within three feet of a bike; and turning left or right into the path of a cyclist, AKA the "left hook" and "right hook."

photo by Naz Hamid

The unanimous decision means the ordinance will almost certainly be passed when it goes before City Council on Wednesday, March 12, according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele.

"If we establish and widely publicize these ordinances, motorists will know that they risk people's lives with this kind of behavior," testified Ben Gomberg, the City's Bike Program Coordinator, at the meeting.

Committee members applauded the mayor's effort to make streets safer for cyclists but griped that more needs to be done to keep bicyclists from breaking laws. Ald. Bernie Stone (50th) said he is "absolutely delighted" to pass the ordinance and has received many calls and e-mails in support of the plan from constituents.

But Stone added that the recent death of a cyclist, struck by an SUV while he was running a red last month at Lincoln and Irving Park, highlights the need to enforce traffic codes for bikes as well. "Are we going to insist that bicycles obey the rules of the road? Yes, it's true that a bicycle is less likely to cause a fatality but if everyone would pay attention to what they're doing they're wouldn't be any fatalities."

Alds. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said that he appreciates bicycling as a "a great way to travel" that aids traffic problems in his downtown ward, but said that cyclists, especially couriers, need to be "held accountable" for their actions. "There are many great bike messengers out there but a few bad apples are endangering public safety."

photo by Carlos Ginard

Gomberg responded that the City's Bike 2015 Plan includes strategies for making messengers "safer, more responsible and more popular." The plan recommends mandatory safety training for bike couriers and selective enforcement of traffic laws by police.

The plan also proposes a crackdown on lawbreaking by the general cyclist population. "All vehicle must share the road," said Gomberg. "Cyclists have the same responsibilities as motorists. It's a level playing field."

Vanessa Smith and Pilar Tena, who pedaled to the hearing, disagreed. "Cars and bicycles aren't comparable," said Smith, noting that a bike and rider weighs about 200 pounds while a car weighs closer to 3,000. "I think the laws should be different for bikes and cars." She suggested that cyclists should be allowed to treat a stoplight like a stop sign, and a stop sign like a yield sign, as is currently the law in Idaho.

photo by Naz Hamid

"It would be a downer if they start enforcing all of the traffic laws for bikes," said Tena. "Part of the freedom and efficiency of bicycling is that you don't have to follow the same rules as cars."

"Stop lights are for everyone," maintained Beth Mosher, spokesman for American Automobile Association's Chicago chapter, "Everyone has to play by the rules of the road. The onus of safety falls on everybody: drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians."

She was pleased to learn the safety ordinance was approved. "AAA supports this. There are too many bike and pedestrian fatalities."

Between 2001 and 2005 there were more than 6,000 reported crashes between cars and bikes in Chicago; 30 bicyclists were killed, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.


About the Author(s)

John Greenfield is a freelance writer who covers transportation and environmental issues, travel, sports and taverns. His work has appeared in Bicycling, Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago and A Native's Guide to Chicago. He can be reached at

GB store

Recently on Detour

A Tragic Day in Chicago
While most people see the weekend after Thanksgiving as a time to begin preparations for the December holiday season, this time of year is a painful reminder to some as the anniversary of one of Chicago's deadliest fires. Ninety-two students...

The Social Life of Our Urban Spaces
"Placemaking" comes to Chicago

Don't '&' Me, OK?
The ampersand gets Wenner thinking about the distinction between race and ethnicity.

Photo Essay: Transitions
Rearview contributers interpret the theme "Transitions."

People from the Rearview Archive
Gapers Block digs into the Rearview archive in search of portraits.

View the complete archive

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15