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Bicycling Tue Sep 03 2013

What are a Bicyclist's Rights in The City of Chicago? Let's Find Out.

Bicycle Accident CardAccording to Bicycling Magazine, Chicago ranks 5th in America's Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities. We should be proud, but we're not, are we? Would we have been happy if the Chicago Blackhawks got the fifth place in hockey? Heck no. We're Chicagoans. We want to be the most bike-friendly city in America. Whether you're a cyclist or not, some education about the Chicago bicycle laws will help us get to number one. We can do it!

Being known as a bike-friendly city and doing what we can to prevent crashes from happening does not mean that there will be no bike collisions. There will be. However, the more we, as people who ride bicycles and people who operate motor vehicles, know about the law, the better off we'll all be. Let's learn some of the Chicago bicycle laws.

Number One: Don't drive, stand or park on a bicycle path or lane! Can I get through one day of not seeing some delivery person or someone dropping off a passenger stopped in a bike lane? Of course you can cross through a bike lane if you are coming or going from a legal parking space, but otherwise, don't do it. There is an exception for buses. A bus may stop in a bike lane at a bus stop to pick up or drop off passengers, if the bus has an emergency, or during overnight hours necessary in an intersection if it is easier to load or unload passengers at that location. If you are not a bus driver, please obey the law and let the bikes have their small part of the road.

Number Two: Vehicles overtaking a bicycle shall leave a safe distance, but not less than three feet. This minimum distance shall be maintained until safely past the overtaken bicycle. Some important things here -- if you have the ability to give a cyclist more than three feet, by all means, do it. Three feet is the minimum. Also, once you have overtaken the cyclist, don't just get right in front of him; give him a break. Get as far ahead as you can before you get in front of him, if you need to at all.

Number Three: Don't Cut a Bicyclist Off Turning Left Let's say you, an operator of a vehicle, are approaching an intersection with the intent of turning left. Let's say a bicycle is approaching toward you in the opposite direction. Please yield to the bicyclist before your left turn, just as you would any other approaching vehicle. It's the law.

Number Four: Don't hit cyclists with the door of your car! Most bicyclists know what a "dooring" is. Many are all too familiar with the word. Most non-bicyclists or those who drive a bicycle sparingly do not. The "door zone" is the space that spans about four feet from the sides of parked cars. It can be hazardous to ride a bicycle in the door zone, because if a careless vehicle operator opens a door, the cyclist will potentially crash into the door or swerve into the adjacent lane of traffic. It is illegal to door a cyclist in Chicago. Vehicle operators -- please look before opening your door. Cyclists -- assume vehicle operators will disregard the last sentence.

Number Five: Don't "Right Hook" a bicyclist. I tend to see the "right hook" scenario in downtown Chicago way too often. Usually, a motorist passes a cyclist on the left and then turns right into the bike's path. Turning right into the path of a cyclist is illegal. For cyclists, when driving on the right side of a moving vehicle, it is important to stay out of the driver's blind spot.

Number Six: This one is for the cyclists...use reflectors, headlamps and tail lights. Do you have a bicycle? Then, get a headlamp (which never seem to be standard equipment on bicycles -- perhaps they should be?) and a rear red reflector. It's the law. Every bicycle, when used at night, must be equipped with a head lamp that emits a white light visible from a distance of 500 feet from the front and with a rear red reflector capable of reflecting the headlights of an approaching motor vehicle back to the operator of such a vehicle at distances up to 200 feet or a rear lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 200 feet from the rear.

What happens if I am in a bicycle collision?

Although knowing the bicycle laws will help decrease the amount of bicycle collisions, it will not eliminate them. After many bike accidents, as opposed to car accidents, oftentimes police are not even called to investigate. Sometimes, even when they are, they send the parties away without even completing a police report. The parties separate and the cyclist later recognizes that he didn't even get the driver's information. Often it's at this time that the cyclist realizes that adrenaline and other factors made him feel okay at the time, but that he needs medical attention.

Report Your Accident & File a Police Report

The cyclist is accumulating medical bills, he's missing work and unfortunately, because of some missed crucial steps after the accident, he may be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. While it's not the law, after a bike accident, call the police and make sure the investigating officer fills out a police report then report your accident online to our Chicago bike accident map so other cyclists and community members can use the information to improve bike safety in the City of Chicago.

We Are All in This Together

In Chicago, cyclists now account for approximately 50 percent of the traffic during rush hour. Add to that the expansion of Chicago's new Divvy bike-share system and let's face it, Chicago cyclists and vehicle operators need to become more familiar with the Chicago bicycle laws and what to do after an accident. Let's educate ourselves.


Matt Willens is a Chicago bicycle bccident attorney. If you would like a wallet-size Chicago Cyclist Collision Card to learn more about Chicago Cyclists' rights, rules and laws and what to do after an accident, they can be downloaded here or send an e-mail to them and Willens Law will send you one. These cards are completely free. If you work at a bike shop and you would like a stack of cards or you are someone who just wants to pass some cards out to friends or fellow cyclists, send an e-mail and they'll be happy to provide you a bunch.

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Gerome / September 4, 2013 11:08 AM

Can we also remind cyclists that they have to obey the rules, too? Please don't whiz the wrong way down a one way street. Please obey traffic signals even though you clearly don't want to, and please don't be a 'wreckless' biker weaving in and out all over the place. Countless times I've been putting along, only to nearly collide with a cyclist going the wrong way down a one-way street, with one disobeying traffic signals (presumably thinking he/she can do whatever he/she wants!) and weaving in an out of cars akin to the way motorcyclists sometimes do. And if the cyclist is the one who causes an accident because they're not obeying the law, guess who still is likely to get the blame? Yup. The dude in the car. I'm all for making Chicago more bike friendly, getting more dedicated bike lanes, and seeing folks use bikes instead of cars to commute to work. But cyclists need to follow the rules, too. A bike doesn't give you a pass to do whatever you want.

Eric M / September 4, 2013 11:59 AM

I've stopped using Peapod because their drivers ALWAYS park in bike lanes. If they don't care about my safety, then I don't care about their bottom line.

erty / September 5, 2013 11:22 AM

Please do a follow up article about rules which bicyclists must follow with regard to pedestrian safety. Too many people are riding on the sidewalks at great speed. Also, the failure of many bicyclists to stop properly at intersections endangers a pedestrain who is using the crosswalk.

Jeff Judge / September 5, 2013 11:22 AM

Hey Gerome - yup, rules of the road need to be honored by all. I commute via bike every day and frequently drive at night and on the weekends and see pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all breaking rules - so let's all just step it up a bit.

Lupe / September 6, 2013 9:47 AM

I agree 100% with Gerome. I walk home from work and have seen MANY accidents involving bikes, all, with the exception of 1 (car door opened on him), happened because the bicyclists disobeyed the rules of the road. One was horrific - he slammed into the back of a semi that was turning left - he was going down a ramp too fast, on the wrong side of the street - wasn't able to stop. It was not a pretty sight and to this day I wonder if he survived.

Matt Willens / September 6, 2013 4:39 PM

Thanks for your comments y'all. Safe to say that in order for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicle operators to get along, we need, at a minimum, the following: a. more bike safety education (maybe starting in the grammar schools?); b. better engineering (more and better PBLs);c. more enforcement of the laws (this one's for you CPD - give tickets to those who break the laws). This is good - the Chicago biking community needs open discussion regarding bicycle safety - it's critical to raising bike safety awareness.

Alex / May 27, 2014 9:36 PM

@Gerome: As someone who owns a bike but not a car, yeah, cyclists need to grow up around here. Riding on Milwaukee I see about 5% of cyclists actually wait for lights to turn green, for example. I'd strongly prefer that cyclists show more respect for others' safety, their own safety, and the law, in that order. We need to make it clear that we deserve to be taken seriously and not treat cycling as a lawless free-for-all where the only goal is to reach Point B with as little effort as possible.

@Erty: riding on the sidewalk is illegal unless the rider is 12 years of age or younger.

IMO we need to get CPD handing out tickets to bikes. I know the fine per state law is only $25 and it probably costs more than that just to collect the fine... but it would make a much stronger impression than the occasional bike safety article.

Alex / May 31, 2014 2:36 PM

Here's a few ideas for improving cycling etiquette, which will lead to fewer accidents and more respect from drivers:
- mandatory cycling education. A licensing program could help enforce such education.
- get rid of (or substantially change) critical mass! Their behavior just reinforces bad behavior amongst cyclists.
- remember that divvy riders are looking to you for how to behave on a bike. Before you complain about how they ride, think about where they learned it, and then set a good example!
- respect the turn signal! So few motorists use them anymore - give some credit to the ones who do and don't block their turn at red lights (I see this a lot among fellow cyclists). Maybe when motorists see the value, they'll signal more often.

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