Cycling in Chicago: Know the Rules and Risks of the Road
Whether you are a bicyclist or a driver, knowledge about the bicycling laws helps keep bicyclists and drivers alike safe. Chicago Bike Accident Attorney
Bicycling is an important mode of transportation and a popular recreational activity for many Illinoisans. But, like driving a car, there are rules to be followed, and each bicyclist has a responsibility to other users of the road, whether those other users are other bicyclists or vehicle drivers. There are many dangers to be aware of when riding a bicycle.
Whether you are a bicyclist or a driver, knowledge about the bicycling laws helps keep bicyclists and drivers alike safe, and while it may not necessarily protect you from the negligence and actions of those around you, it can help you avoid unsafe situations for which you could be held liable. Here are some basic rules for bicycle safety to help you avoid a bicycle accident:
For Chicago Bicyclists
Two Abreast and No More
Riding no more than two abreast along the side of the road permissible, as long as such arrangement does not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic. However, more than two bicyclists riding next to each other along the side of the road is prohibited by law. Conversely, on a designated bike path, riding more than two abreast would be acceptable.
Bicyclists Must Use Hand Signals to Communicate
Bicyclists must use hand signals to communicate to vehicles what the bicyclist intends to do next. The bicyclists must signal 100 feet or more before turning, slowing or stopping. To indicate a left turn, the bicyclist must extend the left hand and arm horizontally outward from his or her body. To signify a right turn, the bicyclists must do the same signal but with the right hand. To indicate that the bicyclist is stopping or slowing down, the bicyclist must extend the left arm out and downward.
Ride as Close to the Right-Hand Curb as Possible
Bicyclists should ride as close to the right-hand curb as possible to stay safely out of the way, and to allow vehicles or other bicyclists heading in the same direction to pass. A bicyclist may take a different lane position in the following situations:
- If it is necessary to avoid objects in the road, such as cars, other bicycles, animals, hazards, etc.;
- When passing another bicyclist or vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
- When preparing to make a left turn;
- When proceeding straight while a right turn is necessary in a current lane;
- On one-way highways with two or more marked lanes. In this case, bicyclists may ride on the left side of the roadway.
For Chicago Cars and Trucks
Three Feet of Clearance
Drivers of vehicles must always pass bicyclists with at least three feet of clearance.
Be Careful of Opening Doors into a Bicyclist’s Path
“Dooring” occurs when a person in a parked vehicle opens the door to get out of the vehicle, but fails to check for any bicyclists that may be approaching from behind. The door opens into the path of the bicyclist, and the bicyclist is unable to avoid hitting the door. Vehicle drivers share the road with bicyclists and are required to watch out for them.
Illinois Law Continues to Limit Rights of Bicyclists
If I were to ever get injured as a result of an unpaved pothole, municipalities will not be held accountable for my injuries caused by the bicycle accident according to a recent decision.
As an avid bike user, I usually store my bike in a friend’s garage or exit through the backs of buildings that bring me into the alleyway. If I were to ever get injured as a result of an unpaved pothole, municipalities will not be held accountable for my injuries caused by the bicycle accident according to a recent decision by the Appellate Court of Illinois.
On September 27, 2013, the Appellate Court of Illinois held that bicyclists are permitted but not intended users of alleys and, thus, municipalities are not liable for failing to maintain the alleys. In Berz v. City of Evanston, the plaintiff was injured when he struck a “pothole measuring 40 inches wide, 18 inches in length, and at least 4 to 5 inches deep” while riding in an alley in Evanston, Illinois. 2013 IL App (1st) 123763. The plaintiff claimed that Evanston was negligent and therefore liable for his injuries. However, the Appellate Court held that the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/3/-201(a) (West 2010)) granted immunity to Evanston because the plaintiff was not an intended user of the alley as a bicyclist. The court added that alleys are intended for vehicles and that a bicycle does not qualify as a vehicle. Although construction sites are not intended for bicyclists there negligence by a construction worker is responsible for accidents caused by their negligence in causing bicycle accidents.
The Tort Immunity Act provides:
“Except as otherwise provided in this Article, a local public entity has the duty to exercise ordinary care to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for the use in the exercise of ordinary care of people whom the entity intended and permitted to use the property in a manner in which and at such times as it was reasonably foreseeable that it would be used, and shall not be liable for injury unless it is proven that it has actual or constructive notice of the existence of such a condition that is not reasonably safe in reasonably adequate time prior to an injury to have taken measures to remedy or protect against such condition.” (Emphasis added.)
745 ILCS 10/3-102(a) (West 2010).
A municipality only owes a duty to intended AND permitted users. According to the court, bicyclists are only permitted users of alleys and therefore municipalities do not owe them a duty of care.
The ruling in this case expands an earlier ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court in Boub v. Township of Wayne where it held that bicyclists are not intended users of roadways, alleys, etc. unless they were specifically intended for bicyclists. 183 Ill.2d 520, 702 N.E.2d 535 (Ill. 1998). In order to determine the intended use of an alley, the Illinois Supreme Court has routinely instructed that it is necessary to look at “pavement markings, signs or other physical manifestations” indicating that bicyclists are intended users of the alley. Id. at 528.
It is discouraging that Illinois law protects vehicles more than it protects bicyclists, who are more vulnerable to pot holes and other road deformities. Furthermore, the Illinois Supreme Court has failed to provide clear instruction as to what qualifies as “reasonably foreseeable” that alleys would be used by bicyclists if they lack markings or signs. The legislature owes the biking community a more through distinction and guidance on what qualifies as reasonably foreseeable. For those of us who store our bicycles in our garages that exit into alleys, we’ll have to find a way to walk our bikes through our homes and exit out of the front to an area where we would be an intended user. As a bicyclist I feel that this is a violation of citizen’s bicycle rights.
Illinois Traffic Laws Apply to All
Whether you travel our fair city by bike or car, the traffic rules are designed to apply to and protect everyone. This means that as a cyclist you must obey all traffic signals, warnings, and signs. You are safest and least likely to have a collision when you do so and you are breaking the law if you do not. This is particularly important to remember at intersections. Intersections are the most dangerous places for both cars and cyclists; the majority of collisions happen at these crossing areas. There are so many moving parts that go into a traffic intersection that cyclists are truly at a much higher risk when using them.
It’s Important to Know the Laws
While traffic laws apply equally to cars and cycles, there are some laws that are unique to those who commute via bike. For example, no person over the age of 12 years old is allowed to ride a bicycle on a Chicago sidewalk unless that route is specifically marked as a bicycle route. There are also laws that pertain specifically to the equipment required for cyclists. Illinois law mandates that all bicycles used after dark must have a white light on the front that should be visible from a distance of 500 feet. On the back of all bikes in use after dark must be a red reflector or a red light. That light needs to be visible from at least 600 feet.
Do You Know Your Rights as a Cyclist in Chicago?
Staying safe on the road as a cyclist comes down to two critical factors: obey the rules of the road, and know your rights as a cyclist. Many motorists are unaware of the legal requirements for how to behave around cyclists on the road, and you are allowed to report them if they break the law. The more you know about the legal rules of the road, the better you can protect yourself as a cyclist.
Right of way
In Chicago, the bicyclist legally has the right of way, and motorists must yield. This is particularly important when turning; if a motorist is turning right while a bicyclist intends to pass on the right and continue forward through the intersection, the motorist must wait until the bicyclist is fully past. For either left or right turns, motorists may not pass the bicyclist until the turn is fully completed; they must follow the bicyclist through the intersection.
Motorists must pass bicyclists slowly (which is to say, at or below the speed limit) and allow at least three feet of distance between the furthest reaching part of the car and the furthest reaching part of the bike. If the body of the car is three feet away from the cyclist, but the side mirror nearly grazes the cyclist’s handlebars, the car is too close. If a motorist is unable to pass with three feet of distance because of oncoming traffic in the opposite direction, the motorist must travel behind the cyclist until it is possible to pass at the legal distance.
“Dooring,” the term for injuring a cyclist by opening a car door in the cyclist’s path too suddenly for the cyclist to avoid it, is quite common in urban areas. Many cyclists and motorists alike consider it a simple hazard of urban biking; however, dooring is illegal in Chicago and the motorist should be fined for an instance. Dooring is also fully the legal fault of the motorist in all cases, making the motorist responsible for the cyclist’s injuries and damages. Motorists are legally required to check for incoming bicyclists before opening their vehicle’s door.
Motorists are not permitted to follow a bicycle too closely, though the definition of “too closely” is loose and not clearly defined. Essentially, a motorist should obey the same tailgating laws that apply to other motorists; there should be ample room for the motorist to come to a full stop safely, without endangering the cyclist in front, should the cyclist have to come to a sudden halt. That distance will vary depending on the speed limit of the area; for example, a car would need to provide more distance for the cyclist if it is traveling at 40 mph than if it is traveling at 25 mph.
Bike lane laws
Motorists are never permitted to park in bike lanes (as frequently occurs when motorists “double park”) or to allow their vehicle to drift into the bike lane at all. This is true at the end and beginning of streets; the bike lanes are marked such that there is ample room for cars to make turns and otherwise manuever legally without impinging on the bike lane. Some motorists pay little attention to the bike lanes when making turns, however, and may cut off a cyclist who expects the motorist to respect the boundary line.
What do I do if someone breaks the bike laws?
If you encounter a motorist who is breaking one of these laws, particularly if they are doing so in a way that endangers a cyclist, report them immediately to the police. Take note of the license number, make, model, and color of the vehicle, and if it is possible to get a look at the driver without endangering yourself, do that as well. Call the police and let them know where the incident occurred and whether anyone was in danger or has been injured because of the driver’s negligence. Be prepared to meet the police and give a statement; generally one officer will come to take your statement while another searches the area for the vehicle.
10 Bike Safety Rules To Keep Cyclists Safe in Chicago
Bicycle accidents happen much too frequently. A bicyclist could be hit by a moving vehicle or injured in a “dooring” accident.
For whatever reason, it seems like motorized vehicles just ignore, or forget, that bicycles deserve the same respect as vehicles when sharing the road. To put it very plainly, the rules that apply to driving a motor vehicle also apply to riding a bicycle.
- Go with the flow. Bicycles must travel in the same direction as the flow of traffic.
- Right-of-way laws apply. Bicycles share the same right-of-way laws to which vehicles must adhere. That being said, here is a refresher:
- Unmarked intersections: When there is no signage at an intersection or crosswalk, the vehicle/bicycle to the right has the right of way. The vehicle/bicycle on the left must yield.
- 2-way intersections: Vehicles/bicycles must yield the right-of-way to those on the cross street before going ahead.
- 4-way intersections: The first vehicle/bicycle to the intersection is the first to go.
- STOP for school busses. When approaching a school bus that is coming to a stop, a bicyclist must come to a complete stop while the bus STOP arm is out and its stoplights are flashing. Once the STOP arm is retracted, a bicyclist may continue on its way.
- Emergency vehicles ALWAYS have the right-of-way. Drivers and bicyclists alike are required by law, when necessary, to pull over to the side of the road and stop until the emergency vehicle has passed.
- Parking. A bicycle may park wherever parking is permitted, be it on the curb of a street or on a sidewalk. Just please be mindful to park so that traffic and/or pedestrians can still get by.
- Lock up bicycles. Locking up a bicycle prevents theft. Locking a bike to a permanent structure will decrease the chances of a theft occurring. Good examples of structures to which you can lock a bicycle include fences, bike racks and large trees. Reliable bicycle locks are recommended and include U-locks or padlocks with chains or thick cables. Lock the whole bike. For example, run a cable through both the front and rear tires, as well as through the bicycle frame. This prevents pieces of the bicycle from being stolen.
- Obey directions from police officers. Police officers may give directions that are contrary to the right-of-way laws. Police direction is supreme to right-of-way laws.
- Yield to pedestrians and the disabled. Pedestrians have the right-of-way. If riding on a sidewalk, pedestrians have the right-of-way, and if there are many people around, walk instead of riding through the crowd. Drivers and bicyclists must give the right-of-way to disabled persons.
- Wear a helmet. Although not required by Illinois law, it is a good idea to always wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. Out of the about 1,000 bicycle related deaths in the U.S. each year, three fourths of those deaths are due to head injuries.
- Stay away from parked cars. Try to stay four feet from parked cars in order to avoid “dooring” accidents. Often times people inside parked vehicles will open a door without looking back to check for bicyclists. If there is enough room to avoid the open car door, bicyclists should try to do so. However, if there is no room, or if it would be unsafe to be four feet from parked cars, remain aware of the parked cars ahead and slow down so braking in an instant to avoid a suddenly open door will be easier to do.
Visibility is Key
The importance of proper attire cannot be overemphasized. Bright and reflective clothing is one of your best defenses against a collision with a car. If a driver cannot see you, they also may not be able to avoid running into you. If you are driving at night you may want to invest in a wearable flashing light, as there may not be enough light to shine off of your reflective clothing. This will not only help you avoid a collision with a driver but may also help prevent a parked driver from hitting you with their car door. It is quite common in Chicago for cyclists in bike lanes, which are right next to parked cars, to collide with a driver’s door as the driver attempts to exit their car. Bright clothing can help you avoid this.
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