Active Trans: New Bike Safety Ordinance Good for Cyclists

Bike-Sticker-Version-4-Taxi
The new taxi sticker design.

Yesterday Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced the 2013 Bicycle Safety Ordinance to City Council, including plans to double the fines for motorists who door bicyclists from $500 to $1,000, as well as to raise fines for cyclists who break traffic laws from $25 to a range of $50-$200, depending on the infraction. Emanuel also announced that all 7,000 Chicago taxicabs will be required to display “Look! Before Opening Your Door” stickers to help prevent injuries to people on bikes and other road users. The ordinance was sent to the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee for consideration.

“If they are sharing the roadway with vehicles, cyclists need to obey all traffic laws, including yielding to pedestrians, stopping at traffic signals and indicating when they are making turns,” Emanuel said in a statement. “When the traffic laws are obeyed, everyone is safer. By increasing the fines for failing to obey the law, cyclists will behave more responsibly, increasing safety and encouraging others to ride bikes.”

There were more than 250 dooring crashes in the city last year. In addition to doubling the dooring fine, the new ordinance would raise the penalty for leaving a vehicle door open in traffic from $150 to $300. The new red, transparent taxi stickers were designed by MINIMAL design studios, whose employee Neill Townsend was killed after he swerved to avoid a car door and was over by a truck on the Near North Side as he rode to work.

“Taxicab drivers need to be aware of cyclists traveling near their vehicles, but their customers must also take the time to look before opening doors into traffic,” Mayor Emanuel said. “These stickers will remind taxi customers to be more conscious of their surroundings before they exit the vehicle,” Emanuel said.

While cyclists have applauded the anti-dooring initiatives, some aren’t happy about the city raising the fines for bicycle violations, since running stop signs or stoplights on a bike is much less likely to cause injury to others than breaking the same laws in a car. “I’m all for safety but there are certainly non-reckless ways to go through a red light [on a bike],” Tony Adams posted on The Chainlink, a local social networking site for cyclists. “It makes no sense to sit at a red light, or come to a complete stop at a stop sign if there is no cross traffic with the right of way.”

Active Transportation Alliance Director Ron Burke said his organization supports higher fines for dangerous behavior by cyclists. “Like motorists and even pedestrians who use roads recklessly, people who ride bikes recklessly should also be ticketed,” he said in a post on the group’s website. “We don’t endorse ticketing cyclists and drivers for minor violations that put no one at risk. Let the police focus on more important matters. But if you’re putting people at risk, a ticket is warranted whether you’re biking, walking or driving.”

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Cyclist's viewpoint of a driver exiting a car. Photo by Steven Vance.

Ethan Spotts, communications director for the advocacy group, responded to Adams’ Chainlink post. “We support people getting tickets if they are disobeying the law, whether they are driving or biking,” he wrote. “We’re not calling for a crackdown on people on bikes. As an advocacy organization, we simply can’t say ‘It’s OK for people on bikes to blow red lights.'”

Chainlinker Cameron Puetz wrote to say he agreed with Active Trans’ viewpoint. “Respect gets respect and especially with the spring thaw there are a lot of people [riding] like idiots out there,” he said. “Unfortunately, the bad apples are the most visible. The guy wearing headphones on a brakeless fixie who weaves around pedestrians to blow a red light at a high traffic intersection just became the most memorable cyclist of the day to a lot of people whom he just endangered. He did something wrong and deserves a ticket.”

It seems unlikely the new ordinance alone will lead to police officers writing significantly more tickets to cyclists. In general the police, except for a relatively small number of traffic cops, dislike writing traffic tickets because of the paper work hassle, and they really don’t like to give out bike tickets. The Chicago Police Department wrote an estimated 1,300 tickets to cyclists in 2012, less than four per day. Needless to say, the number of tickets written to motorists is much higher.

While higher ticket prices to discourage dangerous biking might make sense, it wouldn’t be rational to charge cyclists anywhere near the same penalties as drivers. Since the new bike fines would be set by the CPD after the ordinance passes, we don’t yet know how the fees will compare, but Burke expects that fines for cyclists would be about half those for motorists. Currently, the fine for motorists running a stop sign is $100 to $300 for the first offense, $500 to $700 for the second and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Commenting on Streetsblog Chicago today, Active Trans Director of Campaigns Lee Crandell argued that even if there is no change to enforcement, the media attention generated by the new ordinance is a positive thing. “Press is … an effective way to raise awareness and educate the public,” he wrote. “Increasing the fines is generating a good amount press to bring attention to the dooring issue, while the stickers in cabs … will help cement ‘dooring’ into Chicago’s vocabulary.”

  • Jacob Peters

    The ordinance would be better if it included an “Idaho Stop” provision. I am wary of the prospect of getting a ticket for not coming to a complete stop at an intersection like Leavitt and Grace. I tend to roll through stop signs when I get to one before any cars or pedestrians, because when I do stop, cars tend to enter the intersection as I am beginning to pedal through without yielding right of way to me, causing near crashes. This happens to me on a regular basis, including on Tuesday at Leavitt & Roscoe, as well as yesterday at Webster & Racine. I will never defend running red lights, but I only roll through a stop if their is no car, or pedestrian to cede right of way to. “Idaho Stop” legislation could make these instances safer through clarity, because you still can be ticketed for failure to yield.

  • CL

    “It makes no sense to sit at a red light, or come to a complete stop at a stop sign if there is no cross traffic with the right of way.” I mean, you could say the same for cars, but I don’t think anyone wants it to be okay for drivers to look around, and then run red lights if they think it’s safe. There is a reason for the inefficiency of making vehicles (and pedestrians) wait when there is no traffic — it’s because people are not perfect judges of when it’s safe (even though everyone thinks they are a perfect judge of such things) — and a clear intersection can have traffic within a second if a car pulls out or turns a corner.

  • Fred

    I wonder if encouraging cab driver help could also save some lives. The driver has the advantage of mirrors which increase the ease of seeing a biker. If a cab driver were to check the his/her mirrors before the passenger exits s/he might be able to warn the passenger that a bike is approaching and to wait.

    I’m not advocating holding a cab driver responsible if one of their passengers doors somebody, but just getting them to help out the passenger somehow.

  • Fred

    Also, wouldn’t it make sense for this sticker to advertise the new $1000 dooring fine as well?

  • Alzo

    Exactly right. Fines, like rewards, get people’s attention. Put this on the front edge of rear passenger door windows and it will be read. The sticker needs to include it.

  • Except that cars moving at high speed through an intersection are far more dangerous than a bicycle that starts from a slow speed through a red light when there is no traffic. At red lights I always stop, there’s a few exceptions if there’s just absolutely no traffic at all. I like the idea of an Idaho stop at -some- stop signs in residential areas.

  • A couple of times, I’ve seen cabs with special mirrors added for exiting passengers to see behind them. These are attached to the outside of a cab on the pillars between front and rear doors. I wish that ALL cabs had them.

  • Unfortunately, Active Trans says an Idaho Stop law does not seem to be in the cards in the near future.

  • CL

    A bike not stoping is dangerous for the cyclist — and the state has just as much interest in you not getting yourself hit by a car (when you are at fault) as it has in cars not hitting you (when they are at fault). Accidents caused by bikes aren’t anymore okay just because bikes aren’t as lethal. It’s good that you always stop at red lights, though.

  • I’m saying an Idaho stop at some signs would be nice. I live by Leland in Uptown and there’s a stop every block. If I take Leland to avoid cars, but there’s not a lot of traffic on Leland, I can probably go through stop signs slowly. That’s what I’m saying. Maybe they could throw up yield signs for bikes along calmer routes.

  • CL

    What you describe doesn’t sound horribly unsafe — and given the reality that many cyclists currently run everything, maybe a good compromise would be yield signs for bikes at certain quiet residential intersections while actually enforcing the law at lights.

  • Jakub Muszynski

    That would work perfectly on the Neighborhood
    Greenways CDOT is going to be implementing in the next couple of years. It makes perfect sense to have cars yield at residential intersections and wait for a cyclist to pass.

  • Through the South Loop Wabash has beautiful protected lanes, and a stop sign every block, so I just take michigan, because if I time myself right, using the pedestrian countdowns and such, I never have to stop on michigan, and I also don’t run any lights. Sometimes it just easier to take a bigger street.

  • Active Trans. gets funding from city hall. Since the folks there know where their meal ticket comes from, they are going to support the mayor 100 percent rather than advocate for something better. Ron Burke fails to disclose the funding and city relationships in his blog post, posing as a neutral participant.

  • First, Active Trans doesn’t just “get funding.” from City Hall. The organization is paid the market value for the contract work its Bike Ambassadors do for CDOT’s bike program. Period. They’re not going to get very far in that work – mainstreaming cycling – by saying cyclists should be able ride however they please.

    Second, what’s really so outrageous about holding cyclists accountable for yielding to the legal right-of-way – to drivers, pedestrians, or other riders? Every ride I take in the Kinzie lane is a half mile lesson in abject embarrassment at boorish and rude behavior of many cyclists who couldn’t care less who’s turn it is at the three signed intersections. Many times, I’ll stop at the Orleans sign to yield to a driver that was there first or to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, only have some jerk fly right past me, not even considering the possibility that other people exist. I’m left standing there feeling a dog owner who’s progeny just shat on someone else’s rug.

    The Idaho stop – which isn’t legal here, but almost all cyclists subscribe to whether they know what it is or not, including me – does not equal cyclists-don’t-have-to-stop-for-anyone. It means that a stop sign for a cyclist is to be treated as yield sign. As in, if someone else has the right of way before the cyclist, the cyclist has to yield to them. Maybe even stop!

    Requiring a cyclist to put their foot down at a stop sign in every instance is ludicrous (stop signs and traffic lights exist for two reasons: because car crashes cost a LOT of money and blood, and because Americans are so litigious – if you’ve ever been to Europe, especially the central cities, most traffic control is self-regulating) and the thumb-suckers crying that this is what Ron Burke and the Mayor’s ordinance are trying to do are propagating a straw man argument to continue riding as they please: like selfish jerks.

    Burke’s point is – and always has been – while ultimately Chicago’s streets need to be designed for the needs of all users, if cyclists want motorists to follow the rules on the same street they are riding in, we can’t very well not follow the rules either. Active Trans’ stance on this matter has ALWAYS been, Same road? Same rules.

  • Active Trans also provides the bike parking consultant for CDOT’s bike program.

  • CL

    Man. I was just out driving, and I accidentally yielded to an approaching cyclist at a stop sign when it was my turn. He was riding on the sidewalk (sigh) so I think I absentmindedly thought of him as a pedestrian on wheels when I gestured that he could keep going in front of me. But then I thought, it’s not a bad standard. We are supposed to yield to pedestrians at stop signs, while they have to stop at lights until they get a walk signal. Treating cyclists as similar-ish could work.

  • David

    My girlfriend was just struck by a bike. The woman cyclist really slammed into her hard. The car was turning into an alley off Milwaukee, traffic had stopped to let her turn, she was almost into the alley where I was standing. The cyclist slammed into her car at a high rate of speed, she was in the bike lane between parked cars and stopped traffic. She had ear buds in, connected to her phone no helmet, completely unaware of her surroundings. She never appeared to even try to stop. My girlfriend was horrified, and felt terrible. She went to the hospital for stitches. Ive seen this happen again and again on Milwaukee. I just dont get it, what are bikers thinking?

  • Thanks for your comment. By law, turning vehicles must yield to oncoming traffic, including bikes. On Milwaukee Avenue, the city’s biggest busiest bike street, where there are bike lanes or shared-lane markings for almost the entire length, it should be especially obvious to drivers that they need to carefully check for bikes before turning left or right. Your girlfriend didn’t do this.

    If it was a 2,000-pound car that struck your girlfriend’s vehicle due to her failure to check for oncoming traffic before turning left, instead of a 150-pound bike and human being who received cuts and/or lacerations, I assume you would acknowledge that the crash was your girlfriend’s fault.

    Unfortunately, because of a loophole in the law, it’s not clear that your girlfriend would be held liable. It’s logical for cyclists to pass stopped cars on the right, but currently in Chicago it’s only legal to do this if there is a bike lane. If there were only share-lane markings on this stretch of Milwaukee, the victim might have trouble recovering damages. Here’s some info on this issue: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/02/01/passing-on-the-right-the-obscure-traffic-law-every-cyclist-might-be-breaking/

  • CL

    It’s hard to judge this without seeing it, but isn’t there some responsibility to stop to avoid an accident when something is blocking your path? For example, we all agreed that in the recent incident, even though jaywalking is illegal and the cab driver had the right of way, the cab driver had a responsibility to stop instead of hitting the person.

    My opinion of this would depend on how close the cyclist was when the driver turned — if the cyclist was right there and had no chance to stop, the driver should have yielded to the bike just like you have to yield to cars when you turn left. But when I’m driving, I frequently happen upon situations where someone is making a turn through traffic, or a big truck is pulling out so everyone has stopped to let him — and I would consider it my fault if I didn’t brake.

  • CL, which recent incident are you referring to?

    It seems pretty clear this was a sudden left turn by David’s girlfriend and the bicyclist had no time to stop. If the car was blocking the bike lane for a significant amount of time before the cyclist got there, unless the cyclist was riding with her eyes closed, she would have seen the car and had time to hit the brakes.

    By the way, the fact that the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet has absolutely nothing to do with whether the crash was her fault.

  • CL

    I was referring to this story:

    http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/05/28/cab-driver-kills-man-crossing-eight-lanes-of-cicero-near-midway/

    The cab driver had the right of way, and the pedestrian shouldn’t have been jaywalking in the street, but the driver was cited for striking the person (which I agree with).

    We don’t know how long the girlfriend was turning — but if it was sudden, then I agree that it was the girlfriend’s fault.

    But it just seems people want there to be different standards for cars and bikes when it comes to striking a person or vehicle that is in the way. I remember my drivers’ ed instructor drilling it into me that I needed to be driving slowly and carefully enough to brake if someone ran into the street in front of me, and driving in the city involves frequently braking for obstructions / jaywalkers / cyclists / etc even though they often shouldn’t be in the road at that time. If you don’t, it’s failure to break to avoid an accident.

  • With the Cicero Avenue crash, it does appear that the pedestrian was crossing against the light. The driver was cited for driving too fast for conditions because it was the police officer’s opinion that the crash was preventable. It was nighttime and it may have been raining at the time of the crash, so that factored into the officer’s decision.

    With the Milwaukee Avenue crash, I want Dave’s girlfriend to be held to at least the same standard of responsibility she would be if the victim had been driving a car instead of riding a bike.

    But you’re correct, I think there should be a double standard for cars and bikes when it comes to safety. That’s exactly how things work in the Netherlands and Denmark, and it’s a big factor in why cycling and walking is so safe there. In those countries, the law says that in crashes involving vulnerable road users, unless it can be clearly proven that the vulnerable road user was at fault, the more powerful road user
    is found liable by default.

    Your driver’s ed teacher gave you good advice. Say a small child runs into the street after a ball. You want to be driving slowly and cautiously enough so that you can avoid a crash. Otherwise, even if you’re technically not at fault, you’re going to have that kid’s death on your conscience for the rest of your life. In most cases, if you’re following the posted speed limit, you’re not going to have a problem.

  • CL

    Yes, I agree that it was good advice, and it has stuck with me. There were almost no pedestrians in the rural place where I’m from, but I often think of that advice in the city. The last thing I want is to be involved in any sort of collision, regardless of fault, and that means driving defensively and anticipating that people are going to wander into the street (because they often do! Especially on Clark in Rogers Park where I live). I’d like the standard to be the same for cyclists when they have time to react, but I can understand the perspective that drivers have an even greater responsibility.

  • Andrea

    I am a driver and often am furious at the very obvious unsafe decisions that bikers make on a daily basis. However I do understand that we must share the road and everyone must be aware of each other, whether you are a driver, biker, or walker. I can completely imagine this situation. Based on how this was described, the cars were all stopped, allowing your girlfriend to carefully turn into the alley. Because the bike lane is on the other side of the cars, it is hidden somewhat. A bike lane still has stop signs, alleys, and other obstructions bikers need to be aware of. Its not just a free-for-all in those bike lanes. If she was mostly into the alley and the biker hit the middle or back of her car, I would say the biker had enough time to slow down. Although we know cars are typically supposed to yield to bikers, this term I think is being abused.

  • How do you feel about the very obvious unsafe decisions that drivers make on a daily basis, considering that there are about 50 times as many of them and they’re controlling 2,000-pound vehicles that can easily kill other people?

  • Thurman Wenzl

    also on Milwaukee – at dusk last night, very few riders had lights and one was almost struck by someone making a left turn in a car. I had lights (front and rear) and would estimate that perhaps 10% of the others had any lights. We need to protect ourselves and make sure we’re visible.

  • Daniel Espaniel

    Well, I can say one thing for certain, that cyclist will probably begin to do what I started doing after I was doored out of nowhere, flipped out into the street, and nearly had my leg run over by the car behind me that ran over my bike and never stopped. The only reason my very first reaction was to scramble to the curb as fast as possible was because I had looked behind me 5 or 10 seconds before the accident and knew a car was coming. And what I started doing was slowing down when stuck between moving traffic and parked cars. And I mean slowing way down. And wearing a helmet after that incident. And anyone who wears earphones and listens to loud music, or any music for that matter while biking in heavily congested traffic, is pretty damn ignorant in my opinion. You are cutting your senses off with the distraction and the likelihood of an accident to occur is far greater. Every single time I see a young kid or adult riding recklessly in that manner the very first thing that comes to mind is, “He/she obviously hasn’t been doored yet. Give it time.” I saw a kid riding south down Western Ave during the rush hour madness with a fixed gear, no hands on the handlebar, earphones intact, and staring down into his phone while texting. Sorry man, but to me, that’s just another human being practically asking to be dead.

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