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Smart Streets, Complete Streets ordinances pass; Plow the Sidewalks introduced

5:06 PM CDT on March 15, 2023

A driver stopped last night in a Logan Boulevard bike lane. (We’ve blurred the plate number.) Photo: John Greenfield

Today's City Council meeting was very eventful from a livable streets perspective. The Smart Streets Pilot ordinance to test automated enforcement of bus lanes, bikeways, and loading zones passed. The Complete Streets ordinance to require the Chicago Department of Transportation to include walk/bike/transit upgrades in all roadway projects was approved. The Plow the Sidewalks ordinance for municipal sidewalk snow clearance was introduced. And an ordinance was submitted, with the support of almost all of the 50 alderpersons, that would specify that bike riders as "permitted and intended road users." Here's a recap of the legislation.

Villegas discusses the Plow the Sidewalks ordinance at todays's press conference while nine other alders who've endorsed the measure stand by.

"Snow and ice-covered sidewalks are the number-one complaint we get from out community in winter," said Access Living transportation policy analyst Laura Saltzman at the presser. "For wheelchair users, people who are low-vision or blind, and other folks with mobility issues, having consistently clear sidewalks is not just a luxury but a necessity. It is the difference between getting to the doctor, or your job, or just hanging out with friend [or not.]"

"Sidewalks are the cornerstone of our transportation system," said Better Streets policy lead Michael Podgers at the event. "Whether you walk, roll, bike, drive, or ride transit, you will use a sidewalk at some point in your day. Yet, the city continues to inadequately manage the public way when snow falls and ice builds – something Chicago is no stranger to. The city must take responsibility for keeping [sidewalks] plowed and free of snow and ice in the exact same way the city plows streets for drivers."

The ordinance was introduced with out further discussion, and assigned to the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety committee.

Intended Road Users ordinance

I'll confess that this one took me by surprise. After the meeting Vasquez tweeted that he introduced an ordinance to the Committee on Transportation to amend the Chicago municipal code so that it says "bicyclists shall be permitted and intended users of all roadways [emphasis added] in the city, except as otherwise explicitly provided in this code, or by clear, conspicuous signage posted on the public way..." 44 of the 50 City Council members signed on to endorse the measure.

Why is this important? It all goes back to the Illinois Supreme Court's notorious Boub versus Wayne decision in the wake of a 1992 bike crash. Jon Boub was badly injured when he rode his bike across a wooden bridge across the Du Page River in Wayne Township in rural Du Page County. Earlier in the day a crew had removed asphalt from between the planks, which wouldn't have been a problem for a car driver, but caused Boub's front wheel to get stuck, throwing him over the handlebars.

The court ruled that bike riders are "permitted" but not "intended" users of Illinois roads, and so the township wasn't liable. This decision set a precedent that when Illinois municipalities install bike lanes, they take on additional liability, because otherwise they wouldn't be responsible if a cyclist crashed there due to unsafe conditions for bikes.

So if Vasquez's ordinance passes, there would be no disincentive for Chicago to install bikeways on any street, and there'd be an incentive to maintain safe conditions for cyclists on every roadway where biking is allowed. That's because bike riders would be defined as "intended users" of that street, whether or not it has bike facilities.

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