For Chicago bike riders, there is one rule of the road: bikers are always right. At least that's the impression you get from many in the cyclist community.
A heated debate has been brewing on the Chicago EveryBlock forums regarding Chicago's biking laws. The original poster, Jay, claims that "bikes have the right of way always." I have heard this statement -- which is factually incorrect, and I will explain why in a second -- echoed by others in the cyclist community. Of course, Jay's comments elicited an outpouring of anger and disagreement from pedestrians and drivers alike. And as any Chicagoan knows, getting pedestrians and drivers to agree on something is pretty remarkable.
I have witnessed the cockiness of bikers firsthand. Just the other day, I was almost run over by a two-wheeling speed demon who felt that a four-way stop applied to everyone but him and his Schwinn. Part of me had the urge to jump in front of his vehicle and let my teeth fall where they may. But my common sense, and insufficient health coverage, had me thinking twice.
Why cyclists feel that street signs and basic traffic laws do not apply to them is beyond me. Yes, you are not protected by the safety mechanisms and solid bodies of an automobile. But that doesn't give you free reign of the road. Pedestrians have the least amount of protection of all, and we are exceptionally slow, making us easy prey for anything on wheels.
As it turns out, Chicago bike riders have limited rights and a load of responsibilities, according to the Chicago municipal code. Not only are bikes bound to the same rules of the road as other vehicles, but they must also "[give] the right-of-way to other moving vehicles." So, yes Johnny Bike Messenger, you do have to stop at that red light. And yes, Suzy Fixie, you do have to yield to pedestrians.
Now before you get your spokes bent out of shape, bikers, let it be known that there are special Chicago bike safety ordinances just for you. For instance, motorists making a left-hand turn must yield to oncoming bicyclists just as they would yield to oncoming cars. There is also a law prohibiting opening a vehicle door into moving traffic, helping to prevent those dreaded "doorings." Each violation of the ordinance will cost an individual $150, unless the violation results in an actual bike crash. Then the penalty increases to $500.
Chicagoans better start studying up on their bike rights and responsibilities before next summer. That's when, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the city plans to institute a new bike-share initiative. Yes, how European. Evidently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein are searching for a contractor to supply the city with 3,000 bikes for a city-run rent-a-bike program. The plan is to designate 300 stations throughout the city by the summer of 2012, with the program expanding to encompass 5,000 bikes and 500 stations by 2014. That's a lot of extra bikers on the road.
Let's end on a note of reconciliation. Can we all agree that there isn't really a hierarchy among drivers, bike riders and pedestrians? Isn't it just that whatever mode of transportation you are using at any given moment is the best and that everyone else is a fool? And finally, can't we agree that no one sucks quite as much as rollerbladers? I mean really, do you have to take up an entire lane? You are impossible to pass.
Follow Keith Ecker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@keithecker