Let's be frank, many of us who frequently ride our bicycles in the city tend to follow few set rules. It's not because urban cyclists are a bunch of arrogant jerks (although there are surely some within our ranks); it's just that the reality of the constantly changing landscape through which we travel requires constant innovation. Cars, pedestrians and the streets themselves are unpredictable, so we dart, dash, swerve, squeeze and skid about the city because we have to (and because it's fun). The rhythm of the city and the traffic that pulses through it often has little to do with the rules of the road. Nevertheless, it is prudent to understand what the law requires of us as urban cyclists. When a collision occurs, you may need to look to the law for help.
There are several statutes and ordinances which govern how the Chicago bicyclist is supposed to conduct himself or herself. Both sets of laws can be found in the "Links" list along the right side of this blog. For this post I address the law that dictates where exactly you are supposed to ride your bike on the roadway. Should you ride in the middle of traffic? On the right? On the left? Where do you belong? The bottom line is that you belong in the safest part of the roadway given traffic and roadway conditions. The relevant statute states:
Position of bicycles and motorized pedal cycles on roadways -- Riding on roadways and bicycle paths. (a) Any person operating a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under the following situations:
1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle, motorized pedal cycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction; or
2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway; or
3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, motorized pedal cycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this subsection, a "substandard width lane" means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
4. When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
(b) Any person operating a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle upon a one-way highway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge or such roadway as practicable.
625 ILCS 5/11-1505
If you are riding at about the same speed as traffic, as is sometimes the case in a congested urban setting, then you may ride within a lane as if you where riding a motorized vehicle. You always have the same rights, and also the same duties, as a driver of a motor vehicle. 625 ILCS 5/11-1502. If cars and trucks are moving much faster than you are then you must travel "as close as practicable" to the right side of the road. You may pass a slower bicyclist. You may leave the right side of the road to make a left turn, assuming of course that it's safe to do so. You may also leave the right side of the road to avoid hitting stuff like swinging doors, little dogs on leashes, pedestrians on cell phones, giant potholes and the like. Do not feel like you must force yourself to ride in the gutter. It is often not safe to do so, and the law does not require it. Remember, we are traffic.