Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ride To The Right, Except When You Can't

Illinois bicyclists must ride along the right side of the roadway, except when they can't. Let me explain: If you are able to travel at the same speed as motorized traffic, then you may travel in the same lane. However, if you cannot the law requires that you ride "as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." 625 ILCS 5/11-1505. But anyone with experience riding in the city knows that doing so is rarely easy. Torn-up pavement, stopped cars, debris, CTA buses, pedestrians and man-eating crocodiles often inhabit the "right-hand curb or edge of the roadway" making cycling scary and dangerous. What is the cyclist permitted to do when faced with such hazards? Section 11-1505 of the Motor Vehicle Code contains an exception. It states that you must ride to the right "except. . . When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions [like] 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." (emphasis added) What this means in plain language is that if an object like, say, a tree branch or a bus sits in your path on the right side of the road, you may move to your left, taking the traffic lane, in order to proceed around the object. You must then return to the right side of the road.

Bicyclists may "take the lane" when it is reasonable to do so. City streets do not exist for motorized traffic, but for all traffic. That is the law. That fact noted, I must caution that taking the lane does not mean darting into traffic, not looking before merging left. The Municipal Code of Chicago, and good sense, states, "Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right-hand side of the roadway, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same same direction and at all times giving the right-of-way to other moving vehicles." 9-52-040(c) If there is a motor vehicle coming up on your left that vehicle will have the right of way and the cyclist must yield. However, the motorist owes the cyclist a duty of care as well. Chicago's Municipal Code states, "The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet, when passing the bicycle or individual and shall maintain that distance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual." 9-36-010(c) When a bicyclist moves to his or her left to go around an object along the right side of the roadway cars and trucks may not crowd or buzz the cyclist, but must give three feet of space at minimum.
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