The way you ride is probably a crime. Illinois law requires all bicyclists to stop at every stop light and every stop sign: Every single time. Do you do that? Right. If you are like most reasonable Chicago bicyclists you stop and wait for the light to turn at busy intersections. You never "blow through" stop signs. You always look for traffic when approaching even the quietest intersections. But you do not always stop. You fairy consider yourself a safe cyclist. In my opinion, there is a disconnect between what the law presently is, and the way many reasonable cyclists ride. This is bad for cycling. Criminalizing the way the vast majority of reasonable bicyclists ride does not help broaden the appeal of urban cycling nor the image of bicyclists in general among the non-biking public. Thankfully, there seems to be a movement afoot to change this, one I would like to see Chicago and our state adopt.
Right now, more places are seriously considering allowing bicyclists to yield at stop signs and lights. If these initiatives take root, cyclists would not have to stop at intersections under certain circumstances. To be clear, no one anywhere is seriously talking about allowing bicyclists to recklessly blow through traffic lights and stop signs. Rather, under measured consideration is permitting cyclists to yield if traffic is present at an intersection, but not waste time by stopping when nary a car is in sight. These proposals are under serious consideration in London, several cities in France, and in Arizona. In London, under consideration at some 500 or so intersections is the possibility of giving bicyclists an "early start," according to The Guardian. Each intersection or junction is to be separately assessed by Transport for London (equivalent to the DOT) to determine if permitting an early start makes sense given the existing conditions and risks to bicyclists. The plan could "include the installation of traffic lights set with an 'early start' phase for cyclists, allowing them to move ahead of the mass of motor traffic," according to The Guardian. In France, permitting cyclists to treat lights and stop lights as yield indicators is being tested, according to Treehugger. The relaxed rule is being tested at 15 intersections in Paris and at locations in the cities of Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Nantes. The law requires that "cyclists yield to pedestrians and opposing traffic," according to Treehugger, and bicyclists will, of course, need to rely on their own self-preservation instincts to avoid calamity with motor vehicles. So far, "these experiments have led to no rise in the number of accidents," the website reports.
Some will scoff at these overseas measures. Those goofy europeans; so permissive. However, Arizona may be poised to become the second state in the nation to permit bicyclists to yield at traffic control devices. For some time now Idaho has permitted bicyclists to do so. Now, Arizona House Bill 2211, a bipartisan measure, "would allow bicyclists 16 and older to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. Cyclists could ride through without stopping if there were no other cars around but would still have to stop and yield to any cars in the intersection," according to azcentral.com. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Patterson (D) and Rep. Vic Williams (R), in its present state would also establish that, "If after riding past a yield sign or stop sign without stopping the bicycle rider is involved in a collision in the intersection, the collision is prima facie evidence of the bicycle rider's failure to yield the right-of-way." One supporter of the bill notes that the proposed law, "Isn't a green light to blast through a stop sign," according to azcentral.com.
Recently, our own state's legislature has demonstrated an understanding that traffic laws may require revision to reflect sensible human tendencies. Earlier this year, a new Illinois law went into affect that permits bicyclists outside of Chicago to pass through red light controlled intersections where the light fails to detect their presence and when no other vehicles are present. While obviously not as far reaching as the other initiatives described above, this law is an important step because it recognizes that it sometimes does not make sense to treat bikes just like cars. Safety should not require a bicyclist to wait for a light to change when good sense and the circumstances permit safe passage through an intersection.
At the moment our state's traffic laws criminalize the way sensible, careful bicyclists ride. This sends a terrible message and gives fringe anti-bicyclists something to scream about every time a cyclist rides through a light. Cyclists should not be legally permitted to blast through stop signs, but let us consider where it might make sense to revise the rules of the road.