Friday, August 30, 2013

Clarity Spreads: All Illinois Bicyclists May Pass Slower Vehicles On The Right

Governor Pat Quinn has signed a bill that that makes it clear that all Illinois bicyclists may pass stopped or slow moving vehicles on the right.  The bill was signed on August 16th and goes into effect on January 1, 2014.  It sailed through the Illinois House and Senate and made it to the governor's desk thanks to the strong backing it had from the Active Transportation Alliance and its sponsors, State Representative Laura Fine of Glenview and Senator Thomas Cullerton of Villa Park.

The bill, a one sentence fix added to a portion of the Illinois Vehicle Code, was proposed and written by me after one of our clients was ticketed by Chicago police after she was doored by a vehicle passenger as she passed the car on the right.  She was pregnant at the time of the crash.  Though she was riding causiously she received a citation due to confusion over the law on the part of the officer that wrote the ticket. Her case was brought to the public's attention thanks to a post by Ken Griffith at Chi.StreetsBlog.Org:
Lilly was lying in the trauma unit at Northwestern Memorial. (For anonymity, she that asked we only use her nickname.) She’d been doored on Lincoln Avenue on her morning bike commute, and now doctors were swarming around her, trying to determine if her pregnancy, then five months along, was at risk. 
That’s when the police officer who had responded at the crash scene walked in to drop off the incident report and to let Lilly, 30, know that — by the way — she was at fault for the crash. Her heart-rate monitor began beeping furiously — how could she be at fault? She’d been riding in the shared [bike] lane on Lincoln, passing between the line of stopped traffic and the line of parked cars, when a passenger in one of the cars idling in the traffic lane swung his door open straight into her bike, sending her spinning into the pavement.
The new legislative fix clears up the confusion over whether a section of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code, allowing for right-sided passing only when eight feet of space is available in which to do so, applied to bicyclists. Rarely will there be eight feet available between slowed and standing motor vehicle traffic and vehicles parallel parked along the right curb, at least in urban areas.  Thus the law as it was seemed to bar passing on the right in many if not most circumstances available to the urban  and in-town bicyclist; a prohibition that would likely make travel by bike nearly as much of a teeth grinding slog as is driving a car in traffic.  The statute at issue was Section 11-704(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code which stated:
The driver of a 2 wheeled vehicle may not pass upon the right of any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the unobstructed pavement to the right of the vehicle being passed is of a width of not less than 8 feet.  625 ILCS 5/11-704(b)
It may have seemed reasonable at first to consider a bicycle a "2 wheeled vehicle."  After all, in many instances the Vehicle Code treats the bicycle as just another vehicle.  Section 11-1502 states that, "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Code..."  

Unfortunately, however, some had ended their analysis of the law there, creating confusion that lead to Lilly getting a ticket.  Our Vehicle Code may grant bicyclists many of the same rights as drivers, but it explicitly distinguishes what is a "vehicle" and what is not. The Code defines the term "vehicle" in Section 1-217 as, "Every device, in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway or requiring a certificate of title. . ., except devices moved by human power. . ." (emphasis added).  Further, Section 1-106 defines a "bicycle" as, "Every device propelled by human power upon which any person may ride, having two tandem wheels except scooters and similar devices."  A bicycle, therefore, is not - and never was - a vehicle under the Code.  Hence, Section 11-704(b)'s "eight foot rule" could only have applied to motorized two wheeled devices, motorcycles, scooters, mopeds and the like.  There was legal precedent for this reading of the law as I documented in a post about this issue earlier this year.  But a simple clarification to be added to Section 11-704(b) seemed like the best and most practical solution to ensure that no other injured bicyclists would be ticketed unnecessarily.

Ron Burke and Max Muller, Active Trans' executive director and director of government relations, respectively, and I discussed how to fix the law.  We decided on a single sentence:  "This subsection does not apply to devices propelled by human power."  Simple, we all agreed, would be best.  There would be no need to reference other parts of the Code or reach for legislature intent.  The language succinctly spoke for itself.

Earlier this summer, Chicago passed an ordinance that similarly clarified application of the eight-foot-rule within the City's borders.  Now, as Max wrote in a blog post yesterday, all "Illinoisans riding bicycles may confidently pass slow-moving cars on the right side of the road and know that they are on solid ground legally."

As for Lilly's case, it is ongoing.  The driver's insurance company rejected her claim because she was ticketed in the crash.  A lawsuit has been filed and we intend to take the matter to trial if necessary.

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