Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Path To Safety In Chicago

Generally, Illinois bicyclists may ride in the street, and in most instances they should.  Our city's streets do not exist for motorized traffic, but for all traffic.  There is an important exception to this rule, however, at least in Chicago.  Section 9-52-020 of the Municipal Code states,
(d) Whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.
For you Chicagoans racking your brains to think of a place where this situation may exist, consider North Humboldt Drive. Between North Avenue and Augusta Boulevard, a distance of about a mile, Humboldt Drive slices through Humboldt Park, one of the most beautiful parks in the city.  The scenery is wonderful, with ball fields, duck ponds, trees and even a beach.  However, it is a very dangerous road on which to ride a bike.  The pavement is usually in poor condition, and there is no shoulder on this narrow four lane street.  But, there is a path that runs immediately adjacent to Humboldt Drive on the southbound side of the road.  Take a look:

Arguably, when riding southbound on Humboldt Drive between North and Augusta the cyclist must exit the roadway and utilize the path instead.  I must admit that section 9-52-020 does not make this perfectly clear.  The municipal code does not define the term "usable path for bicycles".  Does it mean any path on which a bike could possibly travel?  Or, does it mean a path specifically designated for bicycles?  The path depicted in the video above is not just a bicycle path.  It is used by pedestrians as well.  That ambiguity aside, it is certainly possible that a citation issued to a cyclist for riding in the road rather than the path could withstand judicial scrutiny.  That may not be a bad thing either.  I am certainly an proponent of cyclists' rights to use the roadway.  However, when I have seen bicyclists on southbound Humboldt Drive not utilizing the path just the their right, I cringe.  It is just a dangerous place to be.

I should point out that a sidewalk is not a "usable path for bicycles."  Section 9-52-020 is explicit that, "No person 12 or more years of age shall ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in any district, unless such sidewalk has been officially designated and marked as a bicycle route."  Illinois bicyclists absolutely may ride in the street even if there is an adjacent sidewalk present.


  1. Why is a sidewalk not a usable bicycle path?

    If bicyclists are going to argue that walking pedestrians are a hazard to bicycles, can't you see that bicycles can be a hazard to vehicles in traffic?

    I'm all for bicycle safety, but as a driver in Chicago, I don't see bicyclists being very considerate in traffic. On the contrary I see running of red lights, stop signs, improper turn yielding, and general unpredictable behavior veering through traffic on a regular basis.

    Please explain, I'm trying to understand.

  2. Simply put, Chicago municipal ordinance states that sidewalks may not be used for bicycling by anyone over 11 years old. In Chicago, sideways have been declared usable bike paths for adults as a matter of law.

    I'm not aware of any bicyclists who would argue that pedestrians are a hazard to bicycles. It is true that some bicyclists will be inconsiderate. There are irresponsible members within any group. But the inconsiderate actions of a small minority should not be used as a basis to limit the rights of whole group.

    Originally, paved roads were created for the use and benefit of bicyclists. Of course, in modern times, most roads have been designed primarily with the motorist in mind. But that is changing. Going forward, roadway designs -- at least those pertaining to roads constructed with federal dollars -- must take both forms of transportation in mind. This should make sharing the road a more pleasurable and safer experience for everyone. Fingers crossed. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Unfortunately, "the law states...", isn't really an answer.

    Laws change, and what I was hoping for was a reasonable explanation of the situation more recent than century-old logistical planning.

    I have had the debate with others that in terms of city planning the bike lanes are on the wrong side of the parked cars. Logically it should be Pedestrians, Bicycles, Parked cars, Motor vehicle traffic..

    Does that sound reasonable to you? It would eliminate much of the traffic/bicycle interactions, create a safety buffer between traffic and bicycles in the form of the parked cars, and also separate the on-foot pedestrians and bikes. Busy intersections would still be a mess, but at least the straightaways would be better off.

  4. In my experience, that path is not continuous and direct enough to really count as a viable north/south alternative through the park along Humboldt. Cyclists should not have to weave on and off a path. The underpass to cross the little river further complicates matters. I avoid avoid except for when I am jogging.

    Here is an aerial which shows how the path you refer to is just a small stretch, starting south of the river crossing.,-95.677068&sspn=50.111473,77.783203&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Humboldt+Park,+Chicago,+Illinois&ll=41.906058,-87.701492&spn=0.002898,0.004748&t=h&z=18


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