Monday, November 1, 2010

Local News Depicts Chicago Bicyclists As Reckless Scofflaws

The anti-bicycling video below aired on Chicago's ABC 7 News over the weekend.  Its point was to demonstrate bicyclists violating traffic laws.  It is true that bicyclists are required to abide by the same traffic laws as motorized traffic.  However, I would have liked the news piece to have taken note that bicyclists are among the most vulnerable users of our roads.  The vast majority of cyclists are not trying to be outlaws.  People bike in the city to stay healthy, enjoy themselves, reduce traffic gridlock and save money.  But biking in Chicago is dangerous.  The name of the game is to be safe, to stay out of the way of motorized traffic when possible.  Sometimes the best way to do that -- the safest approach -- is to take action that technically violates the law.  People ride on the sidewalks because there are no cars there.  Sometimes cyclists slow and go at traffic control devices to stay ahead of motor vehicles.  There are reckless biking scofflaws out there to be sure, just as there are law flouting motorists on the roads.  It would have made for more interesting viewing had ABC 7 chosen to delve more deeply into why some bicyclists feel it necessary to violate traffic laws when out riding.  One troubling implication of this story was that bicyclists tend to be at fault for causing their own injuries.  There is a bit of mythology in that suggestion.  A recent study demonstrated that it simply is not true.  No mention was made of that by ABC 7.

Also, there was one glaring inaccuracy in the story.  The news presenter noted that fixed gear bikes without handlebar mounted brakes are illegal in Chicago.  That's not true.   The relevant Chicago ordinance states:

(b) Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake that will enable the operator to make the braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. 9-52-080.

The relevant Illinois statute states:

(c) Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will adequately control movement of and stop and hold such bicycle. 625 ILCS 5/11-1507.Neither law defines the term "brake". 

Neither states that the required brake must consist of a lever, cable and caliper. As fixed gear riders know, the bicycle's drive train consisting of the fixed rear cog, chain, cranks, pedals and the rider's legs act as a braking system, one that works better than the uninitiated may think. It is common to abruptly stop pedaling locking up the rear wheel causing the bike to skid to a complete stop.  In fact, one U.S. jurisdiction, Washington D.C., has changed its cycling ordinance to explicitly permit the fixed gear braking system.


  1. (From the video) "... and taking up entire lanes of traffic..."

    Brendan, aren't we allowed to take up an entire lane of traffic? I often do so when there is no bike lane or enough room to safely ride to the right of automobile traffic, most often for my commute on Harrison between Racine and Michigan.

  2. Someone riding a bike is allowed to take up an entire lane of traffic when it is not safe to share the lane (side by side) with other modes (bus, car, truck, etc...), or when changing lanes to make a turn onto another road.

  3. I wonder if the segment would have been longer had they edited the footage to show motorist infractions.

    You can take the lane in most NA jurisdictions as long as you have a reason (like avoiding car doors and being 'buzzed').

  4. Motorists do an excellent job of rationalizing my potential death every day. Anonymous fail.

  5. Will, Steve is correct. A bicyclist may, and should, "take the lane" when riding along the right side of the road is not possible or becomes unsafe. Here's a link to a more thorough discussion of the law on that subject:

  6. A bicyclist can only take up an entire lane if there are hazards preventing him/her from staying to the right, like a pothole, parked car, or debris. That doesn't appear to be the case in the video, especially with the man riding in the middle of the left turn lane (instead of staying on the right).

  7. The right side of the left turn lane, that is...

  8. If you are breaking the laws, it is not relavent to point at other drivers who are breaking the laws. It doesn't give you the right to ride recklessly and endanger others just because you see other people doing it, as well.

    I'm a pedestrian, and a driver (who does not disegard traffic laws), and when I ride my bicycle, I honor the rules of the road. I am sick of being victimized by a bunch of hypocritical eco-terrorists. Follow the rules, or ditch your bikes. And get some damn insurance if you are going to put other people's well-beings in jeopardy.


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