Rules of the Road

Rules of the Road

I just bought myself a used, single-speed bike with a big, comfy seat, and I’m hoping to spend more time this summer biking around town.

Champaign and Urbana have been working to make the cities more bicycle-friendly, with bike lanes and sharrows established on many city streets.

But the new markings can be confusing to cyclists and motorists who are unfamiliar with them. The Champaign County Bikes organization is beginning an education campaign on how bicycle riders and drivers can share the road safely.

The organization wants to build on the success of its second C-U Bike to Work Day, on May 3, which had more than 900 bicyclists registered. It presented safety information recently at a bike rodeo at the Market at the Square in Urbana.

And the first of a series of bicycle safety posters are now inside MTD buses.

“As we increase bicycle infrastructure, people haven’t seen (the markings before),” said Charlie Smyth, an Urbana alderman and member of Champaign County Bikes. “We have to learn how to handle that both as bicyclists and as drivers of vehicles.”

He said drivers need to be aware of the rights of cyclists, and cyclists need to behave like vehicles.

“We have the right to operate as vehicles, but we have the responsibility to obey traffic laws,” said Gary Cziko, president of Champaign County Bikes.

“So much of this is knowing what to do and being predictable,” Cziko said. “Bicycling is safe, and by having the skills, you can eliminate 90 percent of the things that can happen to you.”

The key, he said, is for bicyclists to be visible and predictable — riding far enough out into the lane to be seen by drivers, and avoiding weaving between a bike lane and sidewalk. Cziko said cyclists also need to be skilled enough to control their bikes and avoid accidents.

Some bicycling tips from Champaign County Bikes to keep in mind:

— The proper place to ride, if a cyclist is in a traffic lane rather than bike lane, is 3 feet out into the lane, about where the right wheel of the car would normally be, Smythe said.

— Cars must give bicycles at least 3 feet of clearance when they are passing.

— Cyclists can ride on the sidewalks unless prohibited by a local ordinance, and they must yield to pedestrians. Urbana and Champaign prohibit riding on the sidewalk in their downtowns.

— Bicyclists may choose to ride in the roadway rather than a bike lane if it is unsafe to ride in the bike lane — for example, if there are cars parked there or if the bike lane is so close to parked cars that a rider is in danger of getting “doored,” or struck by someone opening the door of a parked car.

— Likewise, there are times when it is appropriate for a car to move into a bike lane. At most signaled intersections, a bike lane will end with a dashed line, meaning cars can move into the lane to make a right turn. If the line is solid, cars should remain in their own lane and turn across the line rather than pulling into the bike lane.

— A sharrow is a shared lane of traffic, in which cars and bicycles both travel.

The more infrastructure, such as bike lanes and sharrows, and the more bicyclists, the safer cycling is, because drivers get used to looking for cyclists and have a better understanding of how they’ll behave on the road, said Smyth and Cziko.

“There’s sort of a safety in numbers phenomenon,” Cziko said.

Urbana was designated a bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists in May 2010. The criteria on which it is judged are engineering, education, encouragement, evaluation and planning, and enforcement. Urbana received a bronze level designation, and officials hope to improve that to a silver, said city engineer Jennifer Selby.

Champaign officials will begin working on an application to be designated a bicycle friendly community this fall, and they’ll submit the application early in 2012, said city planner Mishauno Woggon.

And the University of Illinois plans to apply for the new designation of bicycle friendly university. A draft application has been prepared, said Morgan Johnston, the UI’s sustainability and transportation demand management coordinator. Officials are waiting to submit it until its bicycle master plan is finalized, Johnston said.

Being a bicycle friendly community is an asset that will make it more attractive to live here, say Smyth and Cziko.

“When you look at the list (of bicycle friendly communities) and see Urbana and Champaign, it tells you something about the area,” Cziko said.

“It adds to the micro-urban environment,” Smyth added.

Photo, top:  Jennifer Selby and Gary Cziko ride up to bicycle street markings on Goodwin at Oregon in Urbana. Photo by Darrell Hoemann.

Photo, bottom: The symbol for a sharrow, or shared lane of traffic that both bicycles and cars use.


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jbr wrote on May 31, 2011 at 1:05 pm
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As the article alludes, cyclists need to behave like cars when they're on the road. That means, for example:

  • Stop at stop signs
  • Stop at red lights
  • Stop for pedestrian crosswalks when necessary
  • Obey one-way, no turn, and other road signs
dw wrote on May 31, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Unfortunately many bicyclists behave *exactly* like they do when they drive their cars. Locally many cars do not stop legally at stop signs, stop lights or pedestrian crosswalks. As a motorist, bicyclist and pedestrian, I notice it everyday!

Many bicyclists yearn for local implementation of the "Idaho Stop" legislation...

But instead of entering the "US vs. THEM" fray of bicycle-vs-car-vs-pedestrian, and enacting legislation "just for bikes" it makes more sense to eliminate needless stops *for everyone*: why should any vehicle stop at a stop sign (or light) at 2am when there's nobody else in sight? It's a waste of time and fuel, and it hurts US.

Instead, we need to locally implement the much safer (for all vehicles and pedestrians) modern designed roundabouts and mini-roundabouts in the low-traffic 'burbs of C-U. We need to evaluate the over-use of stop signs when a yield sign would suffice. Then nobody has to needlessly stop. Carmel, Indiana (just north of Indy) is a local town that is leading the MidWest in roundabout adoption:,_Indiana

Properly designed infrastructure can drastically impact compliance with local ordinances: the amount of jay-walking and crossing against the light dropped significantly after a dedicated pedestrian "all-cross" period was added to the lights at 6th&Green and Wright&Green... properly designed infrastructure for bicycles and cars can do the same!