Rules of the ride

Rules of the ride

While most bicyclists know they need to follow the rules of the road, exactly how to interpret those rules and navigate the infrastructure to accommodate bicycles can be confusing to cyclists, drivers and police.

How traffic laws affect cyclists is becoming increasingly important because more people are commuting by bicycle.

"Bicycles are becoming not just a tool for recreation but a tool to get from point A to point B," said Brendan Kevenides, a Chicago attorney specializing in bicycle law.

Kevenides spoke at the Illinois Bike Summit on Oct. 28 in Champaign about the law and how it relates to bicycles.

Blog PhotoOne example: A pregnant woman was riding her bicycle in a shared bike lane when a passenger in a car stopped in traffic, opened a car door and knocked her down, injuring her. A police officer threatened to ticket the cyclist, citing a law that says two-wheeled vehicles passing on the right of traffic can do so only if when there is eight feet of space between them and the traffic — an impossibility when there are also cars parallel parked to the side of the road.

"We're installing all these bike lanes. The law tells cyclists you're supposed to ride on the right side of the road. What happens when traffic slows?" Kevenides said.

It turns out the law was meant to apply to motorized two-wheeled — motorcycles or scooters. Kevenides was able to get the law clarified to indicate this.

Kevenides started his own law firm in 2012 that focuses on representing cyclists who have been injured in traffic accidents. The firm's members do bicycle advocacy as well — working to promote safe cycling, teaching safety courses and lobbying to change laws that are disadvantageous to cyclists. Kevenides also writes about bicycling and the law on his blog, The Chicago Bicycle Advocate, and his bike law column, Cycling Legalese, for the Urban Velo website.

One issue Kevenides believes is ripe for change is how cyclists must behave at stop signs. It's confusing to all parties exactly how cyclists should behave if there isn't traffic at the intersection, he said. There is a movement to require cyclists to yield to any cross traffic, but if none is present, they would not be required to stop.

"That accommodates bicyclists and allows them to ride in a way cyclists are doing anyway. It makes it clear to police what bicyclists really need to do. It communicates to drivers what cyclists need to do," Kevenides said. "That doesn't mean cyclists should be able to blow through stop signs or stop lights, but it also doesn't mean, in a quiet area where there's no traffic, you have to stop and put your two feet down."

Kevenides would also like to see an anti-harassment law "that has some teeth in it." Currently, the law requires motorists to give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing. But there is little enforcement of the law.

"If someone buzzes you or throws garbage at you as they pass you, what are you supposed to do? In many communities, police feel they have better things to do," he said.

He suggests a law enabling cyclists to pursue a claim in civil court would be a way to reduce the behavior.

Kevenides commutes four miles by bicycle to his office in downtown Chicago, every day, year round. Motorists passing too closely to cyclists is a significant problem, he said.

"Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes it's not, but it's extremely dangerous," Kevenides said, adding that it's even more dangerous in a smaller community like Champaign-Urbana because lighter traffic flow allows drivers to drive at faster speeds, so any injuries from a collision can be much worse.

In addition to changing outdated traffic laws to improve safety, cyclists can also help make themselves safer on the roads by their behavior. They need to be predictable and ride on the right side of the road, in a place where drivers would expect other cars to be, Kevenides said.

To discourage cars from passing too closely, cyclists should not ride all the way to the far right side of the lane.

"The natural inclination is to ride to the right in the gutter or shoulder. Then drivers think, because the bike is riding on the right, they can squeeze through," Kevenides said. "Ride farther to the left. Then drivers will switch lanes to pass, which is exactly what you want them to do."

Cyclists should ride at least three to four feet away from parked cars, to avoid getting doored.

And the most important piece of safety equipment for a cyclist? It's not the helmet, Kevenides believes, but a good front headlight and a rear light, to be visible at dusk.

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line.

On the Web

Brendan Kevenides' blog, The Chicago Bicycle Advocate, can be found at mybikeadvocate.com. His bike law column, Cycling Legalese, can be found on the Urban Velo website at urbanvelo.org/category/columnist/brendan-kevinides-law.

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