Guest Commentary | Kepley's column on bike rules misleading

Guest Commentary | Kepley's column on bike rules misleading

Champaign County Bikes

Champaign County Bikes read last week's "The Law Q&A" column by Brett Kepley with great interest and concern. We advocate for bikes and bike riders and are very much in favor of all road users knowing and following the rules, but we found his article misleading.

Several of us are Licensed Cycling Instructors, and as much as we agree that cyclists have the same rights and duties as car drivers and deserve a hug, we disagree that the law requires cyclists to hug the shoulder of the road. This often puts them dangerously in the gutter or out of view of other road users. We also disagree that bicycling under the influence is legal. This is dangerous for everyone. The usual DUI laws do not apply, but cyclists can be charged with public drunkenness or disorderly conduct.

"Hugging the right curb" is not the law and it is not safe bicycling.

The Illinois Vehicle Code states, "Any person operating a bicycle ... at less than the normal speed of traffic ... shall ride as close as practicable and safe to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway."

Practicable and safe does not mean hugging the curb. Hugging the curb puts cyclists in a place often strewn with debris like broken glass. In a city setting, it will place the bicyclist in the door zone, the dangerous area next to parked cars where doors often open unpredictably.

"Practicable and safe" generally means riding several feet to the left of the curb or roadway edge where bicyclists are more visible to drivers at intersections, from driveways and even when coming up from behind. We teach riders to stay at least 4 and preferably 5 feet out from parked cars.

The vehicle code also expressly allows for exceptions to this law: when passing a slower vehicle, when making a left turn, using the through lane when a right-hand turn lane is present and when necessary to avoid conditions, including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge.

A "substandard width lane" means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane. Because of this and the 3-foot passing rule, a bicycle can take the lane when the lane is less than 12 or 13 feet wide. Importantly, this means that bicyclists can make left-hand turns in the vehicle lane, contrary to Kepley's explanation.

Some bike routes are marked with shared lane markings called sharrows and signs reminding drivers that bikes may use full lane. On one-way streets with two or more lanes, a bicyclist may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge as practicable.

Vehicles must apply the 3-foot rule when passing bicycles riding within bicycle lanes.

Further, bicyclists are not required to ride within bicycle lanes and many choose not to for the above stated reasons. There are many bike lanes that are substandard or get filled with debris, particularly after a storm.

There are several recent additions and changes to the law regarding bicyclists that people should know about as well ( These changes are, No. 1, allow motorists to pass bicyclists in a no-passing zone under certain conditions to improve cyclist safety; No. 2., officially legalize bicycling on road shoulders but do not require it; and No. 3., allow a rear red light instead of or in addition to a rear red reflector.

Please remember that if you are driving a vehicle, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists are much more vulnerable. Being safe may cost a few seconds but saves lives.

If you want to learn more about Illinois bicycle laws and safe bicycle practice, we encourage drivers and bicyclists to take the BikeSafetyQuiz (

Champaign County Bikes encourages all users of the roadway to be courteous and follow the law. The roadway should be safe for everyone.

This piece was co-written by Leonardo Covis, Charlie Smyth and Jeff Yockey of Champaign County Bikes.