Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Is the Bike Safety Ordinance Being Enforced?

Police will be fining dangerous drivers this summer, as well as lawbreaking cyclists

[This article runs in the May 22 issue of Time Out Chicago:]

By John Greenfield

In March bicyclists rejoiced after City Council passed Mayor Daley’s new bike safety laws which assign $150 fines for drivers who endanger bikers, $500 for actions that result in a crash. The ordinances cover fouls such as passing within three feet of a bike and opening a car door into a pedaler’s path.

But the deaths of two cyclists in April, killed by cars in Logan Square within a few days of each other, beg the question: are police enforcing the new laws?

No, said a dozen bikers responding to a query on the Chicago Critical Mass listserv last week. Brendan Neuman reported when he got “doored” by a car last week in Greektown, an officer who witnessed the crash failed to cite the driver.

Police spokeswoman Monique Bond confirms that the number of tickets written so far is probably extremely low, because of the newness of the ordinances.

But Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele says the laws have already raised awareness. “With all the media coverage this received, our hope is people who saw the TV coverage or read the news said ‘Hey, I need to be more careful when I drive.’” He adds his department is working on a flyer for distribution to all officers this summer to make sure they know about the safety ordinances.

But aldermen have also requested that CDOT help reign in dangerous cyclists. “Are we going to insist that bicycles obey the rules of the road?” asked Ald. Bernard Stone (50th) at a hearing before the laws passed. In 2005 Stone vetoed the construction of a bike bridge, citing its proximity to a senior center.

Ben Gomberg, Chicago’s bike coordinator, responded that the City was looking into ways to increase compliance. One strategy from the City’s Bike 2015 Plan is: “Develop and implement an enforcement program targeting particularly dangerous bicycling.”

As a nod to the aldermen’s concerns, the flyer will also remind officers about laws that apply to bikes: cyclists must ride in the street, not on the sidewalk (if over 12); use a headlight and rear reflector at night; and stop at all stoplights and stop signs. Steele acknowledges that the memo should result in more tickets for bikes as well as cars. “Those laws are there for a reason and they should be enforced.”

But the last time the police announced a crackdown on bicyclists, with plans to fine Lakeview lawbreakers $25 to $250 in summer 2005, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation stated in a bulletin the CBF believes “enforcement efforts should focus on traffic with the greatest impact on safety” – i.e. cars.

Spokeswoman Margo O’Hara confirms the CBF would like to see the City’s limited police resources used to ticket cars, not bikes. After all, drivers injure bicyclists, not the other way around, she says.

O’Hara adds the perception of reckless bicycling as a widespread problem may be fueled by media bias in reporting deadly crashes. “They often blame the victim, focusing on what the cyclist was or was not doing. You only get the driver’s perspective because the cyclist has been killed.”

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