Bike safety bill breezes through committee

The city's traffic control and safety committee approved a new bicycle safety ordinance yesterday targeting motorists who endanger cyclists.

The ordinance establishes fines for the following:

*Turning right or left in front of a bicyclist

*Passing a bicyclist with less than three feet of space

*Opening a door into the path of a bicyclist

It also establishes a fine for double-parking in a marked shared lane, and increases the fine for driving, standing or parking in a bicycle lane.

Penalties for the above violations begin at $150, increasing to a $500 fine if the violation results in a bicycle crash.

In addition to establishing penalties, the ordinance requires that drivers extend the same level of "due care" toward cyclists that they are required to exercise toward pedestrians.

The ordinance aligns city law with state law and makes it easier and faster for police to write tickets and prosecutors to bring charges against motorists, says Ben Gomberg, bicycle program coordinator for the city's department of transportation.

Bicycling advocates hope that the ordinance will cut down on the number of accidents that occur on city streets. More than 6,000 crashes between bicycles and motor vehicles were reported in Chicago between 2001 and 2005, with 30 bicyclists killed, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Aldermen combined plaudits for the measure with concern that bicyclists also obey the rules of the road.

Alderman Bernie Stone [D-50] lauded the new ordinance, saying he had received calls and emails from constituents who appreciate the bike lanes in his ward, as well as the city's attempts to encourage an orderly sharing of the road.

But the recent death of a cyclist who was struck at a Northside intersection while competing in an unofficial race underscores the responsibilities of cyclists, Stone says.

Alderman Brendan Reilly [D-42] says he sees cycling to work as a great way to decrease traffic congestion in his downtown ward. But he had concerns about daredevil bike messengers.

"I frequently get complaints, especially from my older constituents," says Reilly. "Some of our less responsible bike messengers seem to have free reign over the downtown area. There's been a number of close calls reported by elderly drivers."

Alderman Willie Cochran [D-20] reinforced the need for bicyclists to adhere to traffic regulations.

"How many are stopping at stoplights?" he says. "How many are stopping at stop signs? How many use hands to signal turns? These are serious issues."

Gomberg emphasized that there are ordinances and fines for bicyclists currently on the books.

He also says all bicycle messengers are licensed through the Department of Consumer Affairs. He is working on an ordinance dealing specifically with bike messengers that he hopes to introduce soon, he says.

Gomberg noted a number of citywide programs that promote bicycle safety and education, including Mayor Daley's Bicycle Ambassadors Program, the After School Matters program and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

The bike federation is working with city agencies on the Bike 2015 Plan, a package of programs that aims to make bicycling a major means of transportation in Chicago and reduce injuries by 50 per cent.

The bottom line," says Gomberg, "is that we feel that if it's safer for cycling, than more people will ride in Chicago."

The full City Council will vote on the bill March 12.