Proof Positive That We Still Have A Crying Need For ‘Vehicular Cycling’ Training

Background Reading


One of the more irritating things about Protected Bike Lanes is that they are ineffective if not perfectly installed. I wrote about a fail on Jackson where a buffered lane had been installed which took cyclists along the north side of the street once you crossed Damen. But at various intersections you had the car lane crossing the bike lane and in effect preventing the placement of a bike box to allow riders to make right turns.

Jackson-Morgan Intersection (Showing Missing Bike Box)

Jackson-Morgan Intersection (Showing Missing Bike Box)

What is troubling about the current hell-bent-for-leather approach to PBLs is that these are suitable primarily for newbies or people who have a phobia concerning riding in traffic. Such phobias are the very first thing that club level riding helps to dispel. But Urban Cycling seems all about trying to be an effective cyclist in the absence of a support group like a cycling club. Instead snarky forums like the ChainLink spring up and what they foment is a sense of aggression on the part of cyclists towards automobile traffic and seldom offer much in the way of a bridge between cyclists and motorists that is constructive.

When you have what is essentially an untutored group that has little if any experience with the Effective Cycling teaching manual and almost no interest in learning Vehicular Cycling strategies you have a recipe for the kind of stupidity that is currently having to be dispelled in the midst of a group that should know better.

No self-respecting Vehicular Cyclist would ever have been confused about whether or not a bicycle lane was a confined space for cyclists. Jim Crow laws have hopefully be done away with across the country and should not be revived with the presence of bicycle lanes. I much prefer the kinds of lanes where the automobile lane itself has a giant bicycle icon running right down the middle. It is for me always a welcome site to see a “Sharrow symbol”. In fact I prefer these kinds of lanes because they emphasize my right to “share the lane”.

At a recent Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting the question of legality of riding outside the bike lane came up:

Protected bike lane on Elston Avenue. Photo by Blue Fairlane.

Protected bike lane on Elston Avenue. Photo by Blue Fairlane.

The following conversation from Wednesday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting is a great example of what can be accomplished when you get some of Chicago’s key transportation planners and advocates in a room together. Many people in the local bike community have been wondering about the legality of cycling outside of a protected bike lane when one is provided. As the Chicago Department of Transportation installs more protected lanes on streets with high ridership, such as Milwaukee Avenue, it’s likely that many faster cyclists will opt to use the main roadway instead.

Jim Freeman, an attorney who specializes in bike case (and a Streetsblog sponsor) recently blogged about this issue. He noted that there is an ordinance in the Chicago municipal code that may indicate cycling outside of protected lanes is illegal:

Section 9-52-020(d) of the Chicago Municipal Code:

“Whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.”

Freeman worried that this ordinance could be used against cyclists who are involved in a crash while pedaling outside of a protected lane. He brought up the subject at the end of the MBAC meeting, resulting in a lively discussion with CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton, CDOT Project Manager Mike Amsden, CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, fellow bike lawyer Brendan Kevenides (also a Streetsblog sponsor), Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke, and League of Illinois Bicyclists Executive Director Ed Barsotti. They seemed to have resolved the issue: riding outside the bike lane is legal, and we should soon have documentation to prove it.

This is simply incredible! Adults who should be knowledgeable about the rights that we have fought to make ourselves not only permitted but intended users of the roadway and a decade or more after the Boub case, the High Priests of the Urban Cycling world have to have an impromptu pow-wow. This is shameful.

Here is how the conversation reads:

Jim Freeman: So Chicago’s got a statute that says if there’s an adjacent bike path, bicyclists have to use the path and not the street. Is it the city’s position that that applies to protected bike lanes?

Luann Hamilton: No, it doesn’t. The ordinance applies to the Lakefront Trail designation at the South Shore Cultural Center because, when we put that stretch in, the department wanted to make sure that cyclists weren’t in the road by the cultural center. So they put that law in for that one location, but it doesn’t apply to other places.

JF: The concern that I have is that, and I haven’t seen this instance yet, but I could envision an instance where a bicyclist is struck in the street and then they’re issued a citation, in effect blamed for causing or contributing to the [crash] because they were riding in the street and not the protected bike lane.

LH: Actually, if you look at the language we’re OK.

Mike Amsden: It says “adjacent to the roadway.

LH: This is in the roadway. “Adjacent to the roadway” is not the same thing as a curb lane in the roadway.

Gabe Klein: But it’s a good point, something that we need to talk to [the Illinois Department of Transportation] about, just to say, “Hey, the way things are written in various places, doesn’t really apply to certain infrastructure.

Brendan Kevenides: Do you know if CDOT’s position with regard to having to use the protected bike lane versus the street is in writing somewhere?

LH: The position is that cyclists can use the whole roadway. Just because we’re putting in these facilities doesn’t mean that bicyclists have to stay in that facility. For example, what if they need to make a turn? They have to go out of the facility at that point anyway.

Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council meeting with Luann Hamilton (front center) and Gabe Klein (second from right). Photo by John Greenfield.

Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting with Luann Hamilton (front center) and Gabe Klein (second from right). Photo by John Greenfield.

BK: ‘Cause I have the same concern. For example on Kinzie, especially, and it’s a sliding scale, but where you have that level of division from motorized vehicles, I can imagine a judge who’s considering this saying, “Well, that’s a usable path.” The statute is somewhat vague and wasn’t written when these protected bike lanes came into existence, obviously. So is there something I can look at, something I can cite to?

LH: You can look at the code. I don’t think there’s anything beyond the code right now, but we’ve been having a lot of conversations, not just about bike lanes but about things like pedicabs…

Ron Burke: Would it be helpful if the city’s legal department or someone wrote a memo?

BK: That’d be great.

LH: We can get [the law department] on this. [They’ve] already written this internally. So we have some documentation.

BK: Wonderful.

Charlie Short: I was going to say, the national trend is to eliminate that sort of language. Because it was written in 1990 when there were only bike paths [in Chicago] and so it made sense. Usually the tendency is to eliminate that language entirely and actually Illinois has eliminated that language.

JF: Does Chicago have a plan to do that?

LH: It only was meant to apply to that one location, so I don’t see any reason why we can’t eliminate it or put clarification in.

JF: Well, I guess we’ll see if it’s a problem then [laughs].

RB: I think what I hear Luann saying is, legally it’s not a problem now. No one’s enforcing it that way, the code is pretty clear. If we can get like a legal memo to that effect which clarifies that, that might be a clearer path forward than trying to change the code. But who knows, maybe there’s some clean-up language going through the city council that you could throw in.

LH: Well, we’re always trying to clean up issues with the city code, right Charlie?

RB: Cool.

It points to the one big problem with PBLs and the cycling infrastructure push. They reinforce a viewpoint that bicycles now have a segregated area to which they are confined for their own safety. It is a bit like the “red lining” that used to take place in urban areas which kept blacks in segregated neighborhoods, for their own protection of course.

I hope they get their act together soon and let the rest of the world know that the streets (all of the lanes on that street) are legal for cyclists. If we start having people pass laws that shunt cyclists into special lanes just for them and then maintenance is so lacking that cyclists are forced to leave them we are going to have problems.

Likewise if a savvy cyclist does not have the latitude to make up for the gross failure of CDOT or IDOT to provide bike boxes to accommodate turns on streets like Jackson, we are going to be doomed. Somebody had better get out from behind the desks at these meetings and get their lard asses onto bikes and ride the damned streets looking for places where cyclists cannot safely make turns or negotiate traffic while in the bike lane. Why?

Newbies going forward are not going to have been trained in Vehicular Cycling techniques. These poor schlubs are going to be blindly following the green paint on the lanes and like the knuckleheads who rely solely on the voice from their GPS unit may find themselves riding over the edge of a precipice before they are even aware of it.

Silly, silly bike infrastructure slavish devotion is not what I am willing to abide by.