Mayor wants to increase fines for reckless cyclists, motorists

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
May 7, 2013 6:32PM

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Emanuel is pushing for more aggressive fines for motorists and cyclists who can't share Chicago streets safely. | Sun-Times files

Mayor Emanuel is pushing for more aggressive fines for motorists and cyclists who can’t share Chicago streets safely. | Sun-Times files

Five years ago, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley threw the book at reckless motorists who endanger bicycle riders amid demands that he do the same to “cowboy cyclists.”

On Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to do both.

The even-handed ordinance Emanuel plans to introduce at a City Council meeting would raise fines for cyclists who disobey the city’s traffic laws — from $25 for all offenses to $50-to-$200, depending on the severity of the violation.

The mayor’s plan also would double — to $1,000 — the fine imposed against motorists who open their doors without looking into the path of cyclists. The fine for leaving a car door open in traffic would also double — to $300.

Last year, there were 1,675 bicycle crashes in Chicago, 250 of them so-called “dooring” accidents.

In an attempt to reduce those bone-crunching accidents that send cyclists flying, City Hall is launching an awareness campaign to remind taxicab passengers of the need to look before they open passenger doors.

Stickers to be placed on the rear passenger windows of all 7,000 Chicago taxicabs were designed by MINIMAL design studios.

Neill Townshend, a 32-year-old MINIMAL employee, was killed last fall while biking to work on the Near North Side. He was hit by a semi-trailer after swerving to avoid an open car door.

Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, applauded the mayor for his even-handed approach to making Chicago streets safer and his particular emphasis on preventing “dooring” accidents.

“With more and more people cycling in Chicago [and bike-sharing on the way], it’s imperative that motorists look for cyclists before opening car doors. This needs to become second nature,” he said.

Burke acknowledged that the city currently issues few tickets and mostly warnings against cyclists who text while riding and blow through red lights and that the higher penalties likely mean more tickets.

“We support that 100 percent. One of our over-arching goals is to see fewer crashes and injuries. One important way to do that is to issue tickets. Enforcement is crucial,” Burke said.

Emanuel’s decision to create a ground-breaking network of protected bike lanes in Chicago has increased tensions between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

But Burke said, “It’s not so much bikes vs. cars vs. pedestrians. Unfortunately, there’s a percentage of the population that travels recklessly — whether it’s on foot, on bike or driving a car. The Active Transportation Alliance supports increased traffic fines [across the board] as an important way to improve safety.”

In a news release, Emanuel argued that “everyone is safer” when traffic laws are obeyed.

“If they are sharing the roadway with vehicles, cyclists must obey all traffic laws, including yielding to pedestrians, stopping at traffic signals and indicating when they are making turns,” he said.

“By increasing the fines for failing to obey the law, cyclists will behave more responsibly, increasing safety and encouraging others to ride bikes.”

Like Daley, Emanuel is an avid cyclist who campaigned on a promise to make Chicago the nation’s most “bike-friendly” city.

Emanuel installed Chicago’s first, of what he promised would be 100 miles of protected bike lanes over four years less than a month after taking office.

The city now has 204.1 miles of on-street bike ways. That includes: 18.6 miles of protected or buffered bike lanes; 134.2 miles of standard bike lanes and 39.8 miles of marked shared lanes.

Protected bike lanes are expected to be installed this summer on Milwaukee and on Clybourn.

More than 20,000 people bike to work each day to jobs in downtown Chicago. That’s a 200 percent increase since 2005, according to City Hall.