Should bikes and cars follow the same rules?

10:25 AM, May 29, 2013

Source: MPRnews

A bicyclist rides over a well-worn bike marker on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The lane is designed to be shared by bicyclists, buses and right-turning vehicles, but bicycling advocates say the poorly maintained markers have led many bicyclists to avoid the street. (MPR Photo/Madeleine Baran)

A bicyclist rides over a well-worn bike marker on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The lane is designed to be shared by bicyclists, buses and right-turning vehicles, but bicycling advocates say the poorly maintained markers have led many bicyclists to avoid the street. (MPR Photo/Madeleine Baran)

Chicago has begun a campaign to improve bike safety and reduce conflicts between pedal- and motor-driven traffic.

A chief focus of the campaign involves harsher penalties for drivers who cause accidents by opening their doors in the path of bicyclists. The campaign also will place informational stickers in the passenger seats of city taxis.

“Last year,” writes Fran Spielman in the Chicago Sun-Times, “there were 1,675 bicycle crashes in Chicago, 250 of them so-called ‘dooring’ accidents.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced that he would double the fines imposed against motorists who open their doors without checking to see whether a bike was approaching. But he also announced that he would raise fines and penalties for cyclists who disobey the city’s traffic laws.

As bike use increases in cities around the country, do cyclists need to be held more accountable for their behavior?

THE HIGHLIGHTS: If they want legitimacy, bicyclists should follow the rules.

Journalist Sarah Goodyear has been riding a bike for transportation in New York City since 1980.

Now that cities like Chicago and Minneapolis are creating bike-friendly infrastructure,she said, “Bicycle riders need to come part of the way and realize we’re no longer just a marginalized group of people who, as we have in past, just have to say, ‘Gosh, it’s so hard to ride a bike, it’s so dangerous, everything is so calibrated for cars, we’re just going to have to play by our own rules because that’s the only way to do it.’ Now I think it’s more on us to say, ‘OK, cities are making a good-faith effort to create more space for us. Motorists are becoming more aware of bicycles. And we need to start behaving better and following the laws that exist more closely than we have been, in the hope that more infrastructure will come and that more laws will be amended to make more sense for this coexistence.”

Steve Clark, manager of the walking and biking program for Transit for Livable Communities, concurred.

“I agree that we need to abide by the laws that are out there. … That’s been a huge fight for probably 40, 50 years, to have bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, to be defined as the operator of a vehicle. And with that does come the need to have those responsibilities, for legitimacy. A lot of our work has been to establish legitimacy on the roadway.”

But he added that it makes sense to give bikes advantages over cars.

“Bicycling is a social good … we want to make that choice the easy choice. How do you do that?

“You give bicyclists advantages. You make it easier to get from Point A to Point B riding a bicycle than driving a car, or at least as easy. Some places, like Copenhagen, they’ve said every one-way street for cars is automatically a two-way street for bicyclists. We haven’t gone to that place in this country because there is some concern that would not be safe.

“But what we can do is create these bike boulevards, where we’ve eliminated as many stop signs as possible because stop signs are problematic for bicyclists. Starting from a complete stop uses as much energy as bicycling the entire length of a football field. We want bycyclists to be law-abiding, but we also want it to be as easy as possible.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT BIKE SAFETY:

• Cyclists Aren’t ‘Special,’ and They Shouldn’t Play by Their Own Rules
“And biking is slowly, slowly becoming just another way to get around. The flip side is that in places like Chicago, they have also been ticketing bicyclists for violating laws. In New York, the Department of Transportation has deployed safety officers on busy bike routes to remind people of the right way to ride. Ticketing blitzes seem to be happening more regularly. This is what has to happen for things to get to the next level.” (Sarah Goodyear, writing in the Atlantic)

• Mayor Rahm Emanuel would give bikes more leeway on city streets
“The amendments to the city’s bike ordinance, including some that would mirror state law, would allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks to get to roads and paths or new bicycle sharing stations; leave the curbside edge of the right line when passing another bicycle or preparing to turn; and ride side-by-side, provided they stay in one lane and do not impede traffic.” (Chicago Tribune)