“On Your Left!”

Let’s say you spend $12 million in Chicago to separate cyclists from joggers and walkers. Think this is gonna work? Most folks say “maybe”.

Three types of separation are happening in Hyde Park: motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Let’s start with the cyclist situation.

After talking with a lot of motorists in Hyde Park, the belief is that cyclists shouldn’t be sharing the road with cars.  Many cyclists tend to steer haphazardly, and the more aggressive bikers often attempt to share the same space as cars are inhabiting, often at the same time.  Cyclists also don’t adhere to traffic lights and stop signs as the law requires them to do.

Let’s talk about that law, shall we?

Title 9, Chapter 52 of the Chicago Municipal Code applies specifically to cyclists:

  • A person 12 or more years of age may ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in any district, but only if such sidewalk has been officially designated and marked as a bicycle route, or such sidewalk is used to enter the nearest roadway, intersection or designated bicycle path, or to access a bicycle share station.
  • The operator of a bicycle emerging from an alley, driveway or building shall, upon approaching a sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across any alleyway, yield the right-of-way to all pedestrians approaching on the sidewalk or sidewalk area and, upon entering the roadway, shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway.

However, according to Illinois Legal Aid online –

“Riding on the sidewalk in Chicago is illegal unless the sidewalk is marked as a bike path, or you are going to a nearby bike station or road. Mostly, bikes are considered vehicles under the law. Bicyclists can use the shoulder of the road or ride in the street.”

Bicycles in the street are considered vehicles. NHTSA says cyclists 10 years and older should behave as though they were vehicles on the street, riding in the same direction as other traffic that’s going their way and following the same traffic rules. The cyclists, then, are on the same level as motorists.

According to Chicago Bike Law Firm, a bike accident injury law firm located on Chicago’s northwest side, “Drivers use their turn signals just half the time when changing lanes, and only a quarter of the time when turning, which could be responsible for as many as two million accidents annually.” Add to that a 14 to 36 percent compliance rate for bikers and you have a recipe for disaster.  It gets even worse when you consider that Illinois drivers collectively run 1.23 million red lights per day.”

Motorists tend to forget the following things are illegal (at least in Illinois): speeding, tailgating, not signaling, not stopping before a right turn, getting behind the wheel while drunk, texting or using a cell phone, double parking, throwing trash (especially cigarette butts) out the window, failing to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, making a U-turn when there’s a ‘No U-turn’ sign, honking your horn just because you’re angry, and yes, running red lights and rolling through stop signs.

A note to Illinois motorists – under a green light, or a stop sign, pedestrians have the right of way.

Many people in Hyde Park feel certain that one of the things we can do to avoid bicycle/auto carnage is to redesign streets to slow down the automobiles. With good design, cycling infrastructure fits easily into city roads and intersections.

Lastly there is the human factor called “the pedestrian”.

Pedestrians are from the school of thought that says sidewalks are designed to be used by people on foot, and are not expected to accommodate people traveling at bicycle speeds. Also, drivers pulling out of driveways and side streets will not be expecting traffic moving the speed of a bicycle on the sidewalk and might not see or avoid you, even if you have the right of way. If you do not feel comfortable riding your bicycle in the street on a specific stretch of roadway, get off your bike and walk your bike on the sidewalk until you reach a location where you can ride in the street again. However, if you do bike on the sidewalk for any reason, consider the following: pedestrians have the right of way.

Many people have mentioned that if you can’t cross the street correctly, you shouldn’t have been granted permission to enter the gene pool. Thank goodness drivers in Hyde Park still stop for the elderly or disabled who need to cross the street slowly.


JoAnn Fastoff Blackman is a long-time Hyde Parker and an award-winning author of both fiction and non-fiction books. Her various blogs have focused on environmental issues in and around Chicago. HPChamber Speak will appear periodically addressing issues impacting Hyde Park’s business community.