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Reckless drivers, bike riders face higher fines under new ordinance

Updated: June 5, 2013 7:01PM

The City Council agreed Wednesday to throw the book at reckless motorists who endanger bicycle riders and cowboy cyclists in hopes that the higher fines will ease roadway conflicts between the two.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to create a ground-breaking network of protected bike lanes in Chicago — and launch the nation’s largest bike-sharing program — has increased tension among cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

The ordinance approved Wednesday — opposed by only Aldermen Willie Cochran (20th) and Harry Osterman (48th) — seeks to minimize those conflicts by cracking down on bad behavior on both sides.

It 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 would also 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.

“The amended ordinance will better protect cyclists and pedestrians at intersections and will clarify the rights and responsibilities of road users, especially regarding the interactions among the various types of users,” Deputy Transportation Commissioner Luann Hamilton said earlier this week.

Traffic Committee Chairman Marge Laurino (39th) added, “It’s really an education matter. Cyclists, pedestrians and motorists need to learn how to live together on the streets of Chicago.”

For decades, cyclists 12 and older have been prohibited from riding on Chicago sidewalks. That, too, would change.

“Several very narrow exceptions allow riding bicycles on sidewalks, including when entering the nearest roadway or a designated bicycle path or when accessing a bike share station,” Hamilton said.

Cyclists would also be permitted to ride side-by-side, provided they don’t impede traffic and stay in one lane, leave the curbside edge when passing another bike or preparing to turn and stray from hugging the right shoulder if they are keeping up with other traffic.

In an attempt to reduce dooring 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 semitrailer truck after swerving to avoid an open car door.

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

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

The city now has 204.1 miles of on-street bike ways. That includes: 30 miles of protected and 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.

Emanuel said the crackdown approved Wednesday won’t solve all of the conflicts between motorists and cyclists, but it’s a start.

Osterman wants to go even further by quintupling fines for people who ride bikes illegally on Chicago sidewalks — from $50 to $250.

“We have bicyclists. We have drivers. Since both are using it, I want to improve the safety of our streets and…I want bicyclists to know they have a responsibility, just like drivers,” the mayor said.

“Do I think it will solve everything? There’s no city ordinance that does that. Do I think it will make an improvement so people will actually ride with the notion that they’re gonna be held responsible? Yes.”

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