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City Council panel extends texting and cell phone ban to bicyclists

Updated: November 15, 2011 10:37AM



Chicago aldermen agreed Monday to “level the playing field” between bicycle riders and motorists — by banning texting and talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device while riding.

The watered-down ordinance, approved by the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, includes a graduated scale of fines — from $20 to $50 for the first offense to $75 to $100 for three or more violations and up to $500 if the violation coincides with a traffic accident.

Committee Chairman Marge Laurino (39th) acknowledged that the ordinance she championed would be difficult to enforce.

But, she argued that it’s high-time bike riders abide by the same rules of the road that motorists have been following for years.

“We are just trying to level the playing field,” Laurino said.

She added, “I’ve actually seen people riding and texting with both hands. I’m not quite sure how they do that.”

Matthew Tobias, the Chicago Police Department’s deputy chief of Area 3 patrol, said he has no intention of bringing the hammer down on Chicago’s growing number of bike riders.

“The goal is not to have a lot of enforcement. It’s for people to be safe,” Tobias said.

“What we’re gonna do is try education as our primary means. We have bicycle ambassadors. We have bicycle patrol units. All those things will help.”

What happens if fliers and warning notices don’t work? Will Chicago Police officers engage in bike chases?

“We’ll stop him like we would stop anybody else in a safe manner. We have bicycle patrol officers also. We would just do it the best we can while keeping everybody safe,” Tobias said.

The Active Transportation Alliance has expressed concern that the “rarely enforced” ban on texting and talking on a cell phone while driving will get even less attention from already inundated Chicago Police officers once the bike ordinance takes effect.

Tobias countered, “I can assure you that’s not gonna happen. The enforcement of texting while driving and talking on a cell phone has risen every single year since that was passed”—from 2,577 administrative violations in 2008 to 10,920 in 2009 and 19,701 last year.

Last year, there were more than 1,600 crashes involving bicycles. Five people were killed, according to Deputy Transportation Commissioner Luann Hamilton.

“Distracted cyclists can get in the way of other road users, leading to situations that can result in crashes involving motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. Distracted cyclists can put themselves in harm’s way and, in a crash, cyclists can cause serious harm to pedestrians,” Hamilton said.

“As bicyclists are road users with the same rights and duties as drivers, bicyclists should operate under the same restrictions.”

The crackdown comes as the city prepares to offer 3,000 bicycles for rent at 300 stations by next summer and continues to follow through on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s promise to install 100 miles of protected bike lanes over the next four years.



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