Chicago has just been named the most bike-friendly city in America. No doubt the recent Illinois legislation that gives bikers access to the road equal to that of motor vehicles helped garner some votes. As a father of four who takes every opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, biking is a regular pastime, so knowing the rules of the road is as essential to bike safety as a helmet, and a key to avoiding bike accidents.
It’s little known that there’s a common sense element to the biker’s rules of the road. For the most part, if you are on the road, on a bike, in a car, you need to follow the rules of the road. The most important, and rarely practiced, aspect of this rule is that bikers don’t get to enjoy the benefits of being a pedestrian while riding in the road and vehicles must treat bikers with the same respect they would treat any other vehicle in the road despite the bicycle’s less formidable stature and slower speed.
So, yes, if there’s a vehicle that has arrived at a stop either before or at the same time as a biker, the biker must yield like any other vehicle. In practice a driver may afford a biker the courtesy of proceeding through the intersection ahead of the vehicle that actually has the right of way. But, to put it in legal terms, the motor vehicle driver’s waiver of her right-of -way must be express, not hijacked by the biker. At the same time, if a biker is proceeding through a controlled intersection is he expected to stop at every stop sign even if the intersection is completely clear of motor vehicles? A technical reading of Illinois law would say “yes,” but I would argue that a careful look right and left to ensure the intersection is clear of oncoming vehicles is sufficient.
Bikers don’t truly have the right of way to go through or in-between cars to advance to the head of the pack at an intersection; neither do motorcyclists for that matter. In other words, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you have the right to do it under the law. At the same time, motor vehicles may pass a biker in its lane of traffic as long as the vehicle gives the biker a three feet wide berth.
Where things really seem to get murky is with respect to bike lanes. While research indicates that dedicated and physically protected bike lanes reduce accidents, and specific bike lane traffic control devices further optimize bike safety, the lack of education regarding the new roadway landscape is snarling the new traffic flow.
The existence of bike lanes on the road should raise the driver’s consciousness just the same as if there is an additional lane of traffic to the right or left. Of equal importance is that the biker remain keenly aware at all times that they are more difficult to see than a motor vehicle and their movement is not always consistent with typical traffic patterns. So bikers should always err on the side of protecting themselves and follow all traffic controls, including the roadway lines and lane markings.
The most confounding example is that of a far bike lane adjacent to a lane of traffic from which a motor vehicle may turn, crossing the bike lane. If the biker wishes to proceed straight while the motor vehicle seeks to turn crossing into the bike lane traffic, who has the right of way on a green light? This is a relatively new conundrum created by the growth of bike lanes on city streets. I would argue that both motor vehicle and biker should be cautious on the approach to such an intersection but the turning vehicle must yield to the bike proceeding straight (the rare instance when the biker, although occupying the road, gets to be treated similar to a pedestrian crossing the street). It goes without saying that all vehicles on the road should respect each other and protect themselves because safety serves everyone.
When in doubt, consult the Illinois Bicycle Rules of the Road https://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/publications/pdf_publications/dsd_a143.pdf.