As a Chicago bike injury attorney, I’ve become incredibly familiar with Illinois’ Rules of the Road and how these rules impact Chicago cyclists. These statutes and the corresponding Chicago ordinances aren’t always fairly applied to cyclists, and some aspects of the law don’t always make sense when one considers how people actually ride bicycles in the city. Regardless, it’s my job to know these rules and how they impact liability in a crash. As a lawyer for injured cyclists, my main concern is working within these rules in order to get the best outcomes for my clients.
That being said, one of the most important aspects of cycling in the city isn’t covered in any law: eitquette. How should people be riding in the city, and how should cyclists interact with one another on the road? I posed this question to a couple friends I’ve met on Twitter. Here is what they had to say (be sure to click on their names to follow/see what they’re up to):
This is largely how I feel now:http://bikeyface.com/2014/05/16/unwanted-advice/ My actual advice, though? “Join the exclusive group of Chicagoans who know the rules of the road and read the Illinois Secretary of State’s Rules of the Road booklet, available on CyberDriveIllinois.com. Ride your bicycle in the way that you feel comfortable but still knowing what our society has laid out as the rules of the road. (You can also see these laws in the Chicago Bike Laws app at <http://bikechi.com>.)”
First off – I fully acknowledge that some of my “bike etiquette” tips might be in a stark contrast to others, but I think each person’s preferences come from their own experience and motivations for wanting to ride a bike. These rules apply to general commuting and city riding, not recreational rides that serve no utilitarian purpose. Recreational riding has different rules that I know nothing about and doesn’t care to learn. I think there are some universally acceptable behaviors that one should adhere to and avoid when doing typical city riding, namely:
- No Shoaling (cutting in front). We all remember the phrase from elementary school, “No cuts, no butts, no coconuts.” These simple, profound words of wisdom have their greatest weight as you and your fellow bicyclist queue up at a traffic light. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to pass others as they are waiting for the light to turn. Do not do this. It is rude, and EVERYONE hates it. If you are fast, then you will easily pass the others after the light turns. If you are slow, then everyone has to pass you because you cut in front of them. Annoying.
- No Unsolicited Drafting. Do not ride directly behind someone so that they are blocking the wind for you, without asking. This advice mostly applies to “roadies” or amateur peloton wannabees who want to try out their newfound love for bike racing. It is dangerous to ride directly behind someone, and really rude to do it over a stretch more than a block without asking first. If you want to do this, and the person who you’d like to draft off of looks like a worthy friend, simply ask. I’ve had a few people ask, and I actually take it as a compliment and I try to ride even faster. However, if you are being surreptitious about it I want to go slow or kick you in the face. Be courteous and communicate.
- Don’t shout “On Your Left.” This isn’t a road race. This isn’t the Tour de France. This isn’t a group ride. If you are passing so close that you have to shout/announce your presence, then you are riding too close. Bike lanes, in most instances, are wide enough for one bicyclist in their own world. Or two, with a mutual understanding. Invading a bicyclist space, unawares, and then shouting “on your left” is rude, obnoxious, and rarely welcomed. If/when you pass, pass with enough space that it in no way affects their ride (like 4 feet). You may think you are being courteous, but honestly, I always interpret it as an aggressive, unnecessary gesture. Just pass me with enough room so I don’t have to think about it. If you must make a noise, a bell is somewhat acceptable.
- Lock your bike properly on the rack. This applies to the “staple” type racks. These racks are designed to hold two bikes – and the proper way to park your bike is to line your bike up parallel to the rack, not perpendicular. Lining your bike up parallel to the rack gives your bike two points of contact for support and makes it harder for your bike to be tipped over. It is really annoying when people don’t lock their bike properly because it makes it much easier for your bike to be knocked over, which happens a lot in a busy city.
- No Bike Lane “Salmoning”. Salmon are known for their delicious taste, but also affinity for traveling upstream to spawn. Do not ride “upstream” or opposite the flow of traffic. Bike lanes are not “choose your own adventure/direction”. When you ride the wrong way, it makes it dangerous for others who have to negotiate around you because you are acting like an idiot.
- Don’t pull into the crosswalk in busy pedestrian areas. It is rude. Wait behind the crosswalk.
- If you must travel on the sidewalk – follow these rules: 1. Travel at the speed of, or slower than a pedestrian. 2. Yield to all pedestrians (e.g. ride on grass, dismount, stop). 3. Only do it for short distances or to avoid major hazards. Overall, sidewalk riding is really dangerous and makes you more vulnerable to cars pulling out or turning in. Avoid sidewalk riding whenever possible.
- International distress signal, bike upside down! Ok not really, but, it is an indication that something isn’t right. It is very kind to politely pull over and ask if they have everything they need. It engenders goodwill amongst bicyclists and it feels really good to help people out. I’ve never had anyone take me up on the offer, but I always appreciate when people ask me if I’m ok. It builds our community. The same goes (obviously) for someone who appears to be hit/injured. People who just pass on by are callous (or super busy). Stopping to come to the aid of a fellow bicyclist shows human decency and will make you a happier person.
Just a few off the top of my head – but to me, these are the most important. Overall, be friendly, compliment people on their bikes, the weather, or that crazy driver you just saw. We’re all in this together!
Joe Robinson of Bike Walk Logan Square:
- Queue Up! You learned it in kindergarten, so put it to use. Don’t “budge” a rider who is patiently waiting for the right of way. If you think you’re faster, demonstrate it (safely!) when everyone is moving.
- Pedestrians rule the road. Or they should, anyway. Stop for all pedestrians in crosswalks — that means any place a sidewalk leads into the street. If the rest of traffic is blowing by, be the first to stop. Drivers will often follow your lead.
- Be an honest potato. Maybe you believe the “Idaho stop” should be the law everywhere. Well, it never will be if you’re incapable of yielding at a stop sign. Show us you can do it.