Chicago Sun-Times
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Committee advances Rahm's plan to crack the whip on errant motorists and cyclists

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to throw the book at reckless motorists who endanger bicycle riders and do the same to cowboy cyclists advanced to the City Council floor Monday--just in time for the launch of a massive bike-sharing program.

Emanuel's decision to create a ground-breaking network of protected bike lanes in Chicago has increased conflicts between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

The ordinance approved Monday by the City Council's Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety seeks to reduce the tension 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," said Deputy Transportation Commissioner Luann Hamilton.

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 over 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.

Buses in lanes shared with bikes would be allowed to leave the designated lane to get around a bike.

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 semi-trailer after swerving to avoid an open car door.

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

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

The city now has 204.1 miles of on-street bike ways. That includes: 18.6 miles of protected or 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 Ave. and on Clybourn. The long-stalled bike-sharing program is launching this month at 400 solar-powered stations.

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When I hear "protected" bike lanes, I think of Amsterdam where the citizens have given up street parking to create permanent bike lanes that are easy for auto drivers to see and avoid. I don't see anything like that in Chicago. What is the Mayor talking about and will Chicagoans buy into a bike program - that can't be used 4 months out of the year because of bad weather - that eliminates significant numbers of street parking spaces? It seems like this would be the only way to truly protect bikers and make it easier to drive in the City.

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