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Ask Chicagoist: Who Has Right-Of-Way?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on May 2, 2008 6:06PM

2008_05_askbikes.jpgDear Chicagoist,
I recently got into an argument with my boss about who has the "right of way" on the road - bicyclists or motorists. While I am not advocating bicyclists to have blatant disregard for motorists, I subscribe to the idea that the slowest mode of transportation should always have the right of way - i.e. cars yield to bikes, bikes yield to pedestrians. My boss says cars have the right of way. What do you say?


Unfortunately, this is a sadly appropriate question considering the number of bicyclists killed recently in Chicago -- including a woman in Logan Square on Wednesday.

But, sorry, JE. We think your logic makes sense, but in Chicago, bikes lose.

City law specifically states that everyone on the road is more important than bicyclists (perhaps in not so many words...), and they need to yield right-of-way.

Paragraph 9-52-040 of Chicago Municipal Code is titled "Yielding right-of-way" and outlines how bicycles have to yield to both pedestrians and vehicles when entering the roadway, pedestrians when riding on the sidewalk (which is almost always illegal anyway), and "other moving vehicles" when riding on the road. No word yet on if bicycles have to yield to motorists driving on the sidewalk.

So this all pretty much means that bicycles yield to everyone all the time: "Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right-hand side of the roadway, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction and at all times giving the right-of-way to other moving vehicles."

Outside of Chicago it's less specific. Illinois' state regulations indicate that neither cars nor bicycles have automatic right-of-way based on the chosen mode of transportation. Bicyclists are required to adhere to the "rules of the road," and cars are expected to do the same, and not blatantly run bicycles off the road (or into their cars). That last part applies to Chicago, too.

The state law says that "traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles. Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle." The law doesn't mention right-of-way specifically by name when discussing bicycles and motor vehicles, except to say that bicyclists definitely have to yield to pedestrians.

Right-of-way or not though, motorists still are required to follow traffic guidelines and maintain a little common sense to avoid putting bicyclists in danger. Bicyclists have to follow traffic regulations -- but so do motorists. Right-of-way has to do with yielding in the flow of traffic, not putting bicyclists into harm's way or driving (or riding) like a moron.

Also important: don't get hit by cars.

Image via ciscel

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