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Obscure State, City Laws Make Bicyclists Legally Responsible For Doorings

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 4, 2013 9:30PM

Photo credit: Moe Martinez

Trust us when we say that being doored is one of the most frightening things about biking in Chicago. No matter how safe or alert a bicyclist rides on the streets, the threat is always out there.

Thanks to a couple of obscure state and local laws, cyclists can be held responsible for doorings. The laws were originally written to prevent motorcycles from barreling down the shoulders of streets and highways but have been used to arbitrarily fault bicyclists for doorings.

Streetsblog Chicago has the details.

“This is one of the dumber laws that’s applied to bicyclists,” said local attorney Jim Freeman (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), who has represented clients cited for passing on the right. He’s talking about section 11-704(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code, which reads in part:

The driver of a 2 wheeled vehicle may not pass upon the right of any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the unobstructed pavement to the right of the vehicle being passed is of a width of not less than 8 feet.

Bikes aren’t included in the code’s definition of “vehicle,” but elsewhere the code requires cyclists to follow the same rules as vehicles, except when the laws “by their nature can have no application.” Chicago’s municipal vehicle code is similarly worded.

Whether 11-704(b) can apply to bikes “by its nature” is up for debate, since there’s no clear precedent in case law, according to Freeman. But Chicago attorney Brendan Kevenides (also a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) believes that from a common sense perspective, it makes no sense to apply the restriction to bikes.

“If this section is applied to bicycles, it would completely turn the whole concept of ‘share the road’ on its head,” he told me. “What would happen if bicycles were not allowed to travel along the right, or pass along the right?”

Streetsblog Chicago’s Keith Griffith notes that the Active Transportation Alliance and the League of Illinois Bicyclists are lobbying to have the laws revised so that bicycles are excluded from the passing-on-right restriction. The League of Illinois Bicycles has also, for the first time, referenced the restriction in their bike-law handouts in an effort to educate cyclists on the restriction.