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This New Law Should Make Cycling Safer On Illinois Roads

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 29, 2017 10:13PM

Flickr / Photo: Julio Romero

A new, pro-cycling law will soon explicitly legalize riding on the shoulder of roads for cyclists. The law will also make it legal for a driver to pass a cyclist by going across a solid no-passing centerline under certain, safe conditions. While the new measures will likely have little effect on the daily commuting lives of Chicago cyclists, both are key advancement for those in the city who sometimes ride to and from the suburbs, or enjoy longer bike travels west or downstate.

By allowing the new pass maneuver for motorists, the hope is that safety will improve, along with car-bicycle relations on the road. House Bill 1784 specifies three criteria that must be met in order for a vehicle to pass a bike by crossing a no-pass line:

(1) the bicycle is traveling at a speed of less than half of the posted speed limit of the highway
(2) the driver is able to overtake and pass the bicycle without exceeding the posted speed limit of the highway; and
(3) there is sufficient distance to the left of the centerline of the highway for the motor vehicle to meet the overtaking and passing requirements under [the three-feet passing law]

While that may have less real-life applicability in the city of Chicago, it benefits those who like to ride beyond the urban infrastructure. Ed Barsotti, Chief Programs Officer of Ride Illinois, the cycling advocacy organization that pushed the bill, notes that "in suburban areas, there are a lot of roads that reach 40 or 50 mph, and are very popular with cyclists, especially on weekends." The law is a good fit for situations such as those, Barsotti said.

Both the passing maneuver and bikes riding on shoulders in Illinois are not uncommon, Barsotti said; but the lack of firm detail in the law could lead to dangerous situations and leave cyclists exposed, legally speaking, for doing a routine, safe practice.

"If cyclists don’t legally have that right to ride on the shoulder and a crash occurs, they may lose the ability to recover. The intention was to close some of those loopholes, to protect cyclists’ rights in the court system," Barsotti told Chicagoist.

The law also closes a rather bizarre mandate that was news to us. Previous state law required that cyclists have a red rear reflector at night—even if he or she also had a red rear light. The city of Chicago had already allowed either; now the whole state will.

The bill passed both chambers unanimously and was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday. It takes effect Jan. 1. Good news for anybody who enjoys cycling—which is also now the official state exercise of Illinois!