Special Segment: Riding on the Edge

November 1, 2010 4:57:43 AM PDT
Bicyclists on the streets of Chicago face many dangers, but they may put themselves in that position and frequently frustrate others on the road.By law, bicyclists have to obey the same traffic lights and signs guiding drivers. In fact, the Secretary of State's office distributes out a pamphlet spelling it all out. But many bicyclists in Chicago follow their own rules.

In downtown Chicago during the afternoon rush, the lights and signs at several high-traffic intersection that prevent chaos are ignored by bicyclist, after bicyclist, after bicyclist.

"They kind of do what they want," one person said.

"It almost seems like they view themselves as above the law," said another.

Over the course of two days, ABC7 witnessed dozens of bicycle traffic violations, from riders blowing through stop signs to bicyclists ignoring red lights and snaking across traffic.

"They will cut in front of you. They will especially never stop at a stop sign," motorist Audrey Middleton said.

Bicyclists could also be seen riding in oncoming lanes, going the wrong way down one-way streets, as well as riding on busy sidewalks and failing to stop for emergency vehicles. Some also took up entire lanes of traffic, all without signaling.

Pedestrian Carole Romano indicated she rarely saw bicyclists giving the appropriate hand signals.

"Oh, no, no," she said.

In some cases, it's not that bike riders won't stop. Sometimes, they can't. Growing in popularity are fixed-gear bikes, which have no brakes. The fact that they are illegal is part of the allure.

"It's a complete ego thing," one rider said.

Some bike riders speaking with ABC7 seemed less than concerned.

"I don't mean to break any laws or anything like that. That's just the way I ride my bike," bicyclist Marcos Orta said.

"We gotta get from point A to point B, and sometimes, no, we don't obey the law because we're trying to get from point A to point B," rider Bertram Davis said.

Chicago has long touted itself as bicycle-friendly, and Mayor Daley's administration has added miles of bike lanes and expanded city bike programs. However, as the number of bicyclists have grown, so have the number of accidents: from less than 1,200 in 2003 to more than 1,700 in 2008, according to the Illinois Dept. of Transportation. That's a nearly 50-percent increase.

A leading bicycle advocacy group says bike riders are not to blame.

"Education and enforcement should be focused on where it can have the greatest impact for everyone's safety, and that is obviously more focused on motorists," said Ethan Spotts, Active Transportation Alliance spokesman.

But not every bicyclist agrees.

"It's about bicyclists having equal rights but not special rights," Philip Martin said.

Martin is a former board member of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. He says out-of-control behavior threatens the progress the bike community has made.

"Cyclists need to become more responsible for themselves. Otherwise, we risk losing the support that we need to expand our programs," Martin said.

Bike riders can be ticketed just like drivers, but Chicago police and the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk's Office could not determine for ABC7 Chicago, based on their records, how many bicyclists have been ticketed in recent years.

In fact, ABC7 is told by the circuit clerk's office that there isn't a separate bicycle ticket form and the standard ticket doesn't have a section or category for bicyclists.


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