An Update On "Stop As Yield" Legislation In the United States

by Unknown at September 17, 2020, 4:18 pm



Biking has increased in popularity since the start of the pandemic.  With concern over taking public transportation and a desire for a fun, engaging activity that can be done while remaining socially distant, folks everywhere have been fixing up old bikes and buying new ones in large numbers.  For months now, bike shops in Chicago, and around the world, have found themselves in short supply of new bikes due to increased demand and supply chain issues.

With a significant increase in the number of people riding their bikes the need for laws that adequately serve and protect cyclists increases as well.  Eight years ago, I wrote a piece that appeared in Urban Velo (now defunct) chronicling the growing popularity of "stop as yield" laws, rules that permit bicyclists to treat stop signs - and in some cases, traffic lights - as yield signs.  Since then some additional states have adopted the law enacted first by the State of Idaho for the first time nearly 40 years ago.  Here's what's been happening over the past few years:
  • In 2017 Delaware became the second state in the country, after Idaho, to pass a law "permitting/requiring bicyclists to yield at stop signs (when the coast is clear), instead of requiring a complete stop at all stop signs," according to Bike Delaware. That organization notes that, "One of the keys to the near-unanimous passage of this legislation was the involvement, suggestions and buy-in from the Delaware State Police."
  • The following year, 2018, Colorado passed a law permitting municipalities in the state to adopt "stop as yield" at their discretion.  "Under the 'Safety as Yield law,' if a municipality passes a local law, a cyclist approaching a stop sign has to slow to 'a reasonable speed' and can proceed once it's safe to do so.  When approaching a red light, a bicyclist has to completely stop and can go once there is no cross traffic," according to The Coloradoan.
  • In 2019 Arkansas passed it's own statewide "stop as yield" law.  Under that law bike riders must "first slow down when approaching a stop sign, but they don’t have to stop unless it’s necessary to avoid an immediate hazard. They must also yield to any pedestrians who might be at the intersection.  At red lights, the rider must come to a complete stop, but may proceed through the intersection with caution once traffic is clear," according to The Fayetteville Flyer.
  • On January 1, 2020, Oregon became the fourth state to adopt a state-wide "stop as yield" law.  Under that statute, "if a cyclist who is approaching an intersection where traffic is controlled by a sop sign slows to a safe speed, the cyclist may do any of the following without violating the law: proceed through the intersection without stopping, make a right turn or left turn into a two-way street, make a right or a left turn into a one-way street in the direction of traffic upon the one-way street," according to bike lawyer, and friend, Bob Mionske, at BicycleLaw.com.
To my knowledge there is no current effort in Illinois to pass a "stop as yield" law.  This is shortsighted.  The current COVID-19 crisis only heightens the need for such a bike friendly law.  As many fear taking public transit, they look to bikes to get around.  The law should be revised to consider the needs of the growing ranks of Illinois bicyclists.

To Honk or Not To Honk at a Bicyclist

by Unknown at September 9, 2020, 5:47 pm


If you drive, please do not honk your horn at a person riding a bicycle, ever.

I hear it from time to time from folks I know.  They will say in an earnest and friendly tone, "I saw you on your bike.  I honked but I guess you didn't see me." 

"Oh, that was you," I'll respond, recalling the fear and/or annoyance I felt at the unwelcome toot.  "You know, you should not honk at someone on a bike," I'll say, trying to affect as gentle a tone as possible.  "It's scary to get honked at while biking."  Some seem slightly wounded.  Some get it.

On a bicycle, honks sound and feel angry and profane, the equivalent of, "Get the f*** out of my way."  That is always my go to assumption about the message being offered by the blare of a car horn.  If I turn and see someone I know waving at me, I feel relief but only after I let a moment of tension, fear and anxiety wash away.  No one likes being honked at on the road, whether in a motor vehicle or on a bike.  But for the bicyclist, the honk sounds particularly menacing.  In a car, a honk from a fellow motorist generally feels like a minimally harsh heads-up.  Even having someone lay on their horn at you generally does not feel like a threat from inside the safety of a motor vehicle.  On a bike, the feeling is very different.  Burdened with the knowledge that people on bikes are often viewed with hostility by drivers, the cyclist being honked at will immediately worry about their safety when they hear a car horn.  The honk indicates anger and aggression from a driver who, if they escalate, can quite easily run you down.  

Last week, curious as to whether other people who bike disapprove of honking as much as I do, I posed the following on Twitter:

I received several responses.  This one was fairly typical:

There were also these:

The Illinois Vehicle Code is not particularly helpful when it comes to offering drivers guidance regarding horn use around bicyclists.  The relevant Code section states, "The driver of a motor vehicle shall when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation give audible warning with his horn but shall not otherwise use such horn when upon a highway." 625 ILCS 5/12-601(a).  The phrase, "reasonably necessary to insure safe operation" is vague.  It begs the question, reasonably necessary to insure safe operation of what and for who's benefit?  Should a horn be used to ensure the safe operation of the honker's vehicle?  What about the safe operation of the vehicle/bicycle of the person being honked at?  The law offers no clarity.  However, it seems a fair interpretation that the Code prescribes horn use in rare circumstances, that is, when safety is at issue.  Section 12-601(a) does not permit horn use because a driver is in a rush and wants to pass a slower road user.  Any such use would be barred by that section.

Illinois has a section of its vehicle code meant to address harassment of bicyclists.  Section 11-703, prohibits a driver from passing, "unnecessarily close to, toward or near a bicyclist," and sets forth that three feet shall be the closest a driver may allow their vehicle to get to a person on a bike.  The section, however, makes no mention of audible harassment of or honking at a cyclist.  A review of other state vehicle laws revealed no prohibitions against honking at bicyclists.  For example, Iowa prohibits throwing any "object or substance" at a cyclist, but makes no mention of honking or other audible harassment like yelling.  The state of Louisiana and Mississippi are broader in their prohibitions.  Those states make it an offense to, "harass, taunt, or maliciously throw objects" at a person riding a bike.  A driver could harass or taunt with a vehicle horn, so these statutes arguably provide greater protection for bicyclists.

Of course, not every honk is made in anger.  In response to my Twitter inquiry I also received these replies:

A "good" honk from a driver can happen, but it is the exception to the rule.  Honking at a bicyclist will probably cause the rider fear and anxiety.  Some cyclists will naturally respond hostilely to a driver honking at them.  That is good for no one.

Video Shows Chicago Bicyclist Doored On Dearborn Street

by Unknown at September 3, 2020, 9:18 pm

A 31 year old male riding a bicycle was injured last month when a driver opened his vehicle's door into the cyclist's path near 1155 North Dearborn Street.  Our firm was retained to represent the bicyclist.  This morning we secured video of the crash from a condominium building near the crash site.  The video (below) shows that the biker was riding north on Dearborn just before 8:00 p.m. on August 19th when the driver of a white Scion flung his door open.  Because it was twilight, the cyclist was riding with an operating flashing white headlight, suggesting that the incident probably could have been avoided had the driver looked before opening his door.


Illinois law is quite clear that, “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.” 625 ILCS 5/11-1408.  Nevertheless, doorings are a problem that just won’t go away.  The urban bicyclist rides in perpetual fear of having a door flung open into their path.  Sadly, the number of such incidents is going in the wrong direction.  Between 2014 and 2015 the number of reported doorings in Chicago rose by 50 percent.  In Chicago more than 300 bicyclists were doored in 2015, the last year for which figures are available.

In response to this ongoing problem, in 2018 then Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner, signed a new law into effect that added a the "Dutch Reach" method to the Illinois Rules of the Road manual in an effort to encourage safe behavior from drivers when opening a door into a roadway.


Do the Rules of the Road for Chicago's New Electric Scooters Provide the City with Protection at the Expense of Riders?

by Unknown at June 19, 2019, 4:06 pm

Two Electric Scooters parked next to the bike lane on Milwaukee
Avenue in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood on June 19, 2019.
Photo by Brendan Kevenides

The e-apocalypse is upon us, or car-mageddon is set for roll back.  Maybe it's neither, or both.  Personal perspective matters a lot, but whether you think that they will create an unsightly mess or help reduce our city's over-dependence on cars, what is undeniable is that electric scooters have come to Chicago.

On June 15th the City allowed 10 different scooter companies to place a total of about 2500 electric powered scooters within a 50 square mile area on the West, Northwest and Southwest sides of the city, according to The Chicago Tribune.  To use one all you need is to download the scooter company's app to your smart phone, scan the scooter with your phone and go.  I had the opportunity to ride electric scooters from Bird and Lime earlier this Spring in another city and they are a blast to ride.  Simple, fun and efficient.

While riding one may produce a euphoric feeling of freedom, there are rules for operating an e-scooter in Chicago.  To qualify as an e-scooter, or "low-speed electric mobility device," a device must not have pedals, be no more than 26 inches wide, weight less than 100 pounds and be powered by an electric motor that can travel at no more than 15 miles per hour. Section 9-4-010.  The devices are defined much differently than are e-bicycles, referred to in the ordinance as "low-speed electric bicycles," and it is important to note the distinction.  Scooters must be equipped with a warning bell, a front white light, and a rear red light visible from at least 500 feet away, and hand and foot brakes, according to the permit requirements set forth by the City of Chicago.  As for the rules of the road, all "that apply to the operation and parking of bicycles shall also apply to the operation and parking of low-speed electric mobility devices." Section 9-52-130.  The rules that apply to bicycles regarding right of way, turning and stopping, also apply to e-scooters. 

There is, however, an important difference between rules applying to bikes and electric scooters when it comes to where they may be used.  Since 2011 the City of Chicago has installed many miles of marked bicycle lanes.  However, when a bike lane is present a person riding a bicycle is not required to use it.  They may ride in the street outside of the bike lane.  On the other hand, the City has apparently mandated that, "scooters are permitted to be operated only on the City's bike lanes or paths."  (Emphasis added.)  In the City of Chicago Requirements for Scooter Sharing Emerging Business Permit Pilot Program document, scooters vendors are required to "acknowledge and transmit to their customers" this limitation on use.  "Where there is no bike lane or path, scooters are allowed to be operated on city streets," according to the document.  This means e-scooters may be used on roads without a bike lane.  "But," the City document continues, "such streets [without bike lanes] are not intended to be used by scooters." (Emphasis added.)  That last part was probably written for lawyers like me.  What it means is that the City of Chicago is attempting to protect itself from liability should a scooter rider become injured after striking a road defect like a pot hole located outside of a bike lane.  With this language about intent the City is attempting to expand the Illinois Supreme Court's ruling in Boub v. Township of Wayne to apply to scooter riders.  That is a bad thing for scooter riders.

In its now infamous decision, Boub v. Township of Wayne, 183 Ill.2d 520, 702 N.E.2d 535 (Ill. 1998), the Supreme Court held that bicyclists are permitted but not intended users of Illinois roadways, unless the road at issue is specifically designated for bike traffic, e.g. with signs, markings, etc. Unless a roadway is so designated, a local municipality is completely immune from liability for a bicyclist's injuries caused by roadway hazards.  An Illinois municipality may be liable for injuries caused by a defect in a bike lane that it had notice of, but not for injuries caused by a defect outside of a bike lane, even if it knew of the danger posed.  Of course the case did not address electric scooters as they did not exist when the decision was handed down in 1998.  The City of Chicago's attempt to expand Boub to include e-scooters may end up being significant.  Even more so than bicycles, electric scooters, with their small wheels, lack of suspension and top heavy weight distribution (with a rider) are prone to crashing when they strike a road defect.  Lousy, pot holed and cracked streets, like in Chicago, are dangerous places for these devices.  A study published earlier this year which looked at e-scooter rider injuries in Los Angeles concluded that the devices were more dangerous than biking or walking.  An even more recent study, published in May by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention "found one in three riders were injured on their first ride" on a scooter.  In light these known dangers it is discomforting, to say the least, that the City of Chicago is inviting thousands of electric scooters to operate on our rough, pockmarked streets while attempting to limit its responsibility for causing injury where it has failed to provide safe infrastructure in which to ride.  Electric scooters are to be welcomed in Chicago.  To the extent they reduce car dependency, they are a net positive for our city.  (And did I mention that they're fun as hell?!)  But the right approach is for Chicago to do all in its power to make our streets safe for their use.  If the City is immune from taking responsibility for causing an injury it will have little incentive to fix its infrastructure.  It is wrong for Chicago to protect itself while failing to protect those it has invited to use these new devices.

If you think the better option for operating an electric scooter is on the sidewalk you best think again.  Doing so is illegal for adults.  To ride a bike or e-scooter on a sidewalk a rider must be under 12 years of age.  However, you must be at least 18 years of age to rent a scooter.  Individuals who are 16 or 17 years old may do so only with the consent of a parent or guardian.  So the bottom line is that no one should ride a scooter on a sidewalk in Chicago.


    

Amsterdam Is Not A Model Cycling City

by Unknown at May 7, 2019, 10:24 pm


As the train crossed from Belgium into the Netherlands my excitement grew.  I sat forward to get a better look out of the window at the country side.  Then I saw them, beautiful, clean, pale red ribbons stretching through the low lying land.    They were bicycle paths; actually not so much paths as bicycle highways, long and inviting, stretching into the distance with a promise to take you wherever you wanted to go in breezy, smooth self-powered tranquility.  It looked like the Promised Land I expected.


The Netherlands is generally considered one of only a few places in the developed world where biking infrastructure is done right.  There the bicycle is viewed differently than most everywhere else.  The bicycle is transportation first and foremost, not a toy, not a fitness device, and over several decades the Dutch have built paths and bike lanes in the cities, suburbs and countryside to facilitate the safe and convenient use of bikes by average people to get from point A to point B.  In that nation there are actually more bicycles than people; that is 17 million inhabitants and 23 million bikes.  More than 25% of all trips made by the Dutch are traveled by bicycle.  In the Netherlands the city that most often comes up in discussions about how to do biking right is Amsterdam, a dense city of about 800,000 people in the north of the country.  Among bicycle advocates Amsterdam is El Dorado, a fabled gleaming city to which those desiring an enlightened and pragmatic approach to transportation should look.  Bicycle utopia was what I expected.  What Amsterdam turned out to be was altogether different, a bicycle dystopia. 


Bikes rule the streets of Amsterdam.  They are everywhere.  Motor vehicles are there too, but they crawl through the narrow streets in obvious disproportion to the bikes.  Drivers are greatly outnumbered and they seem to know it.  They crawl tentatively through the narrow streets in their metal boxes.  The people on bikes seems to recognize the power they have.  They ride confidently, young and old, with small children and without helmets.  Imagine that:  People on bikes feeling powerful in the face of the automobile menace.  This is surely a good thing.  But it also seemed a bad thing.  For me, my wife and my 11 year old daughter, biking in Amsterdam was a stressful, chaotic, generally unpleasant experience.  I expected carefree, but what I experienced over a week of riding in the city was widespread carelessness among a large number of biking Amsterdammers.  Frankly, I saw more bad biking behavior than I’ve seen in my many years of biking in the United States.  Many people biked while staring at their mobile phones, paying little heed to pedestrians and other people on bikes.  Lights were rarely used at nighttime.  Red lights were run with abandon.  Many people thought nothing of riding the wrong way down one way roads.  Often a faster biker would pass within millimeters to get by me as I pedaled in an already narrow bike lane.  On one occasion, while pedaling slowly along the right side of a bike lane in the crowded Amsterdam Centraal area, a middle aged man passed very closely to my left.  Sitting on the rear rack of his bike was a woman holding a bag or purse.  When he attempted his pass one of the straps of the woman’s bag looped around my handlebars and pulled her off the bike and into the street.  She landed in front of a car which, thankfully, was moving slowly and was able to stop in time.  Somehow I was able to stay upright.  However, another bicyclist behind me struck the fallen woman and crash hard to the ground.  After apologies were offered and efforts made to make sure everyone was okay (all seemed to be), I was left wondering why Amsterdam is not the bike city I had expected.


There were several issues I noticed that seem to contribute to make Amsterdam a challenging biking city.  First of all, it is tremendously congested with both residents and tourists, all of whom use bikes to get around.  The busiest bike routes in Amsterdam are simply overwhelmed by the numbers.  In addition to the people that live in the city, 20 million tourists visit it yearly.  These tourists, from what I observed, can and do easily rent bikes from one of the bike shops that seem to be on every other corner.  One Dutch study that looked at biking congestion in Amsterdam concluded that, “The cycle lanes and paths in the city are too narrow to safely accommodate this enormous stream of cyclists and busy intersections become congested.”  Biking in Amsterdam has grown tremendously over a fairly short period of time.  In the 20 years prior to 2012, the number of bike trips taken in Amsterdam has increased by 40%.  One has to wonder if the increased popularity of biking in that city, and the Netherlands as a whole, has outpaced the ability to accommodate them.  The infrastructure is not awesome.  This is the second thing that made my experience unpleasant.  The roads and bike paths are difficult to navigate.  Often, the road, sidewalk and bike path blend subtly into one another.  I often found that I was not sure if I was in the street, on a bike path, or on the sidewalk.  Also, street names are not well marked.  If you are a local and know instinctively where to go you have a clear advantage.  But having to rely on street signs that are not obvious, along with spotty internet service, while riding a bike in a large crowd is pretty stressful.  Once you get where you are going, good luck finding a place to lock your bike.  Bike racks in Amsterdam are inadequate to an absurd degree.  The few that exist are piled high with thickets of bikes at all hours of the day and night.             


These two photos show the bike parking situation commonly encountered in Amsterdam. Photo by Brendan Kevenides


This is a big problem.  Amsterdam residences tend to be small, and out of necessity people tend to leave their bicycles outdoors when not in use.  If a secure lockup spot cannot be found people just lock up their bike’s wheels hoping that this, plus the hefty weight of the typical Dutch bike, will discourage theft.  But bike theft is rampant.  One local I spoke with said she had three bikes stolen within a space of six months.  While there for only a week I had no trouble picking out a person suspiciously walking up to random strangers on the street asking if they wanted to buy “his” bike.  No wonder people tend to ride some pretty junky looking bikes.  Having a “nice” bike makes little sense in light of the probability of having it stolen.


Does an overwhelmed biking infrastructure account for the rampant bad biking behavior I witnessed?  It is hard to say.  I saw a lot of people on bikes doing a lot of stupid stuff.  But I see a lot of drivers in Chicago do a lot of stupid stuff too:  Texting while driving, running stop signs.  Perhaps dominance leads to apathy regardless of the mode of transportation.


 

The photo on the left shows two bicyclists approaching each other in an intersection at right angles. It’s not clear to me who has the right of way. Fortunately, a crash was avoided.  On the right, a young person stands on the rear of a bicycle being pedaled by an adult.


Many Dutch people looked quite comfortable hauling children, groceries and pretty much anything you can think of by bike.  Considering the sheer numbers of people, I was surprised that I heard virtually no angry shouting between road users.  But surely, this outward calm demeanor among Amsterdammers is unwarranted.  In 2017, in the Netherlands as a whole, of the 613 people killed in traffic crashes, 206 of these were bicyclists.  Between 2000 and 2013 cyclists in Amsterdam accounted for 28% of all traffic deaths in that City, making it the Netherlands’ most dangerous biking city.


Amsterdam is disappointing as a biking city.  Bicycles are ridden haphazardly and are strewn around the city like junk.  Every year some 12,000 to 15,000 of them are fished out of the canals.  This is not a model for biking in the United States.  It will probably take generations for biking in any U.S. city to reach the level of popularity it has in Amsterdam.  As biking grows here it is important to keep the Dutch experience in mind though.  A safe and pleasant biking experience requires an infrastructure that grows with the biking public.  It is not enough to encourage people to ride.  They must have safe space in which to do so.  Failure in that regard will snuff out the biking movement in the U.S. while it is still in its infancy.  An inability to grow and expand a well-developed biking infrastructure will likely lead to dysfunction.