Chicago Bike Laws

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In Illinois and in Chicago, bicyclists are subject to the same laws as other users of the road. Sure, you may see others breaking traffic laws, but in the event of a crash or altercation, you will be on stronger footing if you adhere to the law as closely as possible.

Lane Positioning

As a cyclist, you are required to stay on the right side of the traffic lane under normal and safe circumstances. However, you should keep out of the door zone of parked cars to avoid anyone inadvertently opening their car door in front of you. That means that on certain streets it is perfectly legal for you to “take the lane”, which means to ride in the middle of the normal traffic lane, as you would in a car. Here are the nuances of lane positioning laws in Illinois:

When riding roadways and bicycle paths at less than normal traffic speed, ride as close as practicable and safe to the right-hand curb or edge of roadway except:

  1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction; or

  2. When preparing for a left turn; or

  3. When reasonably necessary to avoid fixed or moving objects or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. A "substandard width lane" means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane. (See: “taking the lane”, above.)

  4. When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

  5. When riding on a one-way highway with two or more marked traffic lanes.

Left Turns

Bicyclists may choose between a vehicular-style left turn or a box-style left turn:

  • For vehicular-style left turns, proceed as if driving a vehicle, moving to the left lane or the left side of a single lane prior to the intersection.

  • For box-style left-turns, riding near the right side of the roadway, cross the intersecting roadway, stop (as much as practicable out of the way of traffic), yield to any traffic and proceed in the new direction while obeying any official traffic control device or police officer.

Hand Signals

Signals shall be given from the left and right side as follows:

  • Left turn and right turn - hand and arm extended horizontally.

  • Stop or de-crease of speed - hand and arm extended downward.

  • Signal not less than the last 100 feet before the turn, and while the bicycle is stopped waiting to turn.

Hand signals from activetrans.org

Hand signals from activetrans.org

Use of Sidewalks

Local ordinance may prohibit bicyclists from using sidewalks. Where permitted, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians and give audible signals before passing pedestrians. Bicyclists using sidewalks have all the rights and duties of pedestrians. Cycling is expressly prohibited on portions of Sheridan road in Chicago, and violators are subject to a $200 fine.

Lights and Other Equipment on Bicycles

For night riding a front lamp with a white light visible from at least 500 feet to the front, and a red reflector on the rear visible from 100 feet to 600 feet are required. A rear light visible from 500 feet may be used in addition to the red reflector.

Safe Riding Tactics

At intersections:

  • Pull in front of traffic when waiting at intersections. This allows you to be seen by stopped motorists and out of car's exhaust.

  • Make eye contact with stopped drivers and check their signals.

  • Stay to the left of right-turning vehicles. Position yourself in line with the hood of the car.

  • Always yield to pedestrians.

Visibility:

  • Beware of a vehicle’s blind spots when riding behind or passing. If you can’t see drivers they probably don’t see you.

  • Beware of oncoming vehicles blocking your view. Other traffic may be oncoming that you can’t see. Wait for a clear view to proceed.

  • Beware of following vehicles so closely you can’t see road conditions, cyclists, pedestrians or traffic

Direction of travel:

NEVER RIDE AGAINST TRAFFIC. It is against the law and it is dangerous. If you think you are safer because you can see cars coming you are mistaken. 20% of car-bike collisions result from cyclists riding the wrong way. Oncoming cars are not looking for you and turning vehicles can not see you. Riding with traffic allows motorists to gradually over-take and pass bicyclists.

Buses and trucks:

Do not get squeezed out by buses picking up and dropping off passengers. Bikes and buses often share the same space and play a game of “leapfrog” with each other in traffic. DO NOT squeeze between the bus or truck and the curb on the right. It is extremely dangerous. Pass any stopped buses on the left after checking behind to see if it’s clear. If you cannot safely pass, or if you are waiting to make a right turn, wait behind the stopped vehicle.

Avoid the DOOR ZONE:

The “door zone” is the 3-4 feet along the left side of a parked car where an opening door can hit and seriously injure a cyclist. When riding in a bike lane, stay on the left side of the lane. Ride at least 3 feet away from parked cars on the street

THIS BEARS REPEATING: Take the full lane if there’s no room to safely pass open car doors and to avoid exiting passengers .

Scan inside parked cars and their side rearview mirrors when passing, and move outside the “door zone” if you see exiting occupants. Watch behind you for traffic when moving out of the “door zone” and into the full lane.

A bike mirror helps you see behind to know if cars are approaching.