By Martin Dolan
Dolan Law Offices
An avid cyclist, 28-year-old Ukrainian Village resident Michael Brunlieb rides his bike everywhere, including downtown to work. He encounters treacherous situations, including a cyclist's worst nightmare while recently peddling on Ashland Avenue with a backpack full of groceries.
"A car clipped me. I got hit on my back left side and was pushed into a car that was parked," he said. "I wiped out, obviously, all the groceries, including a glass bottle in my backpack got smashed, and I totally destroyed the side mirror of the parked car."
He got back up, but the driver who hit him drove off. And even though he did the responsible thing by leaving a note on the parked car he struck, he was still on the hook to pay for part of the damaged mirror.
All things considered, though, Brunlieb was one of the lucky ones. In 2010 in Illinois alone, 24 bicyclists were killed in traffic fatalities.
With the arrival of warm weather and as gas prices continue to climb, more Chicagoans are looking for healthy and inexpensive methods to get them around town and to work.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has implemented incremental measures to make Chicago a bike friendly city, even installing "bicycle ambassadors" committed to promoting bike safety.
With about 140 miles of on-street bicycle friendly lanes and access to about 12,000 bike racks, Chicago has aptly earned the title of the 10th most bike friendly city in America by Bicycling magazine.
Cycling continues to present countless hazards and obstacles, often making for a stressful experience for two-wheeled commuters.
Cyclists compete for space on the road with cabdrivers, who constantly lurch in and out of bike lanes to pick up or drop off passengers at roadside curbs and buses that leave little room for bikes to negotiate. And with distracted drivers cutting off bikers in heavy traffic at high speeds and inattentive pedestrians who don't bother looking both ways before crossing the street, accidents involving novice and experienced cyclists alike can lead to serious and even fatal results.
There are several common sense precautions that can drastically reduce the risk and frequency of accidents.
Maintenance is a must. Before you hit the road, perform a quick check to ensure your bike is safe and ready to ride. Always check the air in your tires before you set out — both tires should be about the firmness of a basketball. Testing your brakes and ensuring your chain is properly lubricated are also maintenance musts, said Ethan Spotts of the Active Transportation Alliance, which promotes bike safety. "It's as simple as ABC," Spotts said. "Air, brakes, chain. Those are the primary bike components you'll want to check out before you start your commutes."
Watch out for "dooring." One of the most common and dangerous risks to cyclists is "dooring," which occurs when drivers open their car doors into the paths of oncoming cyclists, striking them without warning or not allowing enough time to stop. Although protected lanes help prevent dooring, the vast majority of bicycle lanes run juxtaposed to parked cars and, far too often, drivers fling their doors open without looking. Even though dooring has been considered a traffic violation for some time, it wasn't until this past year that Gov. Pat Quinn became an advocate for cycling safety by signing legislation tracking the number of dooring incidents as traffic collisions in police records. Those statistics help determine the extent of the problem and where it occurs most frequently, which lead to increased signage, more public awareness efforts addressing the problem and ultimately improved overall safety.
Remain alert. Cyclists should always gauge the attentiveness of every person they share the road with, which includes pedestrians, in-line skaters, dog walkers and strollers.
"Ride safely and predictably," Spotts said. "We also recommend riding with confidence. You as a person on a bike have the same rights as a person in a car. So if you need to get around some broken glass or if someone is going to open a car door, you should be ready and willing to take that lane, and get out into traffic when you need to."
One thing to watch for is a person holding a phone to his or her ear, thus blocking their peripheral vision, making them completely unaware of the cyclists bearing down on them. The importance of eye contact cannot be overstated.
Obey the law. Some bikers will just assume the right of way and not bother to stop. While completely illegal, this maneuver meets the expectations of some motorists and they pause accordingly, letting the cyclist go. Assuming that every motorist will extend this courtesy is not only bold, it's extremely dangerous.
Chicago police have cracked down on cyclists disobeying traffic laws as recently as last summer. From a liability standpoint, cyclists should always obey the law, lest they be stripped of any legal entitlements in the event of an accident. Likewise, it's important that bikers know their own rights, should post- collision litigation ever occur.
Bicycling is a wonderful means of transportation, but it can be very dangerous. Cyclists and drivers need to show mutual respect so they can share the road.