By Hal Dardick
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday proposed making city streets more accommodating to bike riders while toughening penalties for drivers as well as cyclists who violate the rules of the road.
The amendments to the city's bike ordinance, including some that would mirror state law, would allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks to get to roads and paths or new bicycle sharing stations; leave the curbside edge of the right line when passing another bicycle or preparing to turn; and ride side-by-side, provided they stay in one lane and do not impede traffic.
The proposal also would eliminate the requirement for cyclists to hug the right shoulder if they are keeping up with other traffic, while also allowing cyclists to ride in the road even when there's an adjacent bike path. Buses in shared bus-and-bike lines, like those on Clark Street, would be permitted to leave the designated lane to get around a bike.
During the mayor's two years in office, the city has spent millions of dollars to create designated bike lanes and in June will start rolling out 400 solar-powered docking stations that would allow people to rent bicycles for shorter rides in much of the city.
In some quarters, Emanuel has been criticized for making life easier on cyclists at the expense of drivers. On Wednesday, while introducing the new rules for City Council consideration, he emphasized aspects that aim to make life tougher on cyclists who violate traffic laws.
Fines for riders who violate traffic laws would at least double, to a minimum of $50 and maximum of $200 from a current fixed amount of $25. But at the same time, drivers and passengers who "door" a cyclist -- causing an accident by opening a door in the path of the bike -- would face a $1,000 fine, twice the current amount of $500. Fines for just leaving a vehicle door open in traffic also would double, to $300.
"If they are sharing the roadway with vehicles, cyclists must obey all traffic laws, including yielding to pedestrians, stopping at traffic signals and indicating when they are making turns," Emanuel said. "When the traffic laws are obeyed, everyone is safer."
David Dalka, a Wrigleyville resident who said his car has twice been hit during the past two years "by reckless bicyclists," was skeptical about the higher fines having an effect.
"They ride their bikes too fast" and don't obey the rules, Dalka said. "This whole thing is a joke because whatever they do, they won't enforce it anyway."
But Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, which has allied itself with Emanuel on many issues, praised the changes and said disobeying traffic rules wasn't confined to cyclists.
"Too often, we see people on foot, on bikes or driving cars traveling recklessly, which is why we support increased traffic fines as an important way to improve safety along with better education and infrastructure," he said in a written statement.
In other council action Wednesday, aldermen approved restoring free water to smaller religious institutions and other nonprofit groups that provide charitable work. Larger nonprofits would pay discounted rates or, if their net assets topped $250 million, full price.
To even the scales between Catholic parishes, which do not own their own real estate, and other religious institutions and nonprofits, the rules will be drawn up so real estate is excluded from the net-asset equation, said Ald. Edward Burke, 14th.
The council also approved paying out $325,000 to settle a case involving Officer John Haleas, who was considered the department's top enforcer of drunken driving laws before prosecutors accused him of falsifying police reports.
The city already has spent nearly $46,000 for other settlements in cases involving Haleas, according to the law department. Haleas was stripped of his police powers in 2008, but he still works in the records department.
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