In 2014, the Governors Highway Safety Administration concluded that Illinois had the fifth highest rate of bicycle fatalities between 2010 and 2012. During that three year period, Illinois recorded 80 deaths in bicycle accidents across the state, and a large number of them happened in the greater Chicago area.
Whether you ride a bicycle or not, it is important to realize that bicycle safety affects your daily life. If you take a bus, a train, drive a car, or simply walk, you will cross paths with bicyclists at some point as a non-rider and you may be involved in a crash with a cyclist. If you happen to ride, you are already aware of the many threats that present themselves along a typical Chicago route and you have been the unfortunate victim of collision-related injuries.
But why do Illinois and Chicago see so many bicycle crashes, and what can be done to stem or even prevent these incidents from occurring?
The issues surrounding bicycle safety, bicycle riding, and overall traffic flow in the city are complex and make it impossible to point to one specific issue as the source of all problems. Instead, it is often the interplay of several factors that lead to a crash and that determine whether that incident will result in harm or damage to the individuals involved.
Many drivers, especially those in the Loop, have a toxic view towards cyclists on the roadways. Though bicyclists are legally allowed to ride in the streets, there is a segment of drivers who do not agree with this and who become hostile in the mere presence of a cyclist. These angry drivers often become aggressive and may even revert to road rage tendencies, sometimes called “bike rage” when it is directed at a cyclist. Statistically, being overly emotional and/or angry while driving significantly increases the odds that a driver will cause an accident or otherwise will be a threat to public safety.
Another significant issue affecting safety of cyclists is the overall layout of the city and its streets. While significant improvements have been made in recent years to many heavily-biked routes downtown, there is still a great deal that can be done to keep riders away from cars as much as possible. The introduction of additional bicycle-only lanes, the creation of protected bike lanes, greater use of bicycle-specific traffic control devices, and greater visibility of these riders are all factors that experts have stated should be considered if Illinois wants to reduce the number of bicycle incidents it sees annually.
It may be a stretch to refer to Chicago’s street parking as “ample” but the fact remains that a large number of streets are lined with available parking spaces and these spaces are almost always in use. Drivers pull into and out of street parking several times a day and must cross the right side of a traffic through lane to do so. In areas where protected cycling lanes do not exist and even on some other streets, this means that vehicles are forced to cross the paths of where bicyclists ride, increasing the risk of a sideswipe collision. Riders are placed at additional risk for harm in the event that drivers of these parked vehicles open their vehicle doors into a cyclist’s oncoming path, causing a bicycle dooring accident that results in injuries more often than not.
Chicago also presents a mix of drivers and cyclists with a wide range of skills and that can mean that trouble is around the next corner. Some drivers in the city are very young, some are very old, and some are very inexperienced. Other drivers are tourists and are not familiar with our streets and roadways. Similarly, cyclists range from the extremely dedicated to those who ride only once or twice a year. With the addition of Divvy bike shares, some cyclists are riding for the first time in a decade or more when they come to Chicago. Whether it is a motorist or a cyclist, inexperience can be a deadly factor that may lead to a collisions if all parties involved are not extremely cautious.
The bottom line is that many factors lead to collisions between cyclists and cars in Chicago and that until all riders and all drivers take additional steps to ensure safety, crashes likely will continue to take place. If you were involved in a bicycle accident, make sure you know whether you are entitled to financial compensation for your injuries.
Prior Blog Entry:
283,000 Ford Vehicles Recalled for Transmission, Suspension Problems, Chicago Car Accident Lawyers Blog, published April 29, 2016.
Illinois fifth in nation for bicycle deaths, by Dana Ferguson, Chicago Tribune, published October 27, 2014.