CHICAGO — A measure passed overwhelmingly by the Illinois Legislature clarifies that bicyclists are entitled to the right-of-way and “shall be granted all of the rights” of drivers of cars and trucks.
Illinois House bill 5912, known as "Dennis's Law," was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this month after it was approved 164 to 1 by the House and Senate. It will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.
The push for the new bill that strengthens the rights of cyclists came from the family of Dennis Jurs, a Vietnam veteran who was killed last year in a crash with a driver who was ticketed for failing to yield the right of way to him.
The ticket was thrown out of court by a judge who cited case law that said that a bicycle was not a "vehicle," according to lawyer Michael Keating, who represented the Jurs family and helped to draft the legislation.
Keating said the amendment "provides clarity for both bicyclists and motorists in Illinois with the goal of safety in mind."
Eric Gallien, associate director of the Illinois Trucking Association, a nonprofit trade group with 500 members, said the bill is "as much common sense legislation you can get. "
"It's a piece of legislation you just have to have on the books," Gallien said.
The week after the bill was passed, there were two fatal bike accidents on Chicago's roads involving larger vehicles.
Lisa Kuivinen, 20, died on Aug. 16 in a crash with a flatbed truck in River West; Francisco Cruz, 58, was killed in a crash with a cargo van in an Aug. 17 hit-and-run in Garfield Park.
Earlier this summer, Blake Klingenberg, 29, was struck by a tour bus along "Magnificent Mile and Virginia Murray 25, was riding a Divvy when she was involved in a "right hook" crash with a turning flatbed truck in Avondale.
Michael Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Dept. of Transportation, said that one of the most important safety messages is that "all users of the right-of-way need to be aware of their surroundings and exercise utmost caution at all times."
In response to the new amendment, Gallien said that the trucking association's next quarterly safety meeting, which typically attracts drivers from up to 35 companies, will focus on safety with pedestrians and cyclists as it relates to sharing the right-of-way.
"Bicyclists and pedestrians have no protection [on the roads]. We are not a perfect industry, no one is, and we are trying to be as safe as we can," Gallien said.
Milwaukee Avenue, where Kuivinen collided with a truck, is designated by the city as a "spoke route" to Downtown. It is the city's busiest cycling street; during peak rush hours some 500 to 600 people use it per hour, Claffey said.
Milwaukee Avenue is also a "designated truck route," allowing for trucks as big as 65 feet long and trucks capable of hauling up to 34,000 pounds, according to a map and Illinois Dept. of Transportation weight and length guidelines.
The day after Kuivinen was killed, a cyclist took his anger out by smashing the windshield of a semi truck parked in the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane near where Kuivinen was struck.
The incident drew criticism from truck drivers and cyclists.
"As a delivery truck driver for over 30 years, this is one of the most ridiculous and childish reaction I have ever heard of. More importantly, its an outright act of criminal behavior," one reader commented on Neighborhood Square.
Trucking is "an easy industry to vilify" Gallien said.
"People don't realize how much of their goods were on a truck at some point. With our industry, it's continuing to get goods to market," he said.
"Everything is magnified for a truck driver. In Illinois, if you are texting and driving, you get a ticket. If a truck driver is found texting with a [Commercial Driver's License], it could be grounds for losing a license," he said.
Kyle Whitehead, government relations director for the Active Transportation Alliance, said the group is advocating for the city to consider ATA's Vision Zero process as relates to the challenges of larger vehicles.
Vision Zero, a safety movement that started in Sweden, is built on the foundation that no loss of life is acceptable and the only acceptable number is zero crashes.
"We can have this apathetic attitude, crashes are going to happen, people are going to get killed, or we can work with the private and public sector to make [the roads] safer," Whitehead said.
The alliance is currently hosting a "Clear the Way" campaign to collect as many examples of obstructed bike lanes, sidewalk and trails as possible by Sept. 30.
Whitehead said that advocating for improving safety along Milwaukee Avenue is a priority, particularly between Division and North avenues, "where there is parking on both sides of the street, narrow lanes, a high level of bike traffic and over the past year, lots of large vehicles going to and from various construction sites."
John Greenfield, editor of the transportation news website Streetsblog Chicago (which Keating sponsors), said that the new law "seems like a really good development" and a "fitting legacy" for Jurs.
"He was an army vet who was wounded by a land mine during the Vietnam War, which severely injured his left thigh. He credited bicycling with allowing him to recover his leg strength, and cycling was a big part of his life for the next four decades," said Greenfield.
Hopefully, his family will find some comfort in knowing that "the law his case inspired will help protect other Illinois residents as they ride bikes — something Mr. Jurs clearly loved to do," Greenfield said.
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