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Riding Through Red Lights Could Save Cyclists' Lives, Study Suggests

By Dong Jin Oh | December 12, 2016 12:18pm
 Should bicyclists abide by the same traffic laws as motor vehicles at intersections? A new study from DePaul University suggests they shouldn't always have to.
Should bicyclists abide by the same traffic laws as motor vehicles at intersections? A new study from DePaul University suggests they shouldn't always have to.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser (File)

CHICAGO — Should bicyclists abide by the same traffic laws as motor vehicles at intersections? A new study from DePaul University suggests they shouldn't always have to.

The study, published Monday by DePaul's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, observed 875 cyclists at six intersections in Chicago and found that only one out of 25 obey stop signs and 2 out of 3 run the red lights when there's no traffic.

Yet the study suggests implementing a "Idaho Stop" law at four-way stop intersections, which would allow cyclists to regard stop signs as yield signs and that at red lights, they would only have to stop long enough to determine whether it was safe to cross. The idea is to maintain bicyclists' momentum.

The Idaho Stop, named after a yielding law passed in that state in 1982, has not been adopted in any other states, though some parts of Colorado recognize a limited form of the law called "Stop as Yield." 

The current bike law in Chicago states cyclists "must follow all rules of the roadway including ... stopping at stop signs" and obey traffic signals, according to a Safe Cycling Guide published by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The DePaul study says "stop sign intersections, especially four-way stops, tend to be less risky for cyclists practicing the Idaho Stop because even if cross-traffic is present, motorists are required to stop."

The study suggested implementing a pilot program that would allow Idaho Stops at select signaled intersections with relatively low traffic volumes and during late-night hours.

The DePaul researchers cited an analysis of 707 bike crashes from 2010 to 2013 that showed that intersections with signals were associated with more bicycle crashes.

"Thus, if cyclists are legally permitted to yield and proceed through an intersection when cross-traffic is not present, they can clear the intersection before more traffic becomes present," the researchers write.

Another study cited by the DePaul report found that in the year that followed the implementation of the Idaho Stop Law, cyclist injuries in Idaho declined by 14.5 percent. The study also concluded that having cyclists follow the same rules of the road as drivers may be in fact more dangerous.

The DePaul researchers recorded bicycle behavior at intersections in Logan Square, Edgewater, Wicker Park, Bucktown, River North and Hyde Park.

The study, by Jenna Caldwell, Riley O'Neil, Joseph P. Schwieterman and Dana Yanocha, also found:

• Biking is on average faster than other modes of transportation when getting from point A to point B. When compared to public transit and UberPool, biking proved faster than public transit on 33 of the 45 trips and faster than UberPool on 21 trips.

• Bike use in Chicago has skyrocketed.

In 1990, 0.3 percent of commuting trips were by bike; by 2000 it was 0.5 percent. In 2015, it was 1.4 percent, four times the rate of 1990.

• The city issued about nine tickets per day to bicyclists. Between 2006 and 2015, there were 13,150 such tickets issued, mostly for sidewalk violations.

• Men tend to be more aggressive riders than women, and that aggressiveness may allow men to avoid crashes with trucks.

In 2016, there were at least six bicycling deaths in the city. Most recently, a woman riding her bike in Roscoe Village was killed in a collision with a flatbed truck at an intersection. In July, Chicago saw the nation's first bike-sharing fatality when a Divvy rider was also killed at an intersection by a large flatbed truck.

The DePaul report was the focus of Tribune transportation reporter Mary Wisniewski's column on Monday.

Chicago recently was named the most bike-friendly city in the nation by Bicycling magazine, which cited the city's extensive plans to construct protected bike lanes and its use of Divvy bike share system among other things.

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