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Why Chicago Bike Lanes Remain Dangerous For Bicyclists

Offered by Keating Law Offices, P.C.

An experienced bicycle accident attorney can fight for your rights

Bike lanes have been a big component of the city’s infrastructure since 2012, and were a significant part of the “Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.” They allow bicyclists to use the same city streets as cars and trucks, while keeping them separate from heavy traffic. In theory, this reduces the risk of a vehicle crashing into a bicyclist on the road.

Yet since 2020, there have been hundreds of recorded bicycle accidents in the city’s bike lanes. The most crashes happened in lanes along:

  • Milwaukee Avenue – 50
  • Halsted Street – 43
  • Damen Avenue – 29
  • Clark Street – 24
  • Wells Street – 18

From the beginning of 2020 through July 2022, at least 439 cyclists were hit by cars in Chicago bike lanes. This is likely an undercount, as many minor crashes aren’t reported to the police. In addition, some accidents may have been mistakenly reported as occurring outside the lane.

The majority of the city’s bike lanes lack protection from traffic

Why are bike lanes so dangerous in places? There are about 280 miles of bike lanes spread throughout Chicago. But only about 40 miles of these lanes are protected with curbs or flexible bollards that provide physical barriers to keep cars out.

On Milwaukee Avenue, where there have been more bike lane crashes than any other street, only about a quarter of the lanes along the 11-mile corridor are protected. Concrete barriers are planned for 3 miles of the street this year.

Bicycle safety advocates and city officials say it’s an example of the city’s “confusing and patchwork” approach to bike lane safety.

This comes at a time when ridership is up in Chicago – exceeding levels seen before the pandemic. The bikeshare company Divvy recorded 5.5 million rides in 2021. And on one day in September of 2022, the city counted about 3,000 bicyclists along Milwaukee Avenue.

But without additional safety measures, there are concerns that even more bicyclists will continue to be hurt – or killed – in bicycle accidents along bike lanes.

The Chicago Municipal Code is clear: A driver can't park or stand in a bike lane. Here's what the law says:

9-40-060 Driving, standing or parking on bicycle paths or lanes prohibited: 

The driver of a vehicle shall not drive, unless entering or exiting a legal parking space, or stand, or park the vehicle upon any on-street path or lane designated by official signs or markings for the use of bicycles, or otherwise drive or place the vehicle in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic on such path or lane. The driver of a vehicle shall not stand or park the vehicle upon any lane designated by pavement markings for the shared use of motor vehicles and bicycles, or place the vehicle in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic on such lane. In addition to the fine provided in Section 9-4-025 of this Code, any vehicle parked in violation of this section shall be subject to an immediate tow and removal to a city vehicle pound or authorized garage.

In December 2022, the Chicago City Council passed a new law that increases the fine for parking in the bike lane. This new law aims to provide a platform that aggressively targets drivers in the city's bike lanes. New efforts include the possibility that bike lane offenders could be reported via video or photographic evidence.

What causes bike lane accidents?

Bicyclists are injured in crashes involving:

  • Obstruction – It is against the law for vehicles to block a bike lane, but obstruction has been a continuing problem and a major factor in many bicycle accidents. The rise of rideshare services is a factor in obstruction accidents because Uber and Lyft drivers often illegally pull over in the bike lane to pick up or drop off passengers. Bicyclists are forced to exit the bike lane to pass a parked vehicle and can be struck by a vehicle traveling in the same direction. Bicyclists can also be injured while passing a parked car when the driver or driver’s side passenger suddenly opens the door.
  • Right hook collisions – A car and a bicycle are traveling down a road in the same direction, the car in a traffic lane and the bicycle in a bike lane to the right. At an intersection, the car takes a right turn – right into the path of the bicyclist, who has no time to avoid a collision.
  • Left hook collisions – A car and a bicycle are approaching an intersection from opposite directions. The driver of the car takes a left turn without checking for bicycles. The driver blocks the path of the bicyclist while making the turn and the bicyclist has no time to react.
  • Vehicles entering the road – Drivers who are entering a road from a parking lot, driveway, alley or other entrance are required by law to yield to bicyclists who are approaching in the bike lane. But many don’t even look for bicyclists before pulling out onto the road, resulting in crashes.
  • Sideswipes – Illinois law requires drivers to leave at least three feet between their vehicle and a bicyclist when passing on the road. But many drivers don’t follow this law and may encroach on the bike lane into the path of a bicycle, resulting in a collision.

The impact on victims

Bicyclists have very little protection in a collision with a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds. As a result, they can suffer a wide range of serious injuries. Common injuries seen in bicycle accidents include:

  • Neck injuries – Some bicyclists suffer damage to muscles and tendons, herniated discs, pinched nerves or fractured vertebrae.
  • Concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) – Though a bicycle helmet can provide some protection, bicyclists can suffer trauma from being struck by a vehicle or thrown to the ground. An injury to the brain can lead to headaches, memory loss, difficulty speaking, or balance problems.
  • Paralysis – Damage to the spinal cord or nerves anywhere in the body can result in at least partial paralysis of the arms, legs, or other parts of the body.
  • Fractures – Bicyclists can suffer broken bones in the arm, leg, collarbone, or other areas.
  • Lacerations and contusions – Deep lacerations can be disfiguring, and serious contusions may limit mobility.

Bicyclists often face significant medical expenses for treating their injuries. This includes the cost of ambulance services, imaging tests, surgery, hospitalization, medication, physical therapy, and follow-up appointments with doctors. They may also experience a loss of income if their injuries prevent them from working.

If a bike lane accident was caused by driver negligence, injured bicyclists have the right to seek financial compensation. But drivers often deny responsibility and insurance companies use multiple tactics to pay as little as possible.

Leading Attorneys in Bicycle Law

Keating Law’s attorneys are leading attorneys not just in Illinois but throughout the United States in the area of bicycle law, and in particular, on dangerous bike lanes. In May 2022, attorney Mike Keating was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article about Milwaukee Avenue. In November 2022, Keating was quoted in a Block Club Chicago article, also about the dangers of Milwaukee Avenue.

How an attorney can help

An experienced bicycle accident lawyer will be familiar with state laws and the issues that come up in insurance claims. A law firm will have the resources to investigate the crash. This typically involves gathering evidence, reviewing accident reports and medical records, and interviewing witnesses. This helps the attorney build a strong case that establishes negligence.

In addition, an attorney can handle all communications with the insurance company and negotiate a settlement – or fight for compensation in court.

If you were hurt in a bicycle accident, it’s important to get legal advice as soon as possible. Contact a bicycle accident attorney for a free consultation.

Bicycle Accidents
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Founded in 2008, Keating Law Offices is Chicago’s leading law firm in bicycle accident litigation and other serious injury matters. Our mission is to advocate for full compensatio...