Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Big-city Councils pass new bike-friendly laws

Posted by on March 14th, 2008 at 10:00 am

The streets of Washington DC, Chicago, and New York City will get better for bikes thanks to new laws.

Riding on SW Broadway in downtown Portland.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Lawmakers from three major U.S. cities have recently passed laws that will help create safer biking conditions. The City Councils of Chicago, New York City, and Washington D.C. have voted for measures that increase bike safety, improve traffic engineering practices, and create new funding streams for bikeway infrastructure.

Hotel zone bike lane

A no-no in Chicago.

In Chicago, four new laws aimed directly at the behavior of car drivers were passed unanimously by their City Council. After the vote, Mayor Richard Daley told the Chicago Tribune, “We are committed to making Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the country, and safety is a very critical part of the plan.”

Here are the four laws that were passed (carrying fines of $150 to up to $500 if a crash results):

  • Turning Left or Right in Front of a Bicyclist
  • Overtaking a Bicyclist at an Unsafe Distance (defined as three feet)
  • Opening a Vehicle Door into the Path of a Bicyclist
  • Driving, Standing or Parking Bike Lanes or Marked Shared Lanes

Chicago bike advocates admit that enforcing these laws will be difficult, but they say this heightened official awareness and respect of bike safety is just as important as catching someone in the act.

In the run-up to the vote, the ordinances were (surprisingly) backed by the Chicago chapter of the American Automobile Association (AAA).

I have heard that the Portland-based Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) has contacted the Oregon chapter of the AAA regarding bike issues and I hope to bring you more about that soon.

And in New York City, Metro reports that the Pedestrian Bicycle and Safety Act was unanimously passed by City Council yesterday, “demanding the Department of Transportation identify the 20 most dangerous intersections for pedestrians and examine possible safety and capital improvements for these hot spots.”

This is interesting because it seems to be similar to steps taken here in Portland after two fatal crashes in October resulted in the identification of 14 dangerous intersections and a plan to improve them. However, that effort was pushed through as more of a stop-gap, emergency measure, whereas the NYC law is more comprehensive and larger in scope.

Me and my tikit in DC

On the streets of D.C.

And finally, in Washington D.C., Streetsblog reports that a new ordinance passed by City Council will test “performance parking pricing”. The ordinance says that 75 percent of the meter revenue, after initial expenses and maintenance, “Shall be used solely for the purpose of non-automobile transportation improvements in that pilot zone.”

According to Streetsblog, those improvements include, “a menu of transit, bicycling and pedestrian improvements including sidewalk widenings, traffic calming, separated bikeways and real-time information signs for buses and trains.” The new parking ordinance will be a pilot and will run for two years. More information can be found at GreaterGreaterWashington.org.

All this positive news from around the country in the same week gives a sense of momentum to the burgeoning national movement toward safer streets for all users.

Here in Portland, with so many bike-friendly candidates vying for spots on City Council, I wonder if we’ll see similar new ordinances in the months to come.

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  • Elliot March 14, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Do I hear a challenge? I wouldn\’t say that Portland is resting on its laurels these days, but enforcement is definitely the area most lacking enthusiasm here. Here\’s to seeing our next mayor engaging Daley and others in a friendly, but intense competition to hold all street users accountable for safety around bike facilities.

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  • Jeff P March 14, 2008 at 11:59 am

    I\’m a bit confused: aren\’t all four of those laws already on the books for Oregon [portland]? Maybe #2 is yet undefined. But alas, the article is more about the other city\’s advancements.

    The variable fine is a nice touch.

    As ELLIOT alluded to – it\’s all about enforcement.

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  • divebarwife March 14, 2008 at 11:59 am

    I\’m not sure I see what\’s wrong with what the car in your top photo is doing? The bike is behind him, they\’re not being cut off at all…?

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  • Grimm March 14, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Great to hear other cities are following suit.

    I wish the city better enforced/protected the bike laws we have. But maybe a few more Ladd\’s Circle \’stings\’ are in order before they actually help us… Granted the right turn through a bike lane and dooring are very hard to catch. But parking in bike lanes needs to get enforced a little more frequently and would be easy to hand out tickets. I see it 1-2 times a week on my 5 mile commute in SE. Itll either be a u-lock to mirrors or Ill put up my own signs at this rate.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) March 14, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    \”I\’m not sure I see what\’s wrong with what the car in your top photo is doing? The bike is behind him, they\’re not being cut off at all…?\”

    yeah.. you\’re right.. I\’ve changed the caption.

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  • Grimm March 14, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    #3, well it depends on the circumstances and how fast traffic is moving. If I was in a hurry doing 15+, and the car started to turn but had to wait for peds, it could quickly spell disaster. Overall having the laws will help give cyclists in those cities more rights and hopefully make motorists more aware when maneuvering with/around cyclists.

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  • Grimm March 14, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    ^– Beat me to the response Mr. Maus…

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  • BURR March 14, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    Oh, but the PPB are interested in enforcement – against cyclists. I\’ve heard several reports of recent stepped-up enforcement activity against cyclists at the entrance to the Springwater Trail at SE 4th and Ivon, and at the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge at SW Main between SW 1st and 2nd; I suppose we should also expect stepped up enforcement at Ladd\’s circle, NE Flint and B\’way, SE Salmon and 23rd, and at other locations, now that spring is here, the weather is getting better, and the new traffic division commander has settled into his post.

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  • bahueh March 14, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    just so I\’m clear..

    laws passed which are not enforceable which create awareness for bicycle safety in Chicago, NYC, and DC = good.

    laws passed which are enforceable and create immediate safety benefits for riders in Vancouver = Bad.

    OK…got it. ???

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  • Rick Glos March 14, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Does Portland have a law prohibiting obstruction in a bike lane?

    That 2nd shot you have on Broadway happens all the time…

    It also happens alot on Williams.

    Many people don\’t even look to see if a bike is approaching. They\’ll just walk out and open their car door forcing you into traffic.

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  • Lisa March 14, 2008 at 12:29 pm


    The best thing to do is not ride in door range to begin with, clearly an obstruction to be avoided. Even so I\’ll slow down and ring my bell at them which is mostly ignored, they\’ll still open their door. Once in a very long while someone is polite and waits, but that\’s not the norm. It is just as illegal to open a door with a bicyclist going by as it is for a car, but that awareness just isn\’t there.

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  • tonyt March 14, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Looking at that picture of Broadway, with the bus, driver and wide open door all in the bike lane, drives the point home to me at least, that those of us who ride downtown would be much better if they got rid of that bike lane altogether.

    There might be places for bike lanes downtown, but there, with all those hotels, is NOT the place.

    Really, if they have to put all those \”Hotel Zone\” signs in the bike lane, they\’ve pretty much admitted that it\’s not working.

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  • BURR March 14, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I agree, tonyt, the SW Broadway bike lane is one of the most hazardous bike facilities in the city of Portland, at least one fatality and countless (mostly unreported) right hooks and doorings have occurred along it since it was installed. The city has been repeatedly asked to remove it, but it apparently is much easier to get bike facilities built than removed in Portland, regardless of their actual safety.

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  • Grimm March 14, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    #9, both are separate cases. Giving cyclists the opportunity for protection which at the very least helps set blame and give us some legal footing if an incident occurs is good. Making a city ordinance to force cyclists to wear helmets and not answering other larger issues of cycling in a city is misguided attempt at safety.

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  • bahueh March 14, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Grimm…but both set a higher precedence of safety for us riders on the road, do they not? they attack it from vastly different angles, but the goal is largely the same…less dead/injured riders laying on the pavement?

    this special interest stuff is so confusing..

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  • Roger Geller March 14, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Burr #13:

    would you please explain how the bicycle lane contributed to the fatality?

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  • DJ Hurricane March 14, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    The more I\’ve ridden in the bike lanes in Portland, and that one in particular, the more I agree with Burr.

    Bike lanes legally require you to expose yourself to a hazard that you are not required to expose yourself to when there is no bike lane: The \”door zone.\”

    When there is no bike lane, the law allows you to take the lane to avoid the obviously hazardous practice of riding so close to parked cars that you can be hit by someone flinging one open. Not so when there is a bike lane. This is a flaw in Oregon law that needs to be changed.

    When there are no parked cars on the right, there is frequently the possibility of cars crossing from the lane to the left of the bike lane to the lane on the right: The \”right-hook.\”

    Once again, when there is no bike lane you are allowed to keep sufficiently far left, if you are proceeding straight, to avoid that hazard. Not so when there is a bike lane. Another flaw in Oregon law.

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  • DJ Hurricane March 14, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Oh, and, in case you\’re interested:

    I think the solution should be to: (1) remove all bike lanes where speed limits are 30 mph or less; (2) clarify the law to provide that cyclists can take the lane at any time when they reasonably determine riding to the right would be more hazardous; and (3) restrict the use of bike lanes to roads with speed limits of > 35 mph.

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  • Matthew March 14, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    While I\’m no fan of the [SW] Broadway bike lane most of the time, (to thin, and too much dooring and right turn action,) in the middle of rush hour it is wonderful. Traffic in the car lanes is moving at a walk, and there is rarely room to split a car lane, but the bike lane allows me to get all the way from Burnside to PSU on one green wave.

    I don\’t want to see it removed, in fact more bike lanes downtown would be a good thing. What I really want is for it to become optional to use the bicycle lane…

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  • peejay March 14, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I agree with DJ. Bike lanes have a place, but not so much downtown. Another particularly bad one is the part of Jefferson going downhill towards Goose Hollow. I never use it any more, what with the cars stopped in the bike lane, cars opening their doors into the bike lane, cars pulling out into the bike lane, buses sticking their fat asses out into the bike lane while their drivers are taking a break, and lots of right hooking opportunities – all on a steep fast hill where every car is going over the speed limit and most bikes are approaching that limit.

    Get rid of all downtown bike lanes, and START ENFORCING THE SPEED LIMIT! That\’d work!

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  • Curt Dewees March 14, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    To avoid being doored, I would recommend always riding 3\’ to the left of parked cars, even when you\’re in a bike lane. Often that means you\’re riding just a few inches inside the left edge of the bike lane. But it\’s a lot safer than riding down the middle of the bike lane, within \”door\” range of all those parked cars.

    As for the motorists passing you on your left, in my experience, they move to the left in their lane, too, while passing. So you get a comfortable safety buffer on both sides.

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  • Cøyøte March 15, 2008 at 6:27 am

    I agree with BURR on this one. Bike lanes downtown are silly.

    Tinted windows significantly add to the risk of being doored. Another law that is not enforced.

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  • Dabby March 15, 2008 at 12:20 pm


    The fatality on SW Broadway in the Bike Lane was an accident, the fabulous Kristine slipped sideways on a wet Monday morning. A very sad day…..

    I despise the SW Broadway bike lane myself.

    It would of course be very functional, if only those who use the space around it would follow the rules. ie: Hotel Owners/ management, valet parkers, shuttle bus drivers, police officers,taxi drivers, big box delivery vehicles. Basically big money in Portland runs the SW Broadway bike lane, and many other regions of town.

    They don\’t properly use the space, and they should be held accountable. But they won\’t be, so it should be ripped up for everyone\’s safety.

    These same protections that are being implemented elsewhere are already enforceable in Portland, we just have a police force that lacks the hutzpah to do so, and a community policing review board that is in no way qualified to do their job.

    I have stopped and spoken to officers about cars double parked in the SW Broadway bike lane, and they have been collectively under the impression that there is nothing wrong with it, even though it is an enforcable violation.

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  • wheeledpower March 16, 2008 at 9:07 am

    I just posted a similar suggestion on another story, but I bike down Broadway (very defensively) every day on my way to PSU. I\’ve had many close calls, and I\’m constantly frustrated by the behavior of the buses, trucks, and drivers of luxury vehicles talking on cell phones while circling for parking downtown (which should be illegal, by the way– too many hazards, including pedestrians and cyclists). I\’ve tried other routes, but the waterfront has too many pedestrians to be safe, and I\’m not biking fast enough on the uphill part of 11th to be going at the same speed as car traffic (plus, the lights 11th seem to make the ride much slower than Broadway).

    I\’d like to see the one-way streets on either side of the Park Blocks turned into bike boulevards, with all the street parking removed, and most of the stop signs turned 90 degrees, so that it becomes the most appealing, least impeded north-south bike route through downtown. Given that PSU is the single most popular bike commuting destination downtown, it seems like that would make everyone safer. Maybe there\’s a reason this hasn\’t been done that I don\’t know about?

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  • BURR March 16, 2008 at 9:26 am

    Better N-S bicycle route to PSU are needed, particularly since the N-S light rail on SW 5th and 6th essentially removes these two routes, which were formerly heavily used for PSU access.

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  • WillJongIll March 16, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    I think enforcement isn\’t really the issue as much as education.

    Too many people are completely ignorant of the rules of the road. I took drivers ed 12 years ago and think it served me pretty well. I don\’t know what everyone else\’s story is but most people seem oblivious.

    Germans take rules pretty seriously (learning + knowing, and then following). We need an injection of that mentality in our drivers.

    That sounds like a stereotype but really, they take traffic, bike and pedestrian rules really seriously (generally speaking).

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  • WillJongIll March 16, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    To clarify I mean education both in teaching what the rules are and education in teaching to FOLLOW the rules. A good dose of both of these.

    Enforcement is what happens when police happen to be standing around.

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  • Opus the Poet March 17, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    While I was kinda jazzed about the laws getting passed, the jurisdictions in question already have more laws than they can enforce and more lawbreakers than they have room to jail. Where are the police officers to enforce these laws, and where are the jails to put the people that break the laws?

    We are the most law-enforced and incarcerated nation on this planet, will a few more laws really make that big a difference, even if they are enforced like most laws in this country?


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