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Check out Tom Pakenas’ recent articles published in the Derailleur, the unofficial publication of Chicago’s Critical Mass rides.

“Dooring’ in Illinois”

According to Illinois Department of Transportation figures, 6 bicyclists were killed and 165 were severely injured in 2009.  These figures do not paint an accurate picture in that prior to April 25, 2011, IDOT excluded dooring crashes from annual state traffic statistics because the motor vehicles involved in such collisions were not moving.  Dooring is a term for the sudden opening of a car door into the path of an approaching bicycle.  As of this year, the dooring data will be incorporated into annual traffic accident summaries as a starting point to help reduce dooring crashes, which can result in injuries and even deaths.

Instrumental in the change was Active Transportation Alliance, who launched a campaign to increase public awareness about dooring crashes.  That group considers dooring to be the most prevalent threat to street riding cyclists.  While common sense dictates that a motorist should check for approaching bicycles prior to opening a car door, Illinois law and Chicago City ordinances specifically require drivers to do so.   Illinois statute 735 ILCS 5/11-1407 states:  “No person shall open a door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is responsibly safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic…”  Additionally, Chicago Municipal Code 9-80-035 is identical to the state law, and an associated section of the code provides for a penalty of $500.00 if the violation causes a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle.  Most important, however, is driver awareness.  Hopefully, through accurate statistical analysis, officials will be able to quantify the problem, pinpoint locations where such accidents frequently occur, or identify the need for further public attention.

Under a change ordered by Governor Pat Quinn, police departments across the state are now required to record dooring accidents on Illinois crash forms.  Through those forms, dooring data will now be incorporated into annual traffic accident summaries compiled by IDOT.  You can do your part by making sure the appropriate authorities are contacted if you find yourself victim of a dooring accident.  To decrease your chances of becoming a dooring victim, please remember:

1.Wear highly visible clothing
2.Properly illuminate your bike at night
3.Remain vigilant.  Remember, a car door can pop open at any time.

Finally, if you or someone you care about experiences a dooring there are a few things you should keep in mind.  As stated above, make sure it is reported to the proper authorities.  Get information from the offending driver.  At the very least, record the license plate number of the vehicle.  If you suspect injury, seek medical aid.  The mild headache experienced just after a crash may be indicative of severe or permanent injury over time.  Seek the legal aid of an attorney properly skilled in bicycle litigation to protect your rights, ensure your medical bills are paid, and that you receive all compensation you are entitled.  To cope with the psychological wounds following any automobile/bicycle encounter, the Active Transportation Alliance runs a confidential Crash Support Group that meets every month at the Alliance’s downtown office.  Visit their website at or contact the Illinois Bike Attorneys for more information.  Ride safe!

Tom Pakenas is a partner in the Law Offices of Dale & Pakenas and a founder of the Illinois Bike Attorneys (  He is an avid bicyclist and active triathlete.

“Chicago Bikers Welcome Cycle Tracks!”

This summer Chicago will finally join such bicycle friendly cities as New York, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco in providing protected bike lanes on some of its city’s streets.  Protected bicycle lanes, also known as “cycle tracks”, provide a barrier between the bike lane and moving vehicular traffic.  In typical bike lanes, cyclists ride between parked cars and moving traffic.  In a protected bike lane, cars usually park along a physical barrier placed a few feet off the curb in which cyclists ride in the space between the barrier and the curb. 

Barriers can run the gambit from a raised concrete median wall to flexible posts.  The pilot project, running on Kedzie Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street, utilizes flexible posts.  Further, according to a newsletter from Alderman Brendan Reilly, the bike lane will also have extra pavement markings through intersections to improve safety for riders.

Protected bike lanes, or cycle tracks, are known to provide several advantages over typical bike lanes:

-They increase perceived safety and comfort of cyclists;
-They reduce dooring crashes and eliminate driver-side dooring;
-They prevent double parking in the bike lane;
-They encourage more people to ride bicycles, therefore reducing vehicular traffic congestion;
-They promote awareness of bicycle traffic in the area.

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has proposed building 100 miles of protected bike lanes throughout the city.  As well as the safety benefits created from this project, an increased bicycle ridership helps the environment and lessens our dependence on fossil fuels.  

There is also good news for Chicago pedestrians.  As of June 20th 2011 work will begin on the first comprehensive pedestrian plan for Chicago.  According to the most recent yearly data available, more than 3,000 vehicle crashes involving pedestrians occurred during 2009 in Chicago, resulting in 34 deaths.

The formulation of a Chicago Pedestrian Plan began June 20th with the first of eight public meetings being held this summer looking for public input on improving pedestrian safety across the city.  Scheduled for release by year’s end is a draft report containing recommendations and a plan for top priorities.  Information concerning future public meetings being held this summer can be found at Safer bike lanes will mean increased bicycle ridership.  Safer pedestrian crossings will mean increased pedestrian traffic.  Both developments will mean decreased motor vehicle traffic which is something all Chicagoans will surely appreciate.
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