Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hiking the Fines for Bicyclists Breaking Traffic Laws

Chicago is taking action against bicyclists that break traffic laws and drivers and passengers that open their doors onto bicyclists by subjecting them to pay steeper fines. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the fines would increase from $25 to a minimum of $50 and a maximum of $200 for bicyclists that violate traffic laws. Additionally, passengers and drivers that “door” a bicyclist would face a fine increase from $500 to $1,000. Fines for leaving a door open would double to $300.
Two-way Protected Bicycle Lanes on Dearborn Street, Credit: John Greenfield

To heighten awareness for taxi passengers, Emanuel also unveiled an awareness campaign, which reminds passengers to confirm no bicyclists are in their path before opening the door. Stickers will be placed on rear passenger windows of all taxis and read, “Look! Before Opening Your Door”. 

The fine hikes are no surprise as Chicago prepares to launch its bike share program, Divvy, in June. In addition, Mayor Emanuel has invested millions in creating bicycle facilities throughout the city.

Chicago Blue Divvy Bike, Credit: Active Transportation Alliance
Mayor Emanuel contends, “By increasing the fines for failing to obey the law, cyclists will behave more responsibly, increasing safety and encouraging others to ride bikes.” While this statement is true, I am curious to discover what the fine money goes towards. If the money is simply placed into a general fund, it is highly unlikely that money will support bicycle facilities. It would make sense to establish some sort of account dedicated solely to bicycles, whether it be bike parking, facilities, or signage, it seems to be the best use of the money. 

As we learned in class, the fine for bicyclists breaking traffic laws in Portland is $260. It appears that Chicago’s fines are much less dramatic compared to Portland.

What are everyone’s thoughts about fines for bicyclists that break traffic laws? Is there an ideal fine amount?  

Thank you to Ben Chaney for editing this post.


Chicago Tribune | Chicago's Bike Share, Divvy 


  1. It is obvious to me that both drivers and cyclists have faults. However, I am pleased to see that other cities, not just the bicycle Mecca’s around the US, are recognizing cyclists rights. When a cyclist is struck (or doored) by an automobile, a very common excuse is, "I just didn't see them!" Since the law requires a driver to be alert and aware of their traffic surroundings at all times, this weak excuse should not be tolerated. These new laws should hopefully give some bite to the deadly actions caused by those who are nonobservant, careless or are trying to skirt responsibility.

    As for the funding from fines received by cyclists and drivers, I see this as a splendid opportunity to use it for cycling education. Marketing campaigns can be a strong medium to educate both motorists and cyclists alike. Funding for programs like this would be a welcome addition to any community that is experiencing the transition from an auto-dominated culture to sharing the road with other types of non-motorized roadway users.

  2. I know that not many drivers like the idea of raising traffic fines, and while I couldn't give a damn about how upset they are about it (seriously, just don't drive like a maniac and the increase won't affect you), I would be curious to know how effective fine increases are compared to other policy changes. For example, what if bicycle fines increased and in conjunction with that, all speed limits on problematic corridors were reduced by 5-10 mph? As a cyclist, I might prefer something like that as opposed to just pouring money from both cyclists and drivers into a general fund (if that is actually the case). On the one hand with the dual fine increase, you just get two demographics of angry people (again, not justifying their anger, but it happens). On the other hand, you've got bicyclists that are possibly a little irked about having to pay more for fines, but they may see it as a fair compromise since it is in exchange for potentially safer bicycling and walking routes. Great post!

  3. Good points Josh and Haley! As for how effective fine increases are compared to other policy changes, its probably too early to tell. I'm not aware of any recent studies, that would certainly be a great research topic or maybe even a blog post.

    I'm sure you saw this recent article on Atlantic Cities titled "Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists". Henry Grabar makes some interesting and valid points, however I think he was certainly playing the role of antagonist against his colleague Sarah Goodyear. Atlantic Cities is known for these types of "back-and-forth" articles to pique interest and stir up the readers. Thoughts?

    "Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists"

    "Cyclists Aren't Special and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules"


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