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DePaul study argues that Chicago's cycling laws should be relaxed

Written by
Jonathan Samples

If you’ve ever biked a long distance, you know how much energy it takes to get back up to cruising speed after making a complete stop. To ease the burden, many cyclists employ a strategy known as the “Idaho Stop,” where riders essentially treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs.

A new study released on Monday by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University acknowledges cyclists’ desire to preserve momentum, while also suggesting that this approach is not only more efficient but also a safer alternative to making full stops at some intersections. The report studied the speed, convenience and predictability of bicycle travel in Chicago and made three policy recommendations to help manage a mode of travel that has grown in the city by more than 300 percent over the past 25 years.

The first, permitting Idaho Stops, would give riders the option to either stop or yield at four-way stop intersections depending on traffic conditions. In addition to field observations of 875 cyclists, the report also looked at previous studies on the the Idaho Stop Law (enacted in Idaho in 1982). It found that about half of all riders (49 percent) already make so called Idaho Stops and that doing so could be safer than following the same intersection laws as drivers. Of the 29 Illinois municipalities analyzed by researchers, none have adopted the Idaho Stop Law. However, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey told the Chicago Tribune that the department would look at the proposal.

The study also recommends lowering fines for minor traffic violations committed by cyclists. Instead, it suggests offering diversion programs to help educate cyclists about traffic laws. In Chicago, fines for disobeying traffic laws while on a bicycle range between $50 and $200.

Lastly, the report encourages incremental, low-cost infrastructure improvements along routes connecting various neighborhoods throughout the city. One such effort, improving signage on neighborhood thoroughfares, would help remind drivers that they are sharing the road with cyclists, even when a separate bike lane is not present.

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