Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Can the "Idaho Stop" Improve Cycling in Chicago? DePaul U. Study Says Yes

Every bicyclist in Chicago has their thoughts on what can be done to make cycling in Chicago both safer and faster. The issue for all of us is balancing these two goals. Decreased travel times are not worth it if the risk of a bike accident increases. On the flip side an overabundance of safety rules and regulations can be unrealistic and lead to bicyclists simply opting not to ride. A recent study by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University entitled "Policies for Pedaling: Managing the Tradeoff Between Safety and Speed for Bicycling in Chicago" seeks to strike a balance between speed and safety for Chicago bicyclists.

DePaul's research team performed a survey of local bicycling laws in cities and towns throughout Illinois and also went on site to areas of Chicago to observe how bicyclists ride in the "real world." As a result, three policy recommendations are made to municipalities that want to support bicycling. First, they suggest the "Idaho Stop" be utilized at four-way stop intersections. Second, lowering fines for cyclists. Third, increasing signage. Below is the Executive Summary from the DePaul policy paper.
  1. Considering permitting “Idaho Stops” at four-way stop intersections, which would enable cyclists to determine whether to stop or yield based on traffic conditions in order to maintain their momentum. The study shows that only about one cyclist in 25 presently complies with the law to come to a complete stop. A pilot program to allow Idaho Stops at certain traffic signal intersections when traffic volumes are relatively low may also be considered. 
  2. Lowering fines for cyclists who commit minor traffic violations and offering “diversion programs” as an alternative to paying a fine if the cyclist attends an approved traffic safety class. Such programs present a unique opportunity to educate cyclists about traffic laws and how they are enforced. 
  3. Prioritizing incremental, low-cost infrastructure improvements, such as signage, along routes that connect neighborhoods outside of downtown. In the absence of a designated bike lane, these efforts both encourage drivers to share the road and justify cyclists riding in traffic.
The recommendation regarding the "Idaho Stop" has garnered a great deal of media attention. Keating Law Offices attorney Michael Keating was interviewed by the Chaddick Institute research team and also was a featured interview in the Chicago Tribune article on the study. Michael Keating was quoted in the Chicago Tribune in support of Idaho Stops, but also reminding all cyclists that we have equal rights and responsibilities as users of the roadway. 
Michael Keating, a lawyer who specializes in bike accidents, said that the region also has a problem with cars not stopping at stop signs, which creates a greater danger to the public than bikes not stopping. He said police need to take a close look at enforcement for all vehicles. 
Keating said bicyclists also have to remember that they have responsibilities as well as rights, and the recklessness of some creates problems for everyone. He thinks cycling rules and safety should be taught in driver's ed classes.

"You have to give respect to get respect," Keating said. "I'm sometimes concerned that cyclists that act as scofflaws aren't giving the respect, so the ones who do adhere to the rules of the road don't get that respect in return."
Attorney Keating has further added, "Looking at the data it is undeniable that there are traffic patterns emerging for bicyclists in Chicago. As with all things in a society, we need to do what the authors of this study did and look at the data and then turn our attention into how to making our streets better for everyone. To disregard data and fail to recognize changing traffic patterns due to the increase of bicyclists is simply foolish.

For more information on the Chaddick Institute's study, please see the following links: 

Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University: "Policies for Pedaling: Managing the Tradeoff Between Safety and Speed for Bicycling in Chicago

StreetsBlog Chicago: "Idaho Stop In the Name of Love: DePaul Study Endorses Rational Cycling"

Chicago Tribune: "Should bicyclists always halt at stop signs and wait at red lights? Study says no

Chicago Sun-Times: "DePaul Study: Bicyclists have a leg up on some other commuters

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

Chicagoist: "Cyclists Shouldn't Always Have To Stop At Stop Signs, New Study Argues

Chicago Magazine: "Cyclists often roll through intersections and that may be the safer choice