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Chicago cycling group opposes bike-fee idea

  • Lake Shore Drive just past 79th street shortly before it opened to the public. The newly finished South Lake Shore Drive between 79th Street and Ewing Ave in Chicago was opened to traffic and people were using it to bike, walk and drive.
Lake Shore Drive just past 79th street shortly before it opened to the public.… (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune )
November 19, 2013|By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco | RedEye

Biking on Chicago's streets can intimidate cyclists fearful of getting hit by a car. At the same time, cyclists can infuriate drivers when they ignore the rules of the road. It's the ever-present battle of bikes versus cars.

"As cycling grows in Chicago, and all around the region but especially in Chicago, we know that certain conflicts on the roadways are going to become more common," Ron Burke, executive director of Active Transportation Alliance told the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board on Tuesday.

Chicago's cycling advocacy group is pushing for an approach to make the roads safer for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians in a way where all can co-exist and share the road. And that doesn't include the $25 annual bike registration fee floated last month by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) to generate revenue for the city that is opposed by the alliance.

Such a fee could discourage cycling, be difficult to enforce given there are suburban commuters, and cost more money that it could bring in, he said.

Although drivers pay a vehicle registration fee, city sticker fee, tolls and gas taxes to pay for about 50 percent to 60 percent of roadway costs in Chicago, he said cyclists pay their fair share too in sales and property taxes other Chicagoans pay that go toward local road costs. To raise money, the alliance has suggested exploring a small sales tax increase on transportation-related items and earmarking the new funds for transportation projects.

Instead, Burke would like to see police step up enforcement of traffic laws and issue tickets to both cyclists and motorists. But that comes at a time when the police department is focused on quelling city violence.

"When I see cyclists for example blowing through a stop sign and almost running over a pedestrian and I do see that – I know it happens, it's not the norm, but it does happen – I know they’re a lot less likely to do that if they fear getting a ticket," he said.

Another component is education but not a mandatory bike safety class. Rather, he proposed a pilot program to fold bike and pedestrian education into high school driver's education programs. The alliance also has brought up the idea of adding more bike and pedestrian questions to the state's driver's license test.

Education could be as simple as cyclists and drivers learn where bike lanes are, what traffic laws are in place, such as drivers yielding to cyclists, and what fines are for dooring cyclists, said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA, at the editorial board meeting.

One more tool to promote safety is building more infrastructure separating bikes from cars. Since 2011, the city has built more than 45 miles of protected or buffered bike lanes.

In Chicago, there are 60 car crashes that result in injuries or deaths every day and 47 of those are people in cars and the remaining 13 are cyclists or pedestrians, according to the alliance. Recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show there were 8 cyclists killed in car crashes in 2012.

Mosher also advocated for both drivers and cyclists taking greater responsibility and being more predictable in their traveling habits.

"We need to talk less about the blame game as Ron mentioned, or these are my roads and what have you, and more about how are we all going to take responsibility and share the roads safely," Mosher said.

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