Bikers who text might not be long for Chicago

October 3, 2011

(Flickr/Jillian York)
A woman in New York stops to text a traffic light.

Some Chicago aldermen are schedule to debate Monday whether the city should fine cyclists who text on their cell phones. Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) is proposing the ordinance before the Committee of Pedestrian and Traffic Safety.

Laurino said she was inspired to look into the issue after the former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa, attended a committee meeting. Peñalosa was in town to discuss the successful bus program he had implemented in Bogotá and Laurino found that they were both proponants of cycling. During transportation discussions, other aldermen brought up texting while cycling as an issue they were concerned with. Laurino then began to pay closer attention to the issue around the city, and found that she saw it repeatedly, citing Milwaukee Avenue as one street with consistently guilty bikers.

"Really, I didn't think there'd be a need for such a commonsense ordinance, but as it turns out, people are texting while they're biking," said Laurino.

Potential fines would range from $20 to $50 for a first offense, $50 to $75 for a second offense, and up to $100 for a third offense. Laurino said she has the support of the Active Transportation Alliance, as well as the Metropolitan Planning Council. If the ordinance passes committee, it would go to the full City Council on Wednesday.

"We're just looking to level the playing field here," said Laurino. "This is certainly something that will affect bicyclists, same as it currently affects motorists."

Laurino said the ordinance wouldn't apply to bikers who had stopped to text, and that she's not expecting much blowback from the ordinance, unless of course, "I get it from an angry cyclist."