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How safe are Illinois bicyclists?

Safety is important for bicyclists to practice, but only so much is in their control. There is no way to prevent motorists who don’t follow the rules of the road or alter infrastructure before you go on a ride. That responsibility lies on drivers and the state and local governments that build roads and enforce laws.

With that in mind, how safe are bicyclists in Illinois? Are there laws and infrastructure in place to give cyclists confidence?

The League of American Bicyclists releases report cards for all 50 states, comparing each one based on five categories:

  • Infrastructure & Funding
  • Education & Encouragement
  • Legislation & Enforcement
  • Policies & Programs
  • Evaluation & Planning

As of 2017, when the league released its most recent report cards, Illinois ranks No. 16 overall. Its most positive category was Legislation & Enforcement, where the state ranks No. 1 in the nation. Illinois has strong legal protections for bicyclists and against dangerous driver behavior.

However, the league notes that this ranking comes with an asterisk, due to the Illinois Supreme Court case Boub v. Township of Wayne. The 1998 case determined that state municipalities are not liable for bicyclists’ damages caused by road conditions, unless said municipality has designated that bicyclists are supposed to use the road.

The league says this decision allows municipalities to avoid legal risk by not planning for bicyclists. Although Illinois amended state law so that bicyclists “shall be granted all of the rights,” Boub v. Township of Wayne has not been explicitly overturned.

A past lack of funding

The league sees Illinois as an average state otherwise, but its overall score is weighed down by the Infrastructure & Funding category. However, the league recognizes that this could reflect broader budgetary problems in the state.

Luckily, the league released progress reports in 2018 instead of full report cards, and it noted Illinois has increased its use of federal funds for bicycling and walking. The benchmark they use is allocating at least two percent or more of federal funds for bicyclists and pedestrians, which Illinois hadn’t hit for five years. That changed with fiscal year 2017.

Hopefully this increase in spending is not an anomaly but a growing trend, and hopefully the increased use of funds will better keep bicyclists safe on their journeys.

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