Can we get some police to enforce traffic laws? A letter


This photo of a police SUV parked in the Kinzie Street protected bike lane was included in the letter. Photo taken by Tumblr user 122782.

I just received another report from a reader about people driving in the 18th Street protected bike lane, so it’s obvious to me that dangerous driving behavior is still happening.

A month ago, Anne Alt, president of the Chicago Cycling Club and author of our excellent, two-part series about cycling on the south side, wrote to me that she had drafted a letter written to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, and police superintendent Garry McCarthy to advocate for increased police enforcement of the City’s (pretty solid) traffic laws. I helped edit parts of the letter, gathered some signatures in support of the letter at the Chicago Bike Swap, and even paid for postage. The letter has been sent, and pursuant to the Grid Chicago mission statement (“taking a stand on issues”), I’m publishing it here.

Dear Mayor Emanuel, Superintendent McCarthy and Commissioner Klein:

In recent months, many Chicago cyclists have become painfully aware, both through personal experience and the experiences of friends, that we have a significant problem affecting sustainable transportation in Chicago. The introduction of the first protected bike lanes was not accompanied by any widespread education efforts. The results of this omission have not been pleasant.

Parking and driving in bike lanes are common occurrences. In spite of a city ordinance enacted years ago, enforcement is rare. Chicago police officers are some of the violators. The photo below [above] was taken on 2/9/12 approx. 8:05 a.m. and shows Beat 1323 parked in the Kinzie Street protected lane, just east of the Desplaines/Milwaukee intersection. Note the available spaces in the parking lane. Another cyclist later saw the officer returning to his car and asked why he was parked in the bike lane. The officer replied “I guess I’ll just have to write myself a ticket” and drove away.

The number of citations issued for parking in the bike lane is unacceptably low and an ineffective deterrent to such behavior in the future. According to the Department of Administrative Hearings, 2 citations were issued in 2007, 6 in 2008, 8 in 2009, 2 in 2010, and 5 in 2011 (until October 11).*

We need a citywide education program and enforcement initiative regarding bike lanes in all configurations. This information needs to reach officers, delivery drivers and the general public. The postal service, UPS and Fed Ex have been frequent offenders.

We also need education aimed at pedestrians and cyclists. We recognize that there is room for improvement by all categories of road users. Too many pedestrians are jaywalking in front of cyclists, causing collisions and crashes. Joggers are treating the Kinzie bike lanes as extra sidewalk space, compromising the lanes’ effectiveness. Too many cyclists run red lights and ride without lights at night. In the past few years, there have been outreach efforts where cyclists without lights are stopped, offered free lights and given information about relevant laws. Another is in the works. (

Could an informational flyer be included with future mailings of city stickers and property tax bills, starting in June 2012? This could be an effective way to reach a large number of Chicago residents and drivers.

Could CPD bike officers do training sessions to update other officers on bike laws, including the 3 foot passing and anti-harassment laws? Could CPD be more cooperative in taking accident reports and complaints from cyclists? Currently, cyclists are often subjected to a long drawn-out process that appears to be intended to wear them down and make them give up before their issue is ever recorded or reviewed.

The effectiveness and safety of new protected bike lanes and other bike facilities will continue to be undermined until the general public and Chicago police are on an equal footing with the cycling community in understanding new pavement markings, laws concerning cyclists in traffic, and enforcing those laws.

Thank you for your consideration on these issues. We hope that 2012 will be a turning point in transforming Chicago into a truly bike friendly city. Attention to these issues is critical in ensuring that transformation.

Anne Alt, Steven Vance and 
the undersigned Chicagoans [50 total signatures]

cc: Active Transportation Alliance
Alderman Will Burns, 4th ward
Alderman Daniel Solis, 25th ward
Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd ward
Alderman Michelle Smith, 43rd ward
Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th ward
Alderman John Arena, 45th ward
Alderman Ameya Pawar, 47th ward

* [These figures may be inaccurate and may only represent contested citations. In my original request to the Department of Administrative Hearings I asked for the total number of citations issued for violating Municipal Code of Chicago 9-40-060.]

18 thoughts on “Can we get some police to enforce traffic laws? A letter”

  1. I intend to forward, and I’d also love to see something tacked on there about cell phone usage.  My napkin calculations say about 1/2 of the offensive driving I see that endangers me while riding is because someone is on a cell phone and doesn’t bother to signal their intentions.

    1. I’ve experienced a lot of conflict with drivers who don’t bother to use their turn signals, whether or not they’re on the phone.  Too many drivers seem to regard turn signals as optional, along with paying any attention to other road users around them.

      1. I’ve observed this behavior: For some drivers, stopping at stop lights before making a right turn is actually a slow roll around the corner unless a complete stop is made necessary by cross traffic. So go, but stop if needed.

        1. My biggest complaint with lack of turn signals is people stopping in the middle of the street – and waiting and waiting – to make a LEFT turn, without ever using turn signals.  I’ve occasionally seen rear end crashes (and, more often, near misses) because of this.

  2. Could bikers please follow traffic laws. Stop for stoplights and stop signs, and don’t ride to the front of the line of stopped cars just to pull out in front and slow down traffic once the light goes green.

    1. Could drivers please follow traffic laws. Stop for stoplights and stop signs, and don’t drive to the right of the line of stopped cars just to pull out in front and slow down traffic once the light goes green.

      I’m all for bikers being good citizens, but the way the anti-bike crowd (and even some within the biking community) turn a blind eye to vehicle infractions while screaming about bad-behaving bicyclists is ludicrous.

    2. Wouldn’t that be nice? Don’t know what it has to do with cars parking in a bike lane, though. Oh, I get it: some cyclists break laws so all cyclists should suffer. Same logic as “some motorists drive drunk, so the City shouldn’t fix potholes…”

    3. Learning opportunity for you here.  I ride to the front of the line of stopped cars so that I am visible and do not get hit by a turning car.  It may annoy you and you may think it slows down traffic (whether bikes have a net affect of slowing down traffic – versus another car on the road stuck in traffic – is a whole other story), but it helps me stay alive, so I will continue doing it.

      I agree that bicycles should follow traffic laws.  

      1. Visibility is exactly the reason I move to the front of a line of cars. If I cannot make it to the front (because of space or timing), then I “take the lane” (center myself in the middle of a lane) to ensure that no one passes me and I am visible to people in cars in front and behind me.

  3. You should ask that some dedicated portion of the Speed Camera fines/money be set aside to hire traffic enforcement officers. Speeding is only one type of infraction that kills. If the goal is safety, you have to address the various types of infractions that cause death and injury, not just the ones that can be handled by a third-party vendor and generate revenue.

    Is it difficult it to put together some data that shows the nature of injuries and deaths to pedestrians and cyclists in Chicago? The Speed (and Red Light) Camera systems were sold as safety improvements and NOT revenue generators. The money in this pool should be used to improve safety in a data driven way.

    1. You have no idea how many stories I’ve heard from officers I know about how many drunk drivers are discovered during routine traffic stops – which may or many not have been motivated by the appearance of drunk driving.  It’s not uncommon in incidents like running a stop sign.  A lot of career alcoholics may be able to keep the erratic driving under control but blow it on small “attention to detail” things like making a right turn on red in a location where there’s signage saying that no turns on red are allowed.  Sometimes they end up having a blood alcohol level that’s triple the limit or higher.  Speed cameras won’t get these folks off the street.

  4. throw some cold water on yr faces, grid folk: Unless you have $$$ don’t expect cpd to do shit for you.  the most useful police vehicle has flat tires and blocks car traffic.

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