Take back the bike lane



Take it back. The bike lane that is. Take it back from those who park in it, put their valet signs in it, park valet cars in it, pickup and drop off passengers in it, or generally illegally block the bike lane, forcing cyclists to merge into faster moving traffic to avoid it.

Two weeks ago, feeling sick and tired of the disrespect people have for facilities the City of Chicago and its funding partners (mainly the federal government) have built for the exclusive use of people riding bicycles, I confronted three people about their parking in the bike lane.

The first person, on Tuesday morning, parked his car in the bike lane on northbound Milwaukee Avenue just south of Haddon Avenue, to enter the convenience store across the street. I was on the sidewalk talking to a friend who was doing field work for the City and cupped my hands around my mouth and told the guy (over 50 feet away), “Don’t park in the bike lane”. I started walking towards his car because I was going to photograph it (as I normally do when people park in the bike lane). He retuned to his car, too, and told me, “You take this too seriously” to which I replied, “I’m concerned for cyclist’s safety which you’ve impacted by parking here”. He slowly did a u-turn and parked in one of the many empty parking spaces, directly in front of the convenience store.

The second person, on Wednesday around noon, parked his pickup truck in the bike lane on westbound Armitage Avenue east of Lincoln Avenue. I had just locked my bike in front of a restaurant to have lunch. I was in the vicinity to survey a situation about which I had been emailed: three cars had been parked by valets in the bike lane in front of Sushi O Sushi and neighboring restaurants. The valet service wasn’t being provided at lunch time. I told the driver, in a matter of fact tone, that he parked his truck in the bike lane. He responded, “Yeah, that’s what I do”. He entered my destination restaurant and I found another restaurant at which to eat.


Blocking the bike lane with his truck: “Yeah, that’s what I do”. 


Three cars have been parked in the bike lane, apparently as part of valet service, in front of Sushi O Sushi (and perhaps other restaurants), on Armitage Avenue, between Lincoln Avenue and Orleans Street. 

The third person, on Friday afternoon, parked in the bike lane the Honda Accord he uses to delivery pizza for Armand’s Pizzeria on Division Street. I was eating inside the restaurant watching him maneuver his car. When he walked inside, I got up from my seat to talk to him. I simply asked, “Why did you park in the bike lane?” I don’t have a perfect recollection of our conversation. I do know he said, “I’m just in and out [to grab pizzas]”. I counted: he was parked in the bike lane for over 5 minutes, hardly “in and out”. I reminded him of its illegality. He then said, “Cyclists blow stop signs all the time”. I replied, “And does that make it okay for you to park in the bike lane?” He responded to that with his body language and facial expression, which to me meant he didn’t believe it was an okay “swap”. He then said, “If the police come and give me a ticket, that will justify your complaint. I don’t know what to tell you.” I pointed out two empty spaces (one that would partially block a car wash driveway, and the other one in which he said he couldn’t fit). I sat down at this point.


Three Armand’s Pizzeria delivery drivers and their three automobiles blocking the bike lane in a period of about 20 minutes. 

Within the next 15 minutes, two other delivery drivers for Armand’s Pizzeria proceeded to park in the bike lane. As the third was leaving the scene, I asked him to stop parking in the bike lane, as a cyclist passed him after merging out of the bike lane into the travel lane. He just pointed to the restaurant, and said, “I deliver for them”. Then, the car wash next door closed and he moved his car to park in their driveway.

This isn’t okay. Why is it that blocking facilities for bicycling is acceptable?

Who else was caught blocking the bike lane in the past two weeks?

Drivers from Jimmy John’s and Carbón Mexican Grill were spotted blocking bike lanes on Division Street (Ukrainian Village) and 18th Street (Chinatown/Pilsen) respectively. After Grid Chicago reported to 25th Ward Alderman Solis in April a rash of driving and parking in the 18th Street protected bike lane (from Clark Street to Canal Street), some change will occur: the flexible posts will be moved closer to the sidewalk, narrowing the bike lane. This will widen the travel lane next to the bike lane. I would like the Chicago Department of Transportation to try an alternative intervention: bollards 6 feet apart at the entrances and exits of the bike lane. The bike lane’s width is one of its strong points, as it allows for social, side-by-side cycling with a friend.


A Jimmy John’s delivery vehicle on Division Street in Ukrainian Village. 


A Carbón Mexican Grill delivery vehicle on 18th Street. The bike lane here will be reconfigured and receive additional police attention in an effort to curb this behavior

The city has picked up the pace in issuing citations for Municipal Code of Chicago 9-40-060 about parking and standing your car in a bike lane or marked shared lane. In the period January to April, the rate was 5.07 citations per day. In May the citation rate was 6.65 citations per day. This is still not enough to change behavior and the transient nature of the restaurant delivery vehicles – where 5-10 minutes is “nothing to worry about” – makes it hard for police or Department of Finance workers to catch them in the act. A new website has sprung up, to join My Bike Lane, that shows photos of people parking their cars and trucks in the bike lane.

N.B. The previous week I stopped at a parking lot across the street from Congress Theater. (It was actually a strip mall where the parking lot is used for event parking at night.) There was a “park here” sandwich board blocking half the 5-feet wide bike lane. I asked a guy working nearby, “Is this sign yours?” It was. I followed up with my real question, “Can you please remove it from the bike lane?” He said he “yeah”.

Some photos provided by Calvin Brown.

44 thoughts on “Take back the bike lane”

  1. Just ridiculous. In NYC we have vendors leaving their push-carts in the bike lanes, especially in Midtown. Taking pictures is a good start. I have a video camera on my bicycle that also takes stills. Best thing EVAR!

  2. This aggravates me to no end. Every single morning, there is at least one car or truck blocking the bike lane on N Wells. Most often, it’s three or four. Loading trucks and cab drivers seem to be the worst culprits, and they don’t seem to care one bit when you point out the illegality of their actions.

    1. Make sure you let the cab driver see you taking down the cab’s medallion number, which should be located on the cab’s hood. Make sure to include the medallion number in your complaint. The medallion = money.

  3. I usually just glare at people when they do this, although yesterday on Halsted south of North/Clybourn I yelled into a window of someone who was using the bike lane to pass on the right, “It’s not a truck lane!”
    I always feel good momentarily after doing things like this and then I immediately fear for my safety all over again.

    1. As you read, I was a customer of one of the businesses, and a future customer of a different business. I was not on a bicycle and not fearful of any automobile-inflicted ramifications.
      I will be taking my business elsewhere.

      If these businesses care to stop parking in the bike lane, they can advocate with CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein for better loading zone placement and regulation. Or they can switch to bicycle delivery.
      I will encourage you to approach people when they are parking in the bike lane, but only if you feel safe doing so. Otherwise please call the business afterwards (“How’s my driving”), the alderman, and record their picture.

        1. If a cab, you should call 311 and follow the complaint procedures I’ve outlined before.
          If it’s a regular person not affiliated with a business, your only recourse is the police department. So call 911 (that’s the only number to contact the police). 311 is not for reporting parking in the bike lane. You can also contact the alderman for that area and get them involved.

  4. One good sign – I think the car wash on Milwaukee just south of Grand actually uses a sign that say “please don’t block the bike lane”

    1. I’ve noticed that!

      That’s another problem area, but not because of the car wash. It’s because of the two large sections of potholes. If you ride on the right, then you’re riding very close to car doors. If you ride on the left, then you’re “provoking” a driver to honk at you.

  5. Also note that sandwich boards, while frequently found during baseball season and the dinner hour, are illegal in Chicago. These plastic jobbies are fortunately kicked aside from a moving bicycle with ease.

      1. I believe this ordinance applies: 10-28-064 – Advertising signs.

        It says, “…no person shall place, install or knowingly maintain on the surface of the public way any sign or a structure or device to which such a sign is affixed. Any such sign, structure or device that is placed, installed or maintained on the public way in violation of this section is hereby declared a public nuisance and may be removed at any time by the commissioner of business affairs and consumer protection at the expense of the person responsible for the violation.”

  6. One suggestion is to contact the owner of the restaurant. I did this at one place where the Valets were parking in the bike lane, and got an email from the owner, and the behavior changed 100%. This depends on the sensitivity of the owners I guess, but seems like a good place to start.

  7. I always keep giant orange stickers in my bike bag that reads “THIS VEHICLE IS ILLEGALLY PARKED”, and when ever I encounter a vehicle parked in the bike lane, I just slap that sticker on the drivers side window. I love watching the reactions on the peoples faces especially if their in the car when i do it. As for the sandwich board signs I just kick them over as i pass by. Yes, I know this is childish behavior, but “Yeah, Its what I do”.

  8. Great article. I am always pushing garbage and putting notes on cars that park in the bike lane. I occasionally take out a side view mirror accidentally with my handle bars and feel bad, but they were in the way.

  9. There is definitely a culture in Chicago of parking wherever you want, especially if it’s “just for a few minutes.” It’s incredibly irritating. People are constantly parking in the middle of my my street — a narrow neighborhood street with room for just one car — and then they get mad when you indicate you don’t have room to pass them. It’s like people refuse to find a legal — or at least, out of the way! — parking spot if they just need to be there a short while. I bet that in these instances you describe, even if there are no legal spots that would allow people to run in quickly, there are illegal spots that would not obstruct the bike lane and/or traffic, such as parking too close to the corner or in an ally with flashers. That’s not good either, but at least it’s less inconsiderate.

    I would like there to be a sign in my neighborhood along the lines of “flashers don’t make it a legal parking space”

  10. I am tempted to say something to the fire fighters/EMTs at the Chicago fire station on 55 W. Illinois. It’s been better lately, but they often park their personal cars in the bike lane, even though they have a parking lot and street-side parking zones all around the fire station. It’s really frustrating, and the street surface is pretty bad at that point, so you’re having to merge with traffic and try not to hit a pot hole at the same time.

    1. Say it. Ask to talk to the fire station’s chief.

      Your talking points should probably include:
      1. It’s not legal; laws allow emergency personnel to disobey parking and traffic laws when responding to emergencies. 2. It poses a danger to people who are cycling because it forces them to merge left into faster moving traffic. 3. Mayor Emanuel is trying to increase the number of people who bike to 5% of all trips under 5 miles and they are a barrier to that goal.

  11. I take pictures which I send to the City and the relevant Alderman. My standard cover letter mentions that it’s not only hazardous (and fuels driver frustration with cycling infrastructure) to have to leave the lane when someone is parked in it, but it’s also difficult to see when it’s safe to merge back into the biking lane. My route home is N. Wells where there might as well not even be a bike lane because of all the parking in it.

    1. That is the City’s own message to its police officers, as propagated through the bike safety and laws video shown to all police officers since 2008. You can watch the video on Vimeo and see for yourself the City’s position on what’s bad about cars parked in bike lanes (it requires the cyclist to merge left into faster moving traffic).

      Can you post your cover letter?

      1. Re: City Code Enforcement–no parking in the bike lane

        On [date] [at time], [description of vehicle(s)] on Street at Cross Street completely blocked the [direction of travel] bike lane. While I was stopped to take photos, [X additional] cyclists were prevented from safely traveling in the marked bike lane. I have attached photos.

        [Additional information about the route or experience as necessary—such as “I stopped at a shop for 30 minutes and the car was still there when I returned”]. Cars/trucks parked in the bike like create a traffic hazard to cyclists and drivers alike by forcing cyclists out of the bike lane. Not only does this require the tricky maneuver of “taking the driving lane”, but the trucks also obscure the view of the bike lane ahead. You cannot easily see if the bike lane is free of pedestrians, cars pulling in or out of parking/alleys, or that the road surface is not marred by potholes in order to return to the bike lane.

        I have seen data which suggests that in 2011, Chicago issued only 5 citations to motorists blocking the bike lanes. Please support enforcement of Ordinance 9-40-060 – Driving, standing or parking on bicycle paths or lanes prohibited. I’m sure you’re aware of how angry drivers get when cyclists use “their” roads–drivers parking in the bike lanes only compounds the issue.

        Thank you.

      1. Thanks Steve. I now see the where you have links to both the tumblr site and to http://chicago.mybikelane.com/ I appreciate all your efforts with Grid Chicago. BTW, there are a couple of groups that I participate in that may be of interest to you: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/opacc/ and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/westsidecommuters/ cheers, bill

        From: Disqus
        To: billwatson58@yahoo.com
        Sent: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 1:59 PM
        Subject: [gridchicago] Re: Take back the bike lane

        Steven Vance wrote, in response to bwrf:
        Yep, I linked to that in the article.
        Link to comment

  12. I’m a NYC cyclist and here’s how I usually handle this. With a big smile and friendly tone of voice I say, “Hey, don’t you hate it when you’re driving along, and all of a sudden this bike pops out of nowhere into your lane going really slow? The reason that happens is because people obstruct the bike lane. And it’s really scary for us cyclists as well, it’s a dangerous maneuver to pull into traffic to get around something. This is why in NY it’s illegal to obstruct the bike lane for any amount of time.” I get a lot of “oh, sorry”‘s, and sometimes people move. Not all the time, but sometimes. I’ve seen some cyclists blow by parked cars ringing their bells and shouting obscenities, and all this results in is the driver sticking a finger out the window at them. So, yeah, educate people: just be mindful of your approach.

  13. I love the fact that you call them out. I disagree on the 18th street protected bike lane, by narowing it you solve your problem and social side by side cycling is a dangerous and just a jerk move toward other road users. It can be acceptable on quiet street but on a protected bike lane.

    1. Protected bike lanes are plenty wide for side by side cycling with their low bike traffic. A friendly ring of the bell or announcement is sufficient to pass the pair.

      1. Are protected bike lanes allowing 6 persons (2 side by side each way + 1 person passing in each directions) a common thing in Chicago ? Where I come from (Montreal), protected bike lanes are bidirectionnal and you cannot ride side by side in them (lawfully and physically). Super wide bike lane like the one seen on 18th street are great but I don’t see how you can have such wide lane all over the city.

  14. Sadly this is so common everywhere in Chicago I just can’t imagine it ever changing. I keep my U-Lock in my bag so I’m not tempted to use it on a mirror.

  15. Many years ago I parked in front of a Chinese restaurant with the flashes on for “just a minute”. I got a ticket for $90. The cop didn’t even have to get out of their car. It was a taxi stand. It changed my behavior.

    Enforcement if very important, but I wouldn’t hold your breath that it’s going to happen. There just isn’t buy in from most of CPD.

    That said. If you’re ever around Western, you’ll see many people who put their mirrors in when parking. That’s because there is a reasonable chance on some parts of Western that the mirror will get knocked off because of how narrow it can be.

    Some people only care about themselves and their property. If a bike accidentally scratches a car in the bike lane, or knocks off a mirror, I’m not going to shed a tear. If it happens enough, maybe behavior would change.

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