NORTH LAWNDALE — Cyclists riding in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods are eight times more likely to be ticketed by police than those riding in white neighborhoods, according to a new study.
From 2017-2019, over 90 percent of biking tickets cops issued were for riding on the sidewalk, data showed. But on the South and West sides, where bike infrastructure is lacking, riding can be dangerous, leaving cyclists little choice but to ride on the sidewalk, said University of California researcher Jesus Barajas, the study’s author.
“They don’t feel safe on the streets. When there’s no infrastructure, no place for a bike to be on the street, you’re going to feel safer somewhere separated from that traffic,” Barajas said.
West Side neighborhoods, including Lawndale, Garfield Park, Austin and Humboldt Park, had among the highest ticketing rates for cyclists in the city, according to the study. The data also shows cyclists in Latino areas were ticketed at three times the rate of those in white neighborhoods.
The lack of bike lanes and the policing of cyclists has kept cycling from catching on in Black and Latino neighborhoods, advocates said.
Oboi Reed, founder of Equiticity, a West Side group rooted in racial justice that is building a cycling culture on the West Side, said the policing of cyclists keeps people from getting on bikes.
“They are actively fighting against us addressing our health inequities by riding bikes, because they’re targeting us,” Reed said. “We’re trying to get more people on bikes, and they’re fighting against that.”
Reed’s group organizes community bike rides that highlight how cycling can build community, support physical and mental health and help people to better connect with their neighborhood and the city. Public safety and commerce in a neighborhood also benefit from a strong local culture of cycling, Reed said.
“Some of these inequities could be positively impacted by bicycles and the activity of cycling,” Reed said. “Biking has a role to play. I’m not suggesting it’s the only tool in our toolkit; I’m suggesting it should be one tool that Black and Brown people are able to reach in and use.”
Though cycling is not a single panacea for all problems in a neighborhood, it can be part of the solution to a host of systemic struggles and inequities facing communities of color, Reed said.
Where There Are Bike Lanes, Cyclists Are Less Likely To Be Ticketed
On average, Chicago’s white neighborhoods have 50 percent more bike lanes than Black neighborhoods, the analysis found. About 6 percent of roads in Black neighborhoods have bike lanes, whereas 9 percent of roads have bike lanes in white neighborhoods, the study shows.
“When there are bike lanes on a street, you’re about half as likely to get a ticket compared to if it didn’t have one. You have a lack of infrastructure that contributes to more tickets,” Barajas said.
Ticketing is supposed to be used to keep the city safer by penalizing bicyclists who make streets and sidewalks more dangerous, Barajas said. But the study found no connection between the number of tickets issued for biking on the sidewalk and bike crashes.
The neighborhoods that have the highest bike traffic tend to have the most bike accidents, but bicyclists are rarely ticketed in places with more crashes, Barajas said.
“Those enforcement actions aren’t really tied to what they should be tied to, which is improving safety in the neighborhoods. They’re tied to other purposes,” he said.
Ticketing Cyclists As A Policing Strategy
Community Policing Director Glen Brooks said in 2018 that Chicago police target traffic enforcement and cycling tickets in certain neighborhoods as a strategy for cracking down on more serious crime.
The disproportionate number of tickets being issued in Black and Latino areas “isn’t a matter of targeting bicycles. This is a matter of targeting violence,” he said.
“When we have communities experiencing levels of violence, we do increase traffic enforcement. Part of that includes bicycles. It isn’t a matter of fact that we are targeting people of color for bicycles. We are trying to do anything humanly possible to curtail the violence. We know there are a number of shootings that are directly tied to vehicles and bicycles,” Brooks said.
In a statement this week, a Chicago police spokesperson wrote that cops “do not target individuals based on race.”
“Officers may take enforcement action concerning bicyclist and traffic violations, which include Administrative Notice of Violations (ANOVs), when necessary to safeguard pedestrians, drivers, and residents,” the statement said.
But the Police Department’s unequal enforcement of traffic laws is rooted in systemic racism, since Black and Latino neighborhoods bear the heavy burdens of expensive tickets, the emotional strain of over-policing and the risk of interactions with cops escalating into a serious legal issue, Reed said. The city needs to find ways to reduce violence “without this perpetual toll that it takes on our neighborhoods,” Reed said.
“It’s all about [police] executing a strategy to reduce violence in our neighborhoods,” Reed said. “We know it to be structurally racist, with no regard to how our neighborhoods are adversely impacted by these strategies.”
The ticketing strategy is “clearly ineffective to keep anybody safe, really,” said Kyle Whitehead, spokesperson for the Active Transportation Alliance, a group that advocates for biking, cycling and transit in Chicago.
More Bikes Lanes Needed, Advocates Say
The way to make streets safer isn’t through unevenly enforced ticketing practices, but by investing in protected bike lanes, Whitehead said. Many bicyclists in Black and Latino areas get ticketed for riding on the sidewalk only because “the streets are not designed to protect them … so [biking on the sidewalk] is a decision that’s actually safer and making it less likely to crash,” Whitehead said.
The city’s $17 million plan to add 100 miles of new and upgraded bike lanes is a strong start to making the streets safer and more equitable, Whitehead said. But Black and Latino neighborhoods that are getting ticketed the most should be getting “a disproportionate amount of infrastructure and amenities,” he said.
“The potential or a crash and this feeling of unsafety and discomfort on the street discourages you from riding there and maybe from riding altogether,” Whitehead said.
Equiticity is one of many groups working to accelerate interest in cycling and add momentum to the bike culture emerging on the West Side. Others include Boxing Out Negativity, an athletic group that coordinates weekly community bike rides aimed at reclaiming the streets and promoting peace in North Lawndale. Youth development group YMEN launched a free bike library to make cycling accessible to everybody in the neighborhood.
But racial ticketing disparities and the lack of infrastructure create a huge barrier that is “undermining the work that people on the ground are doing to create a real bike culture,” Whitehead said.
In neighborhoods like Lawndale, the fear of a crash or an interaction with police that spirals into a violent confrontation is enough to deter many would-be bikers, Reed said.
“We are literally making choices around our mode of travel based on the inequities that surround us. We don’t want to be a victim of police violence, so I’m not riding my bike,” Reed said. ” … We don’t want to ride our bike and get hit by a car. Ain’t no bike lanes in our neighborhood, so I’m not going around my bike,
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: