LOOP — Two aldermen may be working to make it easier for the city to ticket people driving in bike lanes after the idea gained traction on social media last week.
A video shared on Twitter by Beverly resident James Popp shows snippets of his 15-mile commute to his job in the Loop. In the 40-second clip, Popp gets clipped by one driver and cut off by another driver using the bike lane to pass several cars before merging back into traffic.
The video sparked reaction from several locals calling on a handful of aldermen to take action. One poster asked who would be willing to sponsor an ordinance to ticket drivers impeding on bike lanes based on video evidence.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said, “I’m down for that. Stay tuned.” Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) responded to Reilly saying, “Let’s talk.”
Vasquez told Block Club he hasn’t had a chance to speak with Reilly about the idea. Reilly did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Parking, driving or idling in bike lanes is punishable by a $150 ticket, but drivers still do it, as evidenced by the thousands of bike lane obstructions submitted in real time into a database maintained by advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising.
Bicyclist deaths in Chicago are on the rise, according to state data. Nine were killed in 2020 and 10 in 2021, almost double the annual average of five to six deaths from 2012-2019.
Cyclists that have been killed in recent months include: Adé Hogue, 32, who was riding his bike west on Grand Avenue toward lower DuSable Lake Shore Drive when a driver hit him; Jose Velásquez, 16, who was struck by a truck driver in Back of the Yards in December; Gerardo Marciales, 41, who was struck by a driver and killed while riding his bike in a crosswalk across DuSable Lake Shore Drive from the Lakefront Trail in February.
The Chicago Metropolitan Planning Agency also reported a more than 25 percent increase in the number of bicyclists and pedestrians who were seriously injured in September 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.
“The whole issue is the paint isn’t protection. I’m gonna get squashed one of these times,” Popp said.
Bike advocates have long fought to get better infrastructure for cyclists and stronger enforcement of traffic laws to protect vulnerable riders. But progress has been slow. The city’s Bicycle Advisory Council hasn’t met in two years, even though it’s supposed to convene four times annually. The meetings were a place for cyclists and safety advocates to advise city officials on topics affecting bicyclists.
Christina Whitehouse, founder of Bike Lane Uprising, said better enforcement of the traffic laws would stop drivers from encroaching on the bike lanes. Still, any ordinance to punish drivers would need to be multifaceted and holistic, and not solely rely on ticketing, she said.
The strategy must also address construction sites and city agencies that frequently block bike lanes, Whitehouse said.
Popp, who’s been an avid cyclist in Chicago since 2008, also said solely relying on ticketing isn’t a “fair and equitable” solution to the obstructions and danger cyclists face.
Parking and vehicle ticketing have been shown to have a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority communities, according to a 2018 study from the Woodstock Institute. A 2018 ProPublica investigation also revealed that ticketing in Chicago sends many Black residents into extreme debt.
“I’m a white, middle-aged, 40-year-old guy coming from the South Side commuting to areas that are definitely less privileged than [mine], and I don’t want to be the white guy recording, complaining and making those people’s lives harder for parking in the bike lane,” Popp said. “I don’t want to be the harbinger of a $100-$200 ticket just to ruin their day. There’s got to be something better than me being that person.”
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