Eyes on the Street: Police Blocking Bike Lanes, Sidewalks

Police SUV blocking protected bike lane at Wabash just north of Roosevelt in South Loop. Photo: Daniel Ronan
Police SUV blocking protected bike lane at Wabash just north of Roosevelt in South Loop. Photo: Daniel Ronan

Over the past few months, I have witnessed several instances of the Chicago Police Department violating the laws they are entrusted to enforce — namely, those laws that keep bike lanes and sidewalks clear from obstructions like automobiles. In none of these instances were public safety emergencies apparent within the immediate area, nor were any of the police officers present urgently scrambling to a crime scene.

I understand that law enforcement officers occasionally need to put public safety above protocol while they’re upholding the law; as a CPD spokesperson wrote, “Although all Officers are encouraged to park legally when responding to calls, it is not always possible due to pressing public safety needs” as well as “the unpredictable nature of the job.” However, the frequency of these instances leave me wondering whether most maneuvers of this kind are really due to necessity, or just convenience.

Justin Haugens has witnessed similar behavior many times on Chicago streets, documenting numerous bike lane blockers with a slew of images on Flickr. He writes that “CPD are some of the worst offenders” when it comes to blocking bike lanes.

It’s bad enough that folks on foot or on bikes have to constantly contend with high-speed traffic, and face drivers who often show little regard for their safety. But to add insult to injury, even blocking sidewalks seems to be fair game for police.

SUV on sidewalk
A police officer rolled this SUV up onto an Uptown sidewalk. Photo: Daniel Ronan

Next to the Red line stop at Berwyn, I recently watched as a police officer parked an SUV on the sidewalk. This not only endangers any blind pedestrians who happen by, it also sends a wrong message about acceptable behavior, and could even damage an unreinforced sidewalk not fit to support a 5,300-pound vehicle. (Many Chicago sidewalks are built above empty “vaults,” especially in neighborhoods where streets were raised during long-ago drainage projects.)

In a city that’s making headlines for pushing active transportation options, why do police seem to get a pass on the most elementary of traffic rules? If Chicago is serious about creating a world-class bicycling city, it’s critical that our enforcers lead by example. To have truly safe streets and sidewalks, we need a police force that is not above its own laws — or above the common courtesy of not getting in the way of other people.

  • SMH

    This article is the epitome nitpicking.

  • CL

    Residents complain about police response time at almost every CAPS meeting. It’s in all of our interest that they don’t waste time looking for parking spaces, even when they’re responding to relatively minor calls. We allow the police to speed and run lights for the same reason — they’re responding to emergencies.

    I’m sure the privilege is sometimes abused. That’s just natural when thousands of people can park anywhere without consequence. But most of the cars in your neighborhood are officers working — unless the officers are taking lunch breaks, that’s what they’re doing when they park.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    http://uptownbarbershop.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-latin-kings-visit-uptown.html

    http://edgevillebuzz.com/news/gang-activity-at-winthropberwyn

    I for one am happy to see police at Berwyn. It can get crazy down there. Stabbings, shootings happen regularly. With the narrow street and busses waiting to start their route, there is very little space so yeah, I see cops parked like this often.

    Also, where you see trees planted, there are no vaulted sidewalks. Otherwise the tree roots would be dangling underground.

    Oh, I followed the flicker link and found cuddly kitten pics. Made me feel so good. Thx.

  • JacobEPeters

    As long as the conditions they are creating for merging traffic and pedestrians sight lines are less dangerous than the call they are responding to, then I don’t see the harm. That being said, I’d rather a police car blocked the street than the sidewalk.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    So when police are called to a scene, will they know for certain what they will be facing? Maybe in a lot of cases it’s a routine call that turns out to nothing. However, there is a greater likelihood that their life or a member of the public’s life is in danger than the chance of a blind person walking into a parked police car. If we are worried about the welfare of blind people, why do we plant trees in the sidewalk? Photos don’t always tell the story.

  • Officer Friendly

    This is just further evidence that police department needs to scrap their vehicles and have all the police officers riding bikes or taking the bus. Then they wouldn’t have cars to endanger the rest of us. Think of the money it would save as well.

  • Daniel Ronan

    In a city with a legacy of corruption, much of it within our publicly
    funded city departments, I believe parking on the sidewalk and blocking
    bike lanes are the “broken windows” of broader police negligence.

    Ask
    yourself if you would be given such a break if you yourself parked on a
    sidewalk or in a bike lane. If your answer is “police are different,”
    then maybe that’s the problem. Not calling out a double standard where
    you see one is why corruption is so entrenched in Chicago.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I would hardly say having a police car parking in a bike lane, on a side walk or even in a crosswalk hardly rises to the level of corruption. As a writer above has suggested, the police car should just block a traffic lane. So, you block traffic. OK. Now what happens when officers need backup or an ambulance needs to be called, traffic is stacked up behind the police car blocking a lane? Sure cops do park and block lanes, but this is generally when nothing else is available. And why would you want buses on Berwyn (many which are articulated) to be stuck behind a double parked police car, backing up all the other busses that turn from Broadway onto Berwyn? You can call it broken windows, but if you’re the one waiting for the ambulance for CPR, perhaps you call it a broken mess.

    Btw, your 2nd photo is Edgewater, not Uptown.

  • rohmen

    Like most things in life, this is an extremely context-heavy issue; and recognizing different contexts seems to be lacking in the article to a degree.

    I would be inclined to agree police parking in a bike lane or partially on the sidewalk is an issue if they are hitting up starbucks and/or grabbing lunch (and I have definitely seen that type of conduct).

    As others have noted, though, police blocking a lane to respond to a call (and I agree they have no idea many times what will be an emergency vs a non-emergency when responding) is IMHO pretty legitimate and part of living in a big city where parking is tight. What may be initially called in as a simple noise complaint (seemingly a non-emergant situation) could really end up being a serious domestic dispute, for instance.

    As others have noted, police get a lot of flack for response time in this City already, and expecting officers to look for open parking spots or loading zones when responding to calls will simply drive response times down even further.

    Cyclists are traffic, and, as such, there will be times cyclists are inconvenienced by things like police/ambulances responding to calls and maintenance on the roads.

  • chi.plan

    Jeez. That was mean.

  • BJA

    I generally see police vehicles parked in bike lanes in front of Starbucks. Taylor street just east of Laflin is terrible.

  • StopCorruption

    This is an issue seen at many levels of municipal employees. I’ve noticed that if you want to park wherever you feel like it in my neighborhood, you just need to get a neon mesh vest with a city logo on it and hang it on your drivers side window. And if you work at the park district by my house, you don’t have to park in the employee parking lot because the sidewalk is so much closer. And if you’re a fireman headed to work, go ahead – park on the sidewalk, even if you could have taken transit any of 3 transit routes to get there. I’ve seen a number of police cars blocking bike lanes on Blue Island in front of the police station — clearly not responding to a call / emergency.

    I believe that this is an important issue to point out. It’s a form of corruption. I know that there are instances when it is an emergency, but there a plenty of times when it is not an emergency and we need to keep the last remaining pieces of our city safe from autos. In many European cities, the problem of cars parking on sidewalks was so prevalent that they installed metal bollards that prevent any car from parking there. I know there are some places we could certainly use those.

  • Scott Sanderson

    I have no problem with officers parking in the bike lane if it is necessary. It just seems that I frequently see a car blocking a PBL and the officer inside is doing paper work with no traffic stop or other issue in the area.

  • JacobEPeters

    I don’t disagree with anything that you just said, so why does it feel so aggressive? I’d still prefer a street to be blocked rather than a sidewalk

  • The consensus response appears to be, “If they have no where else to park….”

    First, do you really feel the photos provided are situation where an officer is responding to a call? There is little residential and primarily business in the Roosevelt and Wabash within that immediate area. Most of the businesses on the ground floors are restaurants and then Trader Joe’s is across the street. This bike lane is frequently parked in by city vehicles.

    Second, when are you actually going to hold your police department accountable for unnecessary actions? You’re apologists along the lines of how traffic enforcement is non-existent and residents complain about speeding, improper parking or reckless driving in their neighborhood and the final statement is always, “But the police have much more important things to do!” Which is it? Do you want traffic law enforced or do you want unsafe driving?

    We’re unwilling to spend the money to improve infrastructure that forces drivers to be better but also unwilling to demand our police force act more to enforce traffic laws–maybe even create a new force solely responsible for traffic enforcement.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    “why does it feel so aggressive?” Don’t know because I don’t live in you head.

  • Pete

    Wonderful idea! Just don’t complain about response times.

  • joe

    It is NOT ok for police to park on the sidewalks. I live in Minnesota and ive called the police to complain several times. I find it very annoying that i cannot walk my son and dog down the sidewalk without being forced into the street by a police officer BREAKING the law hes sworn to uphold.

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