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.
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.