Alderman Hopkins Requested Yesterday’s Crackdown on Cyclists in Wicker Park

2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins. Image: YouTube
2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins. Image: YouTube

Contrary to an earlier statement from the Chicago Police Department, yesterday morning’s targeted enforcement event in Wicker Park was requested by 2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins, according to chief of staff Jose Rivera.

That contradicts a statement I received yesterday from Police News Affairs when I asked whether an aldermen had requested the sting. “No, it was nothing more than a traffic mission,” a spokesperson responded via email. The spokesperson had previously stated that the event was “a was a routine traffic enforcement mission, which included vehicular as well as bicycle traffic.”

During the sting, six to eight Chicago police officers wrote many tickets to bicyclists at the six-way North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection, according to reports on DNAinfo, The Chainlink, and various Facebook posts. In particular, they wrote multiple tickets to southeast-bound cyclists on Milwaukee cyclists doing a technically illegal, but widespread and perfectly safe maneuver: crossing North while an adjacent crosswalk has a walk signal but while traffic on Milwaukee has a red. The fines for crossing the street with a red range from $50 to $200, and the cyclists are required to show up to a Traffic Court hearing.

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Many of yesterday’s tickets were written for this technically illegal, but harmless, move by cyclists.

First ward alderman Joe Moreno, whose district includes part of the intersection, was not involved in requesting the sting, according to ward assistant Jerry Mandujano.

According to Jose Rivera from the 2nd Ward, this was one of a few targeted enforcement events the police have conducted in the ward at Alderman Hopkins’ request. “There have been a lot of complaints about both drivers and bicyclists,” Rivera said. “The alderman is an avid bicyclist and he bikes that route as well, so it’s also due to personal experience. Along with drivers not yielding, a number of bicyclists are crossing the line in terms of traffic laws.”

“We’ve had bicyclists injured and bicyclists killed on Milwaukee,” Rivera added, referring to the August 16 death of 20-year-old art student Lisa Kuivinen, who was run over and dragged on Milwaukee when a truck driver failed to yield while making a right turn onto Racine.

However, I’ve seen no reports that any tickets were issued to drivers during yesterday’s sting. On the contrary, local resident Chris Morales told me he was at the intersection that morning and saw drivers obstructing traffic and failing to yield to pedestrians without being stopped by police.

Active Transportation Alliance advocacy director Jim Merrell declined to comment on the specifics of yesterday’s crackdown, since he didn’t witness the event, but noted that all road users, regardless of mode, must avoid reckless behavior that puts others in harm’s way. “However, we believe enforcement should focus on the types of violations that are most common and have the greatest potential to cause harm, such as cars speeding or failing to yield to pedestrians,” he added. “We believe this type of fair enforcement of traffic laws should be a component of the city of Chicago’s forthcoming Vision Zero Action Plan.”

Image: Wicker Park Bucktown Master Plan.
Image: Wicker Park Bucktown Master Plan.

Both Merrell and the First Ward’s Jerry Mandujano noted that some of the lawbreaking behavior at North/Damen/Milwaukee by various types of road users be attributed to the fact that it’s a confusing, chaotic intersection. However, they added, the recently released update to the Wicker Park Bucktown Master Plan, calls for making changes to the junction to make travel safer and more orderly. These include adding curb extensions to shorten crossing distances and an additional crosswalk connecting the southwest and northern corners, as well as replacing a slip lane with pedestrian space.

That’s great news. But in the meantime, while I’m sure Alderman Hopkins’ request for targeted enforcement was well-intended, how about a moratorium on ticketing stings that fine cyclists for harmless infractions while ignoring truly reckless behavior by drivers?

  • Pat

    I hope Alderman Hopkins will use his clout and request enforcement of the blocked bike lanes on Wells St. by food/liquor distributors and motorists (especially outside of Plum Market).

    The picture below is a regular occurrence. However, I mustcredit Lakeshore Beverage (the company in this photo) for responding and addressing this issue. They have been leaps and bounds better,

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5c12041b70568da157ddf00b9e43456a03b41cd19dee8b3888eb4747c04c307b.jpg

  • Afinetradename

    As a non car owning pedestrian, from what I have observed, every day in the Second Ward, when motorists do abide by the “rules of the road,” it’s the exception!

    Everyday I see motorists flagrantly run thru stop signs; run red lights; at intersections where there is CDOT signage: “turn left on green arrow,” motorists turn left when ever.

    Ticketing cyclists is beyond absurd.

    Ticket the two ton vehicles. Neither pedestrians nor cyclists stand a chance against an errant motorist.

    Given the number of pedestrians and cyclists that were injured or killed last year in Chicago by motorists…

  • I’m getting my driver’s license at thirty and so I’m in adult driving school and I guess I knew drivers in Chicago didn’t obey the law since I’ve had many close calls as a cyclist or pedestrian. But behind the wheel you really get to experience it and it’s pretty galling here. Especially this intersection, it’s an insane free for all. I don’t see how ticketing bicyclists is a solution. I think the only solution would be to somehow reengineer this nightmare intersection to discourage lawbreaking by cars (and also by everyone else).

  • Jeremy

    I went on a ward 2 bike ride with Alderman Hopkins. If he is such an avid bicyclist, I am surprised he hasn’t requested (at least we haven’t heard of) stings on drivers. After all, drivers are okay with getting tickets from an officer, they just don’t want automated camera enforcement.

    Cyclists need to contact ward offices regarding instances of driver behavior.

    I think a problem with this whole situation is that police don’t walk a beat anymore. They drive from home to the station, then get behind the wheel of an SUV. CPD (and alders and the mayor) as a whole views the city through windshield tinted glasses.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s entirely possible that Alderman Hopkins, who is generally pro-bike, requested that a roughly equal amount of tickets be issued to cyclists and drivers. But if that’s the case, it doesn’t look like the police honored that request.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Could not agree more on the “walking a beat” thing. I understand the mobility a vehicle offers, but there has to be a trade off. You can see one clear and negative result in terms of cops themselves routinely violating traffic laws, something which seems to be viewed by many of them as a perk of the job.

  • Bill Hudson

    “doing a technically illegal, but widespread and perfectly safe maneuver”
    So John, the law shouldn’t be applied equally? This intersection NEEDS and “sting” as I can barely cross to get to the train. Bikers near-miss me every damn day.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    In the January crackdown the law was applied unequally — in favor of motorists. But, yes, the police shouldn’t waste time ticketing for non-dangerous cyclist behavior. Please provide some details about what crossing movement you’re making when cyclists “near-miss” you, and what direction the cyclists are coming from. The cyclist move I described does not conflict with legal pedestrian movements — the bike riders are riding parallel to the crosswalk, not crossing it.

    Moreover, the Chicago Department of Transportation recently found that 65 percent of southeast-bound cyclists on Milwaukee make this harmless move. Therefore, they’re considering adding a dedicated bike signal to legalize the maneuver: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2017/05/10/northdamen-overhaul-could-add-crosswalk-legalize-6-corners-shuffle-bike-move/