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Witnesses: Officer Who Ran Red, Injured Cyclist Didn’t Use Lights or Sirens

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Still from Chris Matthews’ Facebook video of the aftermath of the crash. The officer’s hand is red with the victim’s blood.

According to the Chicago Police, an officer who struck and injured a 29-year-old female cyclist yesterday while running a traffic signal had activated the squad car’s emergency lights. But a witnesses says neither the car’s lights nor its sirens were on when the officer passed through the intersection, knocking the woman off her bike.

The crash took place at around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Jackson Boulevard and Hamlin Boulevard in East Garfield Park, according to Officer Laura Amezaga from Police News Affairs. Chris Matthews and Tremayne Cheers, who were in the adjacent Garfield Park green space when the collision occurred, posted videos on Facebook in which witnesses can be heard saying the officer driving the squad car didn’t follow the proper safety procedures. I first heard about Matthews’ video from a post by Samuel Diaz on The Chainlink social networking site.

According to Amezaga, at the time of the crash the Chicago police officers were responding to a “shots fired” call at Hamlin and the Eisenhower Expressway, assisting Illinois state police. The Chicago police officer who struck the cyclist was heading south on Hamlin “with emergency lights activated,” Amezaga said, adding that the crash report doesn’t mention if the sirens were on.

The southbound officer slowed at the intersection to yield to another Chicago squad car traveling on Jackson towards the incident, according to Amezaga. She added that it appears the second squad car was traveling west at the time.

The female cyclist was riding west on Jackson when she was struck, Amezaga said. The victim was taken to Stroger Hospital in good condition, complaining of head, back, and side pain, Amezaga said. Footage from the two videos indicates that the woman was bleeding from the head after the crash. As of yesterday, she was to be treated and released, according to Amezaga.

Chris Matthews’ Facebook video of the aftermath of the crash.

The police department’s account of the incident doesn’t jibe with comments audible on the videos posted by Matthews and Cheers, who were getting ready for football practice with the Midway Marauders semi-pro team when they witnessed the crash. On both videos, witnesses can be heard saying that the squad car that struck the bicyclist didn’t have its emergency lights on.

“We all saw it, the light was red, all these cars were stopped,” says a man, apparently Matthews, on his video. “[The officer] didn’t even have his lights on or nothin’ when he ran the ran the lights.”

“No lights, no nothing, just hit an innocent [person],” another man can be heard saying.

When I talked to Matthews, a 28-year-old CTA bus driver, this afternoon he confirmed that he saw the southbound officer strike the bicyclist, and that the officer hadn’t activated the squad car’s lights or siren prior to the crash. “I was facing that direction when it happened,” Matthews said. “[The southbound officer] slowed down and looked both ways to make sure no cars were coming, but I guess he didn’t see the lady because he wound up hitting her.”

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Active Trans May Launch a Petition Drive to Keep The 606 Open 24/7

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While many people would like to commute after 11 p.m. on The 606, it’s currently illegal to do so. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

It was an unseasonably warm 61 degrees just before midnight last Tuesday, and there was the best kind of rain for bicycling, a refreshing mist that was too fine to soak into my jacket, but one that gave the streetlights a dreamy glow.

Beneath the dull roar of the Kennedy Expressway, I approached the eastern trailhead of the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as the 606. I was about to do something the Chicago Police Department insists is a fineable offense: pedal on the 2.7-mile elevated greenway during the city’s 11 PM-to-6 AM park curfew.

Representatives of the Chicago Park District, which manages the trail, and the Trust for Public Land, the national nonprofit that’s spearheading its ongoing development, disagree with police on this matter. They say it’s perfectly legal to commute on the 606 at night, and cite a clause in the Park District code that allows for nonstop after-hours travel through the city’s green spaces.

Police officers are currently shooing all cyclists, joggers, and strollers off the path at 11, and may show up to oust them at other times if a neighbor calls to complain.

Nonetheless, plenty of people are using the trail to bike home from work or play late at night, which is only common sense. Some 80,000 Chicagoans live within a half mile of the path, which provides an alternative to sharing the road with cars on busy Armitage and North Avenues, the two nearest parallel main streets.

Recently though, bad actors have taken advantage of the late-evening path traffic and the relative isolation of the linear park. In the wake of three recent muggings of bike riders, it’s time for the police to step up their patrolling of the Bloomingdale and start allowing 24/7 commuting. A higher number of legitimate users at all times of night would mean more eyes on the trail and safety in numbers.

As I spun west on the gently undulating path last Tuesday, there were a few people out on bikes, foot, and skateboards, despite the gentle rain and the curfew. One of them was Jessica Dickerson, 31, who was pedaling a black fixed-gear bike home to her apartment near Central Park and Cortland, a block north of the trail.

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Legalizing 24/7 Commuting on The Bloomingdale Trail Would Make It Safer

cyclist riding on the Bloomingdale Trail

Last summer, a Chicago Park District spokeswoman told me that, according to the park district code, it’s legal to commute on the Bloomingdale Trail at all times of day. But in the wake of the mugging of a cyclist on the greenway last Friday night, the agency seems to have flip-flopped on the issue – a spokeswoman implied that the 2.7-mile facility is closed between 11 p.m. and 6 p.m. However, if it was open 24/7, that would improve safety because there would more “eyes on the trail.”

Some 80,000 people live within a half mile of the Bloomingdale, aka The 606, and many of these residents regularly bike commute home from work or entertainment after 11 p.m. It’s only logical that these people should be allowed to use this car-free route to get home safely, rather than take their chances with drunk drivers on busy North Avenue or Armitage Avenue.

Last June spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – as on the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking are permitted on the elevated path due to an ingress and egress provision in the park district code. “Persons and vehicles may pass through such parks without stopping on the more direct walk or driveway leading from their point of entrance to the exit nearest to their point of destination,” the code states. Lemons said this allows commuters to use paths through parks, including The 606, for transportation.

However, in practice, police officers enforce the city’s usual 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. parks curfew by clearing the Bloomingdale at 11 sharp. When they encounter people commuting on foot or by bike on the path after hours, they order the trail users to leave. Last summer Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs confirmed this is the department’s current protocol.

After I notified Sedevic and Lemons that the two policies were in conflict, they said they would get in touch with each other and resolve the issue.

On Friday at around 11:30 p.m., a 25-year-old man was biking on the trail near Kedzie Avenue when he was jumped and mugged by four males, DNAinfo reported. They pulled him off his cycle, beat him, and took his wallet, phone, before leaving the scene, according to police.

“I was biking home from work in Lakeview and took the trail because there were a lot of cars out, and I have ridden late at night before without incident,” the victim told DNA.

In the wake of the attack, park district spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner indicated that it was illegal for the cyclist, as well as the assailants, to be on the trail at the time, referring to the fact that the parks are usually closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Therefore it appears that the park district and the police department are now on the same page. Unfortunately it’s the wrong page.

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Is Late-Night Commuting on The 606 Kosher? Police, Park District Disagree

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Photo: John Greenfield

The Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, is a 2.7-mile walking and cycling corridor that connects many destinations across the Near Northwest Side and intersects with several key bike routes. Some 80,000 residents live within a half mile of the path. As such, it’s a no-brainer that people should be allowed use it for commuting 24/7, just like on Lakefront Trail.

However, that’s not currently the case. Steven Vance and I have heard several reports of people who were biking on the Bloomingdale after 11 p.m. being stopped by police officers and asked to leave. “The elephant in the room regarding the Bloomingdale Trail is its operating hours,” one reader told us.

He said he was recently biking home on the trail around 11:30 p.m. when he was flagged down by officers. They checked his ID and told him the linear park is closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., like other Chicago Park District properties. The police were polite and friendly, and they let him continue home on the path, but warned him he would be ticketed next time, the reader said.

I dropped by the Bloomingdale after dark for my first time last night around 10 p.m., when there were plenty of people taking advantage of the balmy weather by cycling and strolling, including entire families walking with kids and grandparents. Officers were patrolling the path on bicycles. It was heartwarming to see so many residents out for exercise and relaxation in the safe, car-free space.

As I was leaving the trail just before 11, I asked the police whether commuting on the trail on foot or bike is permitted after the park officially closes. They politely told me that, currently, it is not. “The rule might be revamped in the future but, right now, while the trail is still new, you have to leave after 11,” one officer said.

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Police officers patrol the Bloomingdale Trail. Photo: John Greenfield

After speaking to a contact at the 14th Police District, which is responsible for security on the Bloomingdale, Police spokeswoman Janel Sedevic told me that this is, in fact, the police department’s current policy. “Officers go through the park at 11 p.m. to make sure it is empty, and if there’s a call with a complaint after 11, they’ll go check it out,” she said.

The thing is, that doesn’t jibe with the policy of the park district, which owns the trail and its access parks. Spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – like the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking is allowed on The 606 after hours due to an ingress and egress provision in the park district code.

“This allows commuters to use paths through our parks, including The 606, for transportation,” Lemons said. “In other words, if someone is on a bike or walking and they are actively moving during [curfew] hours, then they are free to use the trail without questions from the park district or officers.”

When I notified police and park district representatives that their policies are in conflict, they promised to look into the issue. Hopefully I’ll be able to provide an update in the near future. In the meantime, keep in mind that if you are walking or biking on the Bloomingdale after 11, you may be ordered to amscray.

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The Lakefront Trail Really Is Open All Day, All Night

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Bicyclists can and should feel free to enjoy the Lakefront Trail’s beauty 24 hours a day. Photo: Jennifer Davis

Have you ever been hassled by Chicago police officers while bicycling on the Lakefront Trail after parks officially close at 11 PM? You’re not alone. Sebastian Huydts, who bicycles for most of his transportation needs, has been stopped twice this year — most recently on May 13, at about 11:15 p.m. “They actually told me to stop with a bright light and asked why I was there,” Huydts recently told Streetsblog. The police insisted that the park is closed after 11 p.m., telling Huydts “that you cannot use the path after that time, and that it wasn’t safe anyways.”

The Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile path used by tens of thousands of bicyclists on warmer days, and by many as a key commuting route throughout the year.

Huydts said that the officers weren’t unfriendly, and that he wasn’t mistreated. He countered the police, saying that riding home among drunk drivers on Kinzie Street would be far less safe. The officers asked for his destination (Montrose Avenue), and after talking amongst themselves, they “told me I was good to go — but should exit as soon as I could.”

The police officer on duty when I called the news affairs office said that he would look into what the rule is, and also how many bicyclists the department has warned, issued citations to, or given a contact card to.

The Chicago Park District, which owns and maintains the Lakefront Trail, said that the path is open at all times. Spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said flatly that “the trail is open for ingress/egress after regular hours.” The Chicago Department of Transportation deferred to the Park District for a response.

Maxey-Faulkner’s answer that the path is open is in keeping with Park District code [PDF], which states that nobody can be in a park between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., “except that persons and vehicles may pass through such parks without stopping, on the more direct walk or driveway leading from their point of entrance to the exit nearest to their point of destination.” This code appears to extend to trails through other large parks throughout the city.

Others have previously reported instances where a police vehicle parked squarely across the path, with the attending police officer ordering bicyclists to immediately exit the trail. Active Transportation Alliance said in 2010 that they would like to see better awareness of the overnight trail use policy. This policy should be conspicuously posted along the path, and communicated to the police units who patrol the trail.

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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.

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Dustin Valenta’s Lawyer Pressures Police to Identify Hit-and-Run Driver

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The site of Dustin Valenta's crash in Wicker Park. Photo by John Greenfield.

Frustrated by what he sees as passivity by the Chicago Police Department in tracking down the pick-up truck driver who ran over bicyclist Dustin Valenta on February 8 then fled the scene, Valenta’s lawyer is attempting to force the city to identify the motorist. Attorney Michael Keating has named the city of Chicago as a “Respondent in Discovery” in a civil suit against the unknown driver.

On March 20, Keating received red light camera footage of the pick-up from the Chicago Department of Transportation via a Freedom of Information Act request. Keating immediately forwarded the video to the CPD’s Major Accidents Investigation Unit, asking that the police use their video enhancement equipment to isolate the license plate number from the blurry footage.

Almost two weeks later Keating has gotten no response to his request, even though a witness has confirmed that the truck in the video was the one that ran over Valenta. He said that naming the city as a respondent in the lawsuit will force the CPD to share any information they have about the identity of the perpetrator. “I’m not asking for the sun, moon and stars here,” he said.

Slowed-down footage of the pick-up truck running over Valenta from a Citibank security camera. Video courtesy of Keating Law Offices.

Valenta was pedaling northwest past Artemio’s Bakery, 1443 North Milwaukee in Wicker Park, when a motorist in a parked car doored him. He fell into the road and was then run over by the pick-up, suffering a cracked skull, broken shoulder blades and hip, 23 cracked ribs and a punctured lung. Valenta is recovering remarkably well from this near-death experience.

The responding police officer ticketed the first driver but, oddly, instead of citing her for the dooring, charged her with violating an ordinance requiring motorists to yield to people on horseback. The collision wasn’t reported to Major Accidents until two weeks later, which Keating said delayed the search for the truck driver.

Keating is suing the first motorist, Jeaneane Quinn, as well as the hit-and-run driver, named as “John Doe” in the lawsuit. He explained his strategy in naming the city as a respondent. “The Respondent in Discovery statute is typically used to get a company or organization to identify one of their own employees or agents,” he said. “However, I thought this was a good use of this tool given that the City of Chicago has the ability to provide us the information.” The city has the option of responding or objecting to the discovery request. If they object, Keating plans to ask the judge to order them to respond.

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