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More Bike Parking Drama at the University of Chicago

The railing from which Edwards' bike was removed is commonly used as overflow parking when the adjacent racks are full. Photo. Elizabeth Edwards

Last year, Streetsblog reader Elizabeth Edwards alerted us that just about every sign pole, light post, fence and handrail by University of Chicago Medical Center sported stickers reading “Not a Bike Rack.” This passive-aggressive campaign to keep cycles out of the way of pedestrians was also illegal, since some of these poles were on the public right of way and Chicago’s municipal code specifies that it’s legal to lock bikes to sign posts on public sidewalks. Happily, a few days after I contacted the medical center about the issue, every single sticker was removed.

Last week, however, there was more bike parking drama within the university’s Gothic confines. Edwards reports that, for two or three weeks she had been locking her cycle to the railing of a little-used ramp that serves the emergency exit of a meeting room in a campus building.

While the railing is located next to some bike racks, they are frequently at capacity, so it has been common for cyclists to use the railing for overflow parking, according to Edwards. There was no sign warning that it can’t be used as such, so it has often been covered with bikes during nice weather, she said.

However, last week when she went to retrieve her orange Motobecane road bike for the commute home, she found a removal notice instead. It turns out that the university has a policy of removing any bike -- seemingly abandoned or not -- that is locked to any campus fixture that’s not a bike rack. Here’s an outline of the process from Facilities Services’ abandoned bike policy:

Abandoned bicycles and bicycles found secured to any object other than the University-maintained bicycle racks are subject to removal by Facilities Services. A tag, advising the owner of the reason for removal, is left at the site of removal; the bicycle is brought to the Young Building, 5555 S. Ellis Avenue. A record of the impounded bicycle is made and shared with the [University of Chicago Police Department] in the event that an owner reports their bicycle as stolen. Bikes are stored for 10 business days and during that time may be reclaimed by calling 773-834-1414 or by bringing the removal site tag to the Young Building reception area on the 1st floor. If the bicycle is not claimed within 10 business days it will be donated to charity.

“The process for retrieving an impounded bike is sketchy at best,” Edwards said. When she called to confirm that Facilities Services had her bike, the person she spoke to wasn't able to give her any information. When she went to went to the Young Building, she was told to wait by a bike rack where a number of removed bikes were locked up.

“When someone arrived to help me, they unlocked the collected bikes, asked which one was mine, and sent me on my way,” Edwards said. “I wasn't asked for the impound tag, or anything that might indicate the bike was mine. I could've picked a much nicer bike.”

One of the old stickers from the medical campus. Photo: John Greenfield

When I asked university spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus about the bike removal policy, she told me that it was last updated in 2011. “The policy only applies to campus property and is intended to remove abandoned bikes, ensure that accessible walks and ramps are maintained, and to manage the capacity of existing bike racks,” she said.

Sainvilus added that the university conducts surveys of its bike racks twice a year. “These surveys help us understand usage and, if needed, install additional bike racks in areas of high demand,” she said. “Since academic year 2011-2012, we have added close to 500 additional bike parking spaces on campus. We have space to park 3,045 bikes on campus today, versus 2,584 in autumn 2011.”

“I understand the rationale behind the policy, and will be more careful about where I lock up in the future,” Edwards responded, adding that she now squeezes her bike onto one of the nearby racks. “However, it's frustrating that the policy is unevenly enforced, and that there was no indication (not even the helpful, if illegal, stickers from the medical campus!) that locking up was not allowed in the location from which my bike was removed.”

Edwards says she detailed her concerns about the bike removal policy in a long message to Facilities Services, but hasn’t yet received a reply. As of this afternoon, there was still no warning sign on the railing from which her bike was removed, and several cycles were locked to it.

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