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.

donate button
Did you appreciate this post? Streetsblog Chicago is currently funded until April 2016. Consider making a donation through our PublicGood site to help ensure we can continue to publish next year.

  • Phil T

    This reads like an Onion article. “Bikers complain of ‘no bikes’ signs, then blocks emergency exit with bike and complains there was no sign saying ‘no bikes.'”

    Is this really bike drama? Or just a woman who didn’t want to take responsibility for herself? Exits, even seldom used ones, should always be kept clear and you should never lock to stair or ramp railings. It’s courtesy, common sense and maybe even the law (in regards to blocking egress).

    If drivers were advocating for the ability to park in front of fire hydrants, because many are rarely used too, we’d be up in arms. If the bike rack is full she should petition UofC for a new one and find someone where else to lock her bike up until then. Just like a driver needs to find somewhere else to park their car when the lot is full. Cyclists should be able to lock up close to their destination as possible. They should not be able to block exits and just because others do it, doesn’t make it ok.

    The bike collection process does seem like it could be improved.

  • The problem with the “Not a Bike Rack” stickers is that they were posted on poles where it’s legal to lock a bike.

    On the other hand, the university has the right to remove bikes from non-rack fixtures on their property. It appears that it’s not obvious that bikes shouldn’t be locked to this particular railing, since lots of people are doing it.

    Therefore, it makes sense for Facility Services to put a warning notice on this railing. That would save themselves the trouble of removing bikes, and spare cyclists the hassle of retrieving them.

  • As I mentioned to John, my issue is not with the policy itself – it’s with the lack of notification and uneven enforcement. Bikes are locked in that location every day, but this was the first time any of my colleagues were aware of bikes being removed from this particular location. Other nearby railings are clearly marked to indicate that bike parking is prohibited; colleagues were aware (and, indeed, had requested) of bikes being removed from these locations. Experience (and lack of signage) indicates that this should be a safe location to lock up.

    I agree that the University has the right to enforce their policy, and I have been locking up elsewhere since learning of this policy. But just as there are curb markings indicating that parking in front of a hydrant isn’t allowed, it seems reasonable to expect that a location where bike parking is forbidden should be marked as such, particularly when similar signage is in use nearby.

  • When a student or a worker is trying to get to class or work and all the bike racks are full, petitioning the university for a new bike rack does not present itself as a timely solution. A ramp railing does, especially if it is routinely used for bicycle parking. So I’m not sure you’ve cornered the market, Phil T, on common sense.

    It might be the case that drivers avoid parking in front of fire hydrants because they “should,” or maybe they do so to avoid penalties. Either way, they are aided by clear markings that are consistently enforced.

    Let’s hope institutions have the common sense to provide enough bike racks before they confiscate bikes that have nowhere else to go.

  • Wheat

    I think the article illustrates your concerns well. Your quotes sound reasonable and considerate.

  • A S

    I saw bikes removed from here last spring as well. There *are* signs on the rail, but they are faint, and could be missed if a bike was locked near them! Even more bike parking would certainly help. There’s often a lot of unused bike parking around the E side of the library, but other areas around campus are lacking.