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Today’s Crackdown on Cyclists in Wicker Park Was a Waste of CPD Resources

Police serve and protect by standing around in the street blocking traffic. Photo: @hurmsolo

Update 5/30/18, 2:15 PM: Today Alderman Hopkins provided documentation that indicates that he asked the 14th Police District to hold a targeted enforcement event on January 19, 2017, to ticket motorists for dangerous driving, but the police took it upon themselves to focus on ticketing bicyclists instead. Read the full story, including the correspondence from Hopkins, on this Twitter thread

Back in November we heard about a pair of cyclists getting ticketed by the police for a technically illegal, but perfectly safe and very common, maneuver at Wicker Park’s North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection. After heading southeast on Milwaukee, the bike riders crossed North Avenue in the west leg of the intersection while pedestrians in the nearby crosswalk, which parallels Milwaukee, had a walk signal, but traffic on Milwaukee had a red.

After crossing North this way, southeast-bound cyclists typically wait in front of a Starbucks, holdings onto the nearby guard rail or placing a foot on the curb, until the next signal phase, when Milwaukee gets a green light. Doing this means you have a shorter distance to travel across the intersection once you have the green. See the map below for a visualization of this move.

This morning the Chicago Police Department did a full crackdown on this harmless behavior, and possibly other minor infractions by cyclists. According to the police, this was a targeted enforcement event that included ticketing drivers as well. But while I’ve heard multiple reports of bike riders getting pulled over and cited, I’ve seen no evidence of any motorists being ticketed. Obviously, lawbreaking by people driving high-speed, multi-ton vehicles is much more dangerous than infractions by cyclists.

After I learned about the ticketing sting through various channels I contacted Police News Affairs. “14th District officers were conducting a traffic mission in that area this morning, which included bicycle enforcement,” a spokesperson responded via email.

While CPD officers sometimes team up with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Bicycling Ambassadors to do safety awareness events, the spokesperson said CDOT was not involved in today’s sting. “This was not done in conjunction with any outside organization,” they stated. "It was a routine traffic enforcement mission, which included vehicular as well as bicycle traffic.”

However, in response to an inquiry I posted on Facebook, Chris Morales said he was at the intersection this morning and saw drivers obstructing traffic and failing to yield to pedestrians while turning without being ticketed.

Scan 89
It's common for southeast-bound cyclists on Milwaukee to cross with the nearby walk signal and wait by the Starbucks for a green light.

Cyclist Chris Bushell was ticketed for doing aforementioned crossing of North Avenue with the walk signal but while traffic on Milwaukee had a red. He conceded that he had violated the law and therefore deserved a ticket.

However, Bushell added, “I can't believe that in this time and place the CPD would dedicate six to eight officers and squad cars to writing administrative tickets to bikers.” He was also annoyed that the ticket for running a red, which carries a fine of $50 to $200, cannot be contested or paid online or at a payment office, which means everyone who got one will have to show up for a court date.

According to a DNAinfo report, a man who was ticketed for running a red at the intersection which biking downtown on Milwaukee at around 8:15 a.m. said four other cyclists were ticketed at the time. He said he had just crossed to the Strarbucks with the walk signal when he was stopped by police.

Pedestrian Darlene Allison told DNA she saw at least three other southeast-bound cyclists on Milwaukee getting pulled over after running the red.

Bushell added that he found it hard to believe that “anyone with half a brain would think this will make either pedestrians or cyclists safer.” He noted that three of last year’s six Chicago bike deaths were caused by drivers who failed to yield while making a right turn. Two of the fatalities occurred within a short bike ride of North/Damen/Milwaukee. “Where are the stings to keep cyclists safe from that?” he asked.

Granted, in a month when the U.S. Department of Justice released a report that found evidence of widespread abuses by the CPD, an incident in which a bunch of officers wrote tickets to cyclists who were breaking the law, albeit in a harmless way, is a pretty trivial issue. Still, it would be great to see targeted traffic enforcement used to reduce behavior that is actually dangerous -- such as failure to yield, red light running, and speeding by drivers -- instead of serving as a waste of time for everybody involved.

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