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

2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins. Image: YouTube

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 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

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.
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?

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