Interview With the Ninja: Thoughts on Bike Light Enforcement

Should police ticket cyclists for riding without lights and, if so, what's the best way to do it?

Jonathan Loïc Rogers. Photo: Facebook
Jonathan Loïc Rogers. Photo: Facebook

Update 1/24/18, 2 PM: From the comments, it’s clear that some readers have mistaken this article as an endorsement of riding at night without lights. On the contrary, as the interviewee acknowledges, all cyclists are safer when they use bike lights at night. Rather, the purpose of this piece is to get inside the head of a bike ninja, so as to get a better idea of why some Chicagoans are choosing to ride without lights. This information can help inform outreach and/or enforcement strategies with the goal of ending this dangerous practice. 

Last night around 11:30 p.m., food courier Jonathan Loïc Rogers was biking home to Humboldt Park when he heard a siren and saw flashing blue lights behind him near the relatively secluded Grand/Damen intersection in West Town. A pair of police officers in a squad car pulled him over because he didn’t a white front headlight, nor a red taillight or reflector, as required by state law, as well as Chicago city ordinance.

Rogers was wearing a jacket and tights with reflective piping, and his courier bag also had reflective elements. But technically he was a “bike ninja,” as defined by the Urban Dictionary: “someone who is riding their bicycle in dark/low visibility conditions, without a headlight or taillight.”

The officers wrote Rogers a ticker for the following ordinance:

9-52-080. Head lamps, reflectors and brakes.
(a) Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a head lamp which shall emit a white light visible from a minimum distance of 500 feet from the front and with a rear red reflector capable of reflecting the head lamp beams of an approaching motor vehicle back to the operator of such vehicle at distances up to 200 feet or a rear lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 200 feet from the rear.
(b) Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake that will enable the operator to make the braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

The ticket states that Rogers’ offense was the lack of “headlights, reflectors, and brakes.” The courier says the brakes part is perverse because he was riding a single-speed cyclocross bike with disc brakes, which are very effective for stopping a cycle, even in wet conditions. He thinks the officer may have mistaken his bike for a single-speed fixed-gear cycle with no hand brakes, since his bike doesn’t have brake calipers above the wheels. (It’s worth noting that competent riders can also skid to a stop on a fixie with no hand brakes.)

All the same, Rogers acknowledges that he deserved a ticket for riding without illumination, and he’d be safer if he rode with lights. So why is he a bike ninja?

“Bike lights are expensive and I’ve had too many of them stolen,” Rogers says. Couldn’t he clip lights onto his bag or its strap? “I used to have one on my bag, but it would turn on when I put the bag down and I wouldn’t notice, so it would lose its charge.”

Rogers adds that he already has a few other gadgets that have to be kept charged for work, so lights would be another thing to plug in. (Nowadays many bike lights are USB rechargeable, rather than battery-powered.) “My bag and my clothes are reflective, and I ride defensively,” he says. “It’s a question of spending $50 for a ticket or $80 for lights.” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey indicated that the fine for biking at night without lights varies according to the administrative law judge who rules on the ticket.

A bike ambassador and a police officer give a cyclist a free headlight during an enforcement event. Photo: CDOT
A bike ambassador and a police officer give a cyclist a free headlight during an enforcement event. Photo: CDOT

Rogers says he’s ambivalent about bike light enforcement. “I agree that [bike lights] are a good safety measure for everyone, including myself,” he says. “But it did seem like the cops hadn’t seen any action for a while and were like, ‘Let’s pull him over.’”

A courier colleague of Rogers’ with whom I discussed his case spoke more negatively about the situation, arguing that ticketing for lack of bike lights is a waste of police resources, especially since he’s heard many stories of officers taking an eternity to show up to the scene of car-bike crashes. Moreover, he argued that ticketing for small-time offenses can be an excuse for police to harass cyclists. As the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski reported last March, the vast majority of Chicago bike tickets are written in Black and Latino communities, possibly due to officers using the infractions like sidewalk riding an excuse to stop and frisk residents.

My opinion? Organized stings on bicyclists, such as the crackdown that took place at the North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park a year ago, are, in fact, a waste of police time. That’s especially true when officers are ticketing for harmless moves like “Idaho stops,” cyclists treating stoplights like stop signs, while ignoring dangerous maneuvers by motorists, which was reportedly the case during the Wicker Park sting.

Ticketing cyclists without lights makes more sense, because it’s likely that some serious crashes could be prevented if more bike riders used illumination. And one approach that seems constructive is holding enforcement events where police partner with CDOT’s Bicycle Ambassadors outreach team at cycling hotspots like the aforementioned six-way intersection. When a bike ninja approaches, an officer flags them down and informs them they can either receive a ticket or let the ambassador install a free bike light on their handlebars.

That strikes me as an appropriate use of policing, one that actually helps improve public safety. Moreover, the risk of the stop going sour and escalating into a dangerous situation for the cyclist is minimized by the presence of the ambassadors, most of whom are people of color. That’s important in a city whose police force has well-documented issues with civil rights abuses.

Last summer the ambassadors conducted 20 bike light distribution events, all of them involving police, handing out lights to 1,275 residents, according to Claffey. Not every event involved stopping bike ninjas on the street. For example, CDOT and the CPD coordinated some events with BUILD, an Austin-based anti-violence organization, with 15th District officers attending.

A volunteer installs a bike light at a "Get Lit" event in Pilsen. Photo: Steven Vance
A volunteer installs a bike light at a “Get Lit” event in Pilsen. Photo: Steven Vance

It’s also worth noting that police aren’t necessarily needed to do this kind of safety outreach. In 2012 Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance raised money for bike lights, with help from the bike-focused firm FK Law (an SBC sponsor). Vance paid the Active Transportation Alliance to organize volunteers to distribute the lights in locations like the 18th/Loomis/Blue Island intersection in Pilsen. The campaign was cheekily called “Get Lit.”

  • skelter weeks

    “Too expensive” “$80 for lights”
    I swear, some people operate in totally different worlds. You can get a 2-light set (front & rear lights) at Target or Wal-Mart for less than $20. You can even take ’em off and put ’em in your pocket so they don’t get stolen. And I’m not talking about tiny blinkies. These people have no excuse.

  • Tooscrapps

    There is really no excuse not to have one.

    Even if you don’t like them, find them not useful, or don’t think they really protect you, just think who’s automatically getting the blame in the event of collision: the cyclist riding without a light.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    True, that’s one argument for using bike lights: In the event of a crash, a judge or jury is a lot more likely to give the driver the benefit of the doubt if they claim they didn’t see you if you weren’t using lights.

  • JEK

    I agree. I’ve been an urban cyclist for 12 years and only just bought my second front light last year; it was a rechargeable model at $60. Planet Bike makes quality lights for under $25. Remove them from the bike when you park. Forget all the other stuff, at minimum you want to be in compliance with IL law should someone hit you so your case or insurance claim against the driver is airtight.

    I have to drive too. I notice unlit cyclists and I always think how a less-observant non-bicyclist driver might overlook them. I think a lot of bicyclists still don’t know that lights aren’t there to help cyclists see the road – they’re so others can see you. As a safety measure lights trump a helmet any day in my opinion.

  • LiteDo

    I order LED silicon clip-ons for $1.50 (shipping included) from Chinese sellers on ebay. They do the trick for visibility.

  • FlamingoFresh
  • FlamingoFresh

    In this case forking out $25 for decent lights isn’t necessary. Considering they’re only needed to avoid a ticket, per the ninja. You can get a set of lights for $8.

  • Random_Jerk

    As a fellow bicyclist I hate bike ninjas. I actually had more close calls with them, than cars. If you’ll get hit by a car, but have no lights, wearing all black and your bike is flat black – you have no sympathy from me. You give the bicyclists bad rep. Reflective striping does nothing unless you shine the light directly at it. You are not visible in the side mirrors, especially when it rains/drizzle/snow.

  • rohmen

    Wasn’t the lack of lights and “dark” clothing one of the mitigating factors the criminal judge cited when sentencing the ex-Stroger executive to a very light sentence after he killed a cyclist in a DUI-related collision? Who knows what would have happened even if the rider had lights (especially in light of Cann’s case), but it’s definitely another excuse people will use to dismiss a cyclist getting hit.

  • Tooscrapps

    As much as I agree with you, I’d rather face a ninja than a cyclist with his car-strength bright set on strobe.

  • eric299

    I think ticketing bicyclists, including the above-mentioned sting, is entirely appropriate. We have miles and miles of bike lanes now, at a cost I’m told of $150,000-200,000 a mile. Yet those bike lanes are often sparsely used and you see bicyclists doing what they want, like not using the bike lane, and instead riding on the sidewalk or in the auto lane, quite often.

    It seems to me that it is still a very small portion of the population who uses all this stuff. The proof of that can be seen everyday. I don’t know how many times I’ve driven all the way out Lawrence Avenue to Jefferson Park and seen maybe one rider in the bike lane.

    But if we’re going to have it, certainly bicyclists need to play by the rules and not act like some kind of elite class who have all this expensive infrastructure, don’t use it, and behave exactly as they feel in traffic.

    The same goes for pedestrians. If you wear all black and wander out into the middle of the street at night in front of a “State Law Stop Here” sign I don’t know how the motorist is supposed to see you. That exact situation has happened to me and it was quite scary.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Like not using the bike lane” — Chicago cyclist are legally allowed the full use of mixed-traffic lanes, even if a bike lane is available:

    “If you wear all black and wander out into the middle of the street at night in front of a “State Law Stop Here” sign I don’t know how the motorist is supposed to see you.” If you can’t see a human being crossing in a crosswalk in your headlights, you’re either not paying attention or driving too fast. People have the right to wear normal street clothes whether they’re walking, biking, or driving — I assume you don’t choose your wardrobe based on whether you’re driving or walking someplace.

    Read this:

  • johnaustingreenfield

    For the record, here’s my solution to the annoying removable bike light issue (when I take them off and put them in my bag, they often get switched on and run out of juice.) I buy decent battery-powered lights and superglue them to the mounting brackets. In a decade or two of doing this I’ve had maybe three incidents where someone bothered to break the brackets to remove the lights.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    In the Hector Avalos case the judge mentioned the cyclist’s dark clothing as a factor in the light sentence for the driver, although I didn’t hear about any mention of bike lights.

  • Kevin M

    I am surprised whenever I rarely see or hear about CPD enforcing moving violations. My decades of daily street use in Chicago leads me to believe moving violations are rarely, and less frequently than in the past, enforced. It feels like the Wild West out there.

    Cyclists at night without lights are dark as death, riding tomorrow’s ghost bikes.

  • eric299

    I wasn’t driving too fast John. I was actually driving pretty slow because there was a lot of traffic around the night clubs on North Halsted. The guy was wearing a black winter cap, a black jacket, black pants, black gloves and black shoes. Against the backdrop of the city scape and a dark night I did not see his sliver of a white face until I was almost on top of him. You’re a jerk to try and put that on me.

    I’m not talking about legality in the sense that you are describing it. But thanks for trying to flip the comment on me. Why are we building all this infrastructure at a cost of $150,000 – 200,000 a mile if it is going to be largely ignored and people are going to sail through traffic anyway? Talk about the privileged few. If the cops handing out some tickets brings a little more sense to that situation it is a good thing. And by the way: the broker the City and State get the more of that you can expect.

    You can’t advocate for all this stuff to be created and not advocate for the people who are supposed to benefit to use it. The only way that makes sense is if you are one of the people profiting from the $150,000 – 200,000 a mile. If you are you can cut me a check for all the time I waste sitting at bicycle stop lights in Evanston being used by nobody.

  • Toddster

    It’s pieces like this that give cyclists a reputation for being whiny, entitled brats.

    Biking without lights is extremely dangerous and reckless. Advocating that he shouldn’t have been ticketed and instead “educated” is a ridiculous notion. Yes, stings for going through red lights at T inspections with no traffic is a waste of resources. This was not a sting though. Stopping someone because they are traveling fast and hard to see is a great use of resources. I won’t go into how ridiculous a notion is it too that we should let dangerous behavior slide by because stopping the person might be even more dangerous.

    And the attempt to give any credit to his defense that he doesn’t need lights because he rides defensively is just asinine and only further highlights his own disregard for those he shares the streets with – including other cyclists who don’t have high powered headlights that will make his reflective clothing at all effective until the last minute.

    If you wanted to discuss the benefits of a bike ambassador program or the ineffectiveness of police stings, those are great topics. But to use someone who is riding dangerously, selfishly and is apparently too dim-witted to be able to keep two lights charged as the poster child for other issues is doing all of us a disservice.

    In the interest of the movement, I’d hope you seriously revise how this piece is approached. I’ll be letting the piece’s sponsor, On The Route Bikes, that I am very embarrassed for them as well.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Advocating that he shouldn’t have been ticketed and instead ‘educated’ is a ridiculous notion.” Perhaps, but that’s not what I did in this article: “Ticketing cyclists without lights makes more sense, because it’s likely that some serious crashes could be prevented if more bike riders used illumination.”

    The purpose of this article isn’t to condone riding at night without lights, which I agree is a dangerous practice that should be discouraged. Even Rogers acknowledges that he deserved the ticket and would be safer if he used lights. Rather, the purpose of the article is to consider what are the most constructive, and least potentially harmful, ways to encourage and/or enforce bike light use.

    When I see bike ninjas on the road, I often wonder, “What are they thinking?” Interviewing Rogers was an opportunity to get inside the head of a ninja, to get an idea of why some people are choosing to ride without illumination, which could help inform future outreach or enforcement efforts.

    If this was confusing and you got the impression that I was endorsing riding at night without lights, I apologize for the misunderstanding. To make sure this doesn’t happen again, I’m adding a note at the top of the post.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Why are we building all this infrastructure at a cost of $150,000 – 200,000 a mile?” Chicago bike lanes averaged $67K a mile as of 2014. Bike infrastructure is a heck of lot cheaper than car infrastructure — all of the bike infrastructure that Portland installed between 1993 and 2011 cost about the same as one mile of urban freeway.

    “The people who are supposed to benefit.” Everyone benefits from bike lanes, especially protected lanes that physically narrow the street. Pedestrians get shorter crossing distances and everyone, including motorists benefits from the traffic-calming effect, which discourages dangerous car speeds.

  • Toddster

    It still really misses that mark. What you’ve chosen to include comes with implications on what you and transitively Streetsblog and the safe streets movement endorse.

    Including comments like:

    “Rogers says he’s ambivalent about bike light enforcement. “I agree that [bike lights] are a good safety measure for everyone, including myself,” he says. “But it did seem like the cops hadn’t seen any action for a while and were like, ‘Let’s pull him over.’”; and

    A courier colleague of Rogers’ with whom I discussed his case spoke more negatively about the situation, arguing that ticketing for lack of bike lights is a waste of police resources, especially since he’s heard many stories of officers taking an eternity to show up to the scene of car-bike crashes.

    imply that you agree with their takes, the cops only pull over cyclists without lights because they’re bored and that there is no legitimate safety issue. No where do you talk about the importance of bike lights or interview someone who’s life was saved because of lights or have any data on the issue. It’s just anecdotes from two reckless riders which goes back to the question of why does an article about enforcement have to center around these two? It comes off as sympathetic to two people who deserved everything that they got.

    And then this line: (It’s worth noting that competent riders can also skid to a stop on a fixie with no hand brakes.)

    By including it, your tacitly agreeing with that concept. However, a Nascar driver could probably get away with doing some very illegal driving very safely on public roads, but you’d be up in arms if they did. This is the same. Just because someone can stop in a certain matter doesn’t make it safe to do it in crowded urban environments and just further adds to the tone of this piece, which is all cyclists should be able to do whatever they want, everyone else be dammed.

    If you want to “get inside” a ninja’s head you should print the straight transcript so we can all make our own judgement on his reasoning or present an edited version along with other facts and perspectives to give us a full rounded view. However, this has been edited and editorialized in a way that victimizes two deserving scofflaws.

  • JEK

    At that price we should all keep a handful with us and pass them out to the Bike Ninjas as we see them.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Like Rogers, I’m ambivalent about police ticketing bike ninjas. On the one hand, people who ride without lights deserve tickets, and if a $50 ticket encourages someone to start using lights, that’s a good thing.

    On the other hand, it’s arguably a waste of time for officers to spend 20 minutes ticketing a bike ninja, when our city faces an epidemic of serious crime. Moreover, as the Chicago Tribune investigation showed, the CPD hasn’t been enforcing bike infractions in an equitable manner — they’ve been singling out riders in communities of color, possibly as a stop-and-frisk strategy.

    That’s why I think the CPD/Bike Ambassador outreach events are a good strategy for making people safer. They’re a fairly efficient use of police time, since a lot of cyclists can be reached in a short period, and they basically eliminate the racial profiling issue.

    As an added bonus for the CPD, they’re a situation in which a citizen might actually be glad that they were stopped by an officer. That’s a valuable thing in an era when residents’ trust of Chicago police may be at a nearly all-time low.

  • Toddster

    Using your four paragraph response as a summary of the larger piece, the problem is what you are saying to me in paragraph one is absent. The one time you mention a ticket maybe changing behavior, you follow is up with a comment about how the one ninja still sees it as cheaper than lights. Negating the whole thing.

    If you just take paragraphs three to four in your response to me as a stand alone thing, it comes off as “I should be able to endanger others and ride in darkness.”

    I’ve always found Streetsblog to be a great resource for fair coverage of street issues. This piece is far from fair. If anything it’s a personal essay on your thoughts from two interviews, which is fine to write and discuss, but it should be classified as such. Lumping it in with other legitimately reported stories here brings up the same problems in our broader news system where a pundit’s opinion gets passed off as news.

    I’ll leave it at that. This is a really disappointing piece, not only because the angle, but that fact that my local shop, On The Route sponsored it.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I think the new intro makes my attitude towards riding at night without lights clear — thanks for pointing out that it was previously confusing.

    I stand by my statement that police ticketing bike ninjas may be a poor use of resources. For example, if the CPD had a policy of never writing tickets for relatively minor bike infractions and instead used that time to ticket drivers for dangerous behavior, that would save lives. If nothing else, it would eliminate the “biking while Black” issue, which is a major problem.

    While riding without lights at night endangers the cyclist who does it, it’s not the same kind of offense as, say, blasting through a busy Loop intersection on a red light, which definitely calls for a ticket.

    (By the way, I forgot to respond to your comment about fixed-gear without hand brakes — they’re not inherently unsafe, although I would highly recommend installing a hand brake as a back-up. However, since skidding to a stop on a brakeless fixie takes more effort than using a hand brake, *some* people who ride these bikes sometimes choose to blow through intersections without yielding to cross traffic or pedestrians, which is reckless and irresponsible.)

    Streetsblog Chicago is a news and advocacy website, so most of our posts have an editorial element — we don’t try to provide so-called “fair and balanced” news.

    Hopefully this article and the ensuing discussion will make more bike ninjas reconsider their choices and purchase bike lights. Note that *no one*, including the two couriers, is arguing that it’s smart to bike at night without lights.

  • Curtis James

    John, as others have pointed out, the reasons given by Mr. Rogers for not using lights are specious, if not downright ridiculous. Expensive? $80? Nonsense. You can get lights at Aldi for a few bucks that are better than nothing. Or an eBay. Or Amazon. Or anywhere. Stolen? Give me a break! I’ve been riding in this city for over 35 years and have had only a couple of bike lights stolen, regardless of the light or its mounting. As you yourself note in the comments, it’s easy to secure a light so that no one would bother to mess with it. He’d have to plug the light in? It might turn on by itself and lose its charge? Aww, poor widdle baby. I guess no adult human could ever be expected to charge a USB device or be careful about turning it on and off, right?

    Every reason given by Mr. Rogers for not using lights is completely lame. Why didn’t you call him on any of them? Because you let them slide, your article gives the impression that you think they are valid. Also, you didn’t even touch on the real truth about a lot of ninja riders and lights, which is also the truth about Mr. Rogers: they think they are just too damn cool and countercultural to use them. No free lights or educational events are going to change that.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “The reasons given by Mr. Rogers for not using lights are specious.” I don’t disagree with you. In fact, even Rogers acknowledges that he’d be safer if he used lights. However since some people seemed to think I was endorsing bike ninja behavior, I added the disclaimer at the top of the post.

    “It’s OK to wear all black clothes at night and walk in front of cars.” Yes, it’s OK to wear normal street clothes when walking or biking. When you’re about to drive somewhere at night and will have to cross a street or two on the way from your parking spot to your destination, I take it you don’t say, “Hmm, I’m going to be walking, so I’d better wear my special high-visibility pedestrian outfit.” Nobody ever told Johnny Cash, “The Man in Black,” that he should put on a safety vest before leaving the house.

    Cyclists travel at higher speeds than pedestrians and share the road with cars, so they need to use lights at night, and all road users, including people on foot, need to travel responsibly. For peedestrians, that includes looking both ways before they cross the street to make sure they’re not stepping into the path of an approaching car.

    But people do make mistakes, and seniors, kids, and people with disabilities sometimes need to cross streets after dark as well. As such, motorists must drive in such a manner that if the unexpected happens, the chance that anyone’s going to die is minimized. The best way to do this is by strictly following the speed limit, generally 30 mph in Chicago. Not only does driving slower give you more time to react, but studies show that people struck at 20 mph almost always survive, while those struck at 40 almost always die. That’s why U.S. cities are beginning to reduce their speed limits on residential streets to 20 MPH:

    As for the phrase “darted out,” I most commonly read that in articles about fatal crashes where the only witness is the driver, and the victim isn’t alive to tell their side of the story. Frequently, the police accept the driver’s account at face value, and the motorist gets a minor ticket, if any. The icing on the cake is when the reporter writes, “The victim was wearing dark clothing,” further absolving the driver of any wrongdoing.

  • I’m failing to see how accidental light activation is such an issue. Is this a usual thing for normal people?

  • Jett Robinson

    “The same goes for pedestrians. If you wear all black and wander out into the middle of the street at night in front of a “State Law Stop Here” sign I don’t know how the motorist is supposed to see you.”



  • rohmen

    The only reason I fight back on this idea is I think it ports over to cars too readily. Cars should be stopping IMHO for pure safety violations like not stopping pedestrians in crosswalks, not texting on phones, etc.—and police should be ticketing for those safety-related violations because they have an impact on very avoidable injury scenarios. I’d lump bike ninjas in that category as well, really. If we see this type of enforcement is a waste of time given this City’s violent crime issues, how do we justify enforcement of safety issues against cars where speeding/pure recklessness isn’t at issue with a straight face??

    If you ride at night as a cyclist and get hit, and you weren’t using lights, it’s going to be hard to say after the fact that the lack of lights didn’t play some roll in what happened. That doesn’t excuse a driver’s conduct, but it does increase the danger of on-road interactions, and we as cyclists need to bear responsibility for it. Moreover, it’s the very type of selfish, entitled behavior IMHO that ports over to drivers doing selfish, entitled things when they get behind the wheel of a car.

  • Jeremy

    I believe police use the “darted out”, “came out of nowhere”, and dark
    clothing verbiage in reports because it probably reduces their work load. Putting the responsibility on the victim seems like it would reduce the
    amount of follow up investigation and court appearances.

    I remember an article about a senior woman who was hit by a car at a stop sign and had a compound leg fracture. The article gave the driver’s account about how she “came out of nowhere”, as if the 60+ woman was waiting on the curb and then ran out in front of a moving car. Since it was near a stop sign, the driver should have been going slow enough that the whole incident could have been avoided.

  • Toddster

    The concept that we can’t or shouldn’t do A because B is a bigger problem is ludicrous in its own right. Murder is a more serious crime than theft, so until the murder rate is 0 should we stop prosecuting robberies?

    Should we stop researching heart disease because more people are dying of cancer (Note: I don’t know which one actually kills more people).

    Should we stop funding higher education because we haven’t attained a 100% grade level reading rate in grade school yet?

    The bike ninja makes a comment that he thinks the cop was bored and that’s the only reason he got a ticket. Including a baseless statement like this gives credence to your argument that enforcing safety violations is a waste of time while ignoring the selfish and dangerous activity the ninja was engaged in. Can you explain why it was necessary to include that line?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    This is probably my last comment on this article since this back and forth is a little time-consuming.

    “Can you explain why it was necessary to include that line?”
    Sure. Rogers acknowledged that he deserved the ticket, but I think the question of whether stopping bike ninjas is a good use of police resources is worth discussing. This seemed to be a case where the officers weren’t doing anything in particular, saw an unlit cyclist and said, “We might as well give him a ticket.” Was that a waste of their time? Maybe, maybe not.

    My guess is that when police see a driver at night with their headlights off — a bigger hazard than an unlit cyclist — they’re more likely to flash their brights to alert them, or pull them over for a warning but no ticket. It probably depends on the officer’s mood, the demographics of the driver, and other variables. Of course, while driving with the headlights off is usually the result of an error, biking with no lights is often the result of a decision.

    As stated, I’m not against categorically against ticketing bike ninjas: “Ticketing cyclists without lights makes more sense [than ticketing for harmless infractions], because it’s likely that some serious crashes could be prevented if more bike riders used illumination.”

  • johnaustingreenfield

    All I know is that when I used to take off my lights and put them in my backpack, it was pretty common for them to turn on in my bag.

  • Logan Square Dad

    Ninja Riders are such a serious and pervasive problem in the city. Not just for themselves, but for all the alarmed and worried citizens who use the roads and paths. I think the only true, long-term solution to the problem is a cultural/education one. Instead of pure enforcement, we need to educate riders on how this is important and expected and use the threat of enforcement to get people to adopt and execute. Much like smoking cessation, safe driving, using turn signals, stopping for pedestrians, etc, this problem will be best addressed when we look past the individual and toward the overall society and community.

  • Toddster

    “This seemed to be a case where the officers weren’t doing anything in particular, saw an unlit cyclist and said, “We might as well give him a ticket.” Was that a waste of their time? Maybe, maybe not.”

    So you’d prefer the cops continue to sit there doing nothing, collecting a salary and letting a dangerous behavior continue?

    Although this line “This is probably my last comment on this article since this back and forth is a little time-consuming.” is probably you’re richest one yet. You claim you did this whole post to open a discussion on enforcement and community engagement, and then you quit the discussion.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    There are lots of other interesting commenters on the site with whom you can discuss this topic — enjoy! Or, better yet, come to our meetup this evening from 4-6 at the Red Lion pub, 2446 N. Lincoln and we can continue this debate over pints.

  • Shirlee Berman

    Disagree – I have had MANY sets of lights stolen, and keeping them charged is a pain in the neck. Completely agree with Mr. Rodgers here. We need more affordable bikes with integrated self-charging lighting.

  • Anne A

    I’ve had the same problem on plenty of occasions. Seems like it depends quite a bit on the design of the lights. Some lights are VERY easy to activate accidentally when they’re bouncing around in a bag.