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Alderperson LaSpata provides an update on efforts to improve bike lane enforcement

A bike lane scofflaw on Clark Street in Lakeview. (License number obscured.) Photo: @tomzychi

Last month there seemed to be some good news about keeping bike lanes clear. 1st Ward alderperson Daniel LaSpata, a frequent bike commuter himself, tweeted in a thread on June 15 that Chicagoans could hold bikeway blockers accountable by creating a 311 service request that includes photos of the vehicle obstructing the lane, and its license plates.

"My office has been investigating the best way to submit Bike Lane Parking Violations for enforcement to the city of Chicago," LaSpata said. "Here is the best way to submit violations for ticketing:"

(1) Use the "Vehicle Parked in Bike Lane Complaint"(2) Select the specific time for the violation(3) Include a photo of the front and rear license plate to document violation(4) Submit your request!

— Alderman Daniel La Spata (@AldermanLaSpata) June 15, 2022

The alder said Chicago Department of Transportation chief Gia Biagi confirmed to him that 311 requests about bike lane blockers that include photo documentation of the offense and the plates would be sent to the  Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings for tickets. "My office wants to help: Send your SRs to zoning@the1stward.com for my staff to follow up," LaSpata tweeted.

Unfortunately, that news turned out to be too good to be true. Later that day CDOT told Streetsblog LsSpata's statement was inaccurate. "CDOT is committed to protecting our residents and visitors who use bikes lines to get around our city. We continue to engage with aldermen and other stakeholders about ways to use 311 to enforce bike lane obstructions and parking violations. Requests sent to 311 are not sent to Administrative Hearings for ticketing. [Emphasis added.]"

"If individuals see someone illegally parked in or obstructing a bike lane, CDOT encourages residents to send the information to 311," the CDOT statement concluded. "This information is used by the city to guide enforcement and identify hotspots to improve public safety."

I recently caught up with LaSpata to ask how wires got crossed, and for an update on his efforts to improve bike lane enforcement. Ever since that misunderstanding occurred, he said, "There's been a lot of back-and-forth between CDOT, the Department of Law, and the 1st Ward. 311 requests for vehicles parked in bike lanes go to CDOT to inform future enforcement strategy, but they should be routed to the Department of Finance for an administrative notice of violation," i.e. a citation.

LaSpata noted that while CDOT has public way inspectors who enforce violations like construction sites that illegally block roads, bike lane enforcement isn't really in their wheelhouse.

Under the current system, he said, if the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which runs the 311 system, forwarded a service request about a blocked bikeway to CDOT within a few minutes of receiving the request, public way inspectors could theoretically show up to write a citation to the scofflaw.

"But 311 doesn't move that fast," the alderperson noted. Moreover, while CDOT has a budget for 30 public way inspectors, currently there are only 19 on staff, reflecting nationwide staffing shortage issues.

LaSpata explained his misconception about what Biagi told him was currently possible during their discussion of bike lane obstructions. "In our exuberance talking about what cyclists deserve, there may have been some confusion about what actually exists. However, from my discussions with CDOT, we're not actually that far off from that."

The alder said that a scenario where the 311 system routes bike lane service requests directly to Finance so that tickets can be issued, is achievable. However, he said, t's unclear whether the current Chicago Municipal Code allows residents to provide evidence of violations to Finance for ticketing. "That's what CDOT and Law are trying to work out."

For those wondering about the necessity for tripling the fine for loading in a lane of traffic or bike lane. This was taken 2 mins ago. pic.twitter.com/pB4OPKnQ1x

— Brendan Reilly (@AldReilly) April 17, 2018

If it turns out that it's not currently legal for citizens to send photos of scofflaws and have a ticket issued, LaSpata said, his City Council colleague downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has expressed interest in introducing an ordinance to do so. Reilly seems to view bike lane obstructions in his district as his own personal pet peeve, which is a very good thing for cyclists.

So while the much-desired ability for bike riders to hold blockers accountable isn't a thing yet, it could be in the foreseeable future. We'll keep you posted.

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