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A Cyclist's Revenge: City Cracking Down on Cars in Bike Lanes, Data Shows

By  Tanveer Ali and Mina Bloom | January 14, 2016 5:40am | Updated on January 14, 2016 2:27pm

 A cab parked in a bike lane in the 1440 block of North Halsted Street
A cab parked in a bike lane in the 1440 block of North Halsted Street
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

CHICAGO — Over the last five years, the city has steadily increased the number of tickets issues to cars for illegally parking in bike lanes, according to data obtained by DNAinfo Chicago through a Freedom of Information Act request.

But some critics question whether the city is enforcing the law enough.

Source: Chicago Department of Finance [DNAinfo/Tanveer Ali]

In 2015, the city issued 2,473 tickets for the violation, which carries a $150 fine, through the middle of December. That's slightly higher than in 2014, when 2,331 tickets were issued and more than double than in 2011, when 1,115 tickets were issued, according to the data. 

"Is it just organic, logical growth, or is it because [the city] is truly enforcing more?" asked Yasmeen Schuller, president and owner of The Chainlink, which recently called on cyclists to submit photos and videos of vehicles parked in bike lanes. "These aren't huge numbers if you think about how big the city of Chicago is."

About 1 in every 1,250 parking tickets in Chicago are for parking in bike lanes. The city issued more than 12.2 million parking tickets between December 2010 and December 2015.

Certain blocks with bike lanes in Chicago draw more parking tickets than others.

Multiple cars parked in the bike in the 1440 block of North Halsted Street. [DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]

Cars parked on a short stretch in Lincoln Park — 1440 to 1460 N. Halsted St. — have drawn nearly 150 bike lane-related tickets over five years. One side of the street has retail shops that are part of the New City development and the other side has a doctor's office, the British International School of Chicago and a few more retail shops.

On a recent morning, DNAinfo Chicago saw more than five cars illegally parked in the bike lane over the course of a half-hour — some for more than five minutes.

"Some customers say they're illegally parked and to hurry up," said Moses Yi, 26, who has worked at the outdoor gear retailer REI, 1466 N. Halsted St., for two years. 

RELATED: Laws Against Parking in Bike Lanes Widely Ignored — Even By Police, Buses

Yi rides his bike to work, but he goes in through the side entrance. That, combined with working indoors all day, makes it hard for him to monitor ticketing on the block, he said. But Yi was quick to point out that he doesn't always notice when people are illegally parked in a bike lane because it has become so common in the city.

"It happens so often that it's second nature," he said. "Someone's parked in the bike lane again ... typical. You always go out expecting someone to piss you off when you're biking."

In the last five years, the highest number of such tickets were issued in the 200 block of South Canal Street next to Union Station. Nearly 200 bike lane parking tickets have been issued on this stretch.

But such tickets have evaporated since construction began on the Loop Link project early last year, and the city's Department of Transportation replaced in-street bike lanes with protected ones.

A cyclist is unable to use the bike lane in the 1440 block of North Halsted Street because a car is parked there. [DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]

Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, the city has added 106 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes, which brings the city's total up to 292 miles, according to Mike Claffey, a spokesman for CDOT.

According to Claffey, the increase in the number of tickets is due to the city "stepp[ing] up efforts to keep [bike lanes] free of parked and stopped vehicles, both through education and enforcement."

Jim Merrell, campaign director for Active Transportation Alliance, also pointed to the city's "commitment" to bikers.

"We've seen a great expansion of the network of bike lanes and a renewed commitment to encouraging biking. Seeing an increase in enforcement goes hand-in-hand with the broader trend," Merrell said.

And when new bike lanes are installed, Merrell said, drivers face a learning curve.

"Oftentimes we've seen compliance improve as time goes on. Most people are not trying to create a dangerous situation for people on bikes," he said.

While Schuller said she's glad to see "some sort of enforcement," she thinks roughly 200 tickets a month across nearly 300 miles of bike lanes is low.

"That doesn't sound like full coverage," she said. "I keep hearing that there are so many more cars out there, and I've physically seen them. What's the plan for when they more than double the miles of bike lanes in the next four years?"

There's one thing everyone can agree on: The law against parking in a bike lane helps keep cyclists safe. When vehicles block the lanes for any amount of time, cyclists are forced to swerve out into moving traffic, which can create a collision.

"It's very clear that this is a real issue that advocates and bikers need to be paying attention to and ensure there's a meaningful response," Merrell said. "People shouldn't just settle with being frustrated. They should take the opportunity to be engaged by escalating to the alderman's office."

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