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What Exactly Is The City Doing About Vehicles Blocking Bike Lanes?

By Stephen Gossett in News on Mar 3, 2017 6:14PM

Photo: Steven Vance

If you ride a bike in Chicago, you've almost certainly had the experience: You're pedaling along the bike lane only to find the designated path ahead blocked by a delivery driver, or Uber car, or postal truck or any other of a seemingly endless parade of offenders. More than a nuisance, it's a very real safety hazard. So what exactly is the city doing to curb the practice?

Thanks in part to the efforts of individual cyclists and the advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance, the city appears to be moving in the right direction. A new "bike lane blockage" option was added to the city's 311 reporting options; and the Chicago Department of Transportation said it aims to improve the 311 system further in the future. The agency said it's also working with other departments to ramp up enforcement of such violations. The door may even be open to allow city staff other than police officers to assist with enforcement.

Active Trans sent a series of recommendations to CDOT in December after running Clear the Way, a campaign that urged the public to call 311 and send photos with to ATA when they encountered dangerous blockages on bike lanes and sidewalks or unsafe pavement. The campaign garnered more than 500 reports in its just one month.

"Responses even continued to troll in after we stopped tracking." Kyle Whitehead, government relations director at Active Trans, told Chicagoist. "The campaign really resonated at the grassroots level with people who are biking and walking every day. The issues are readily apparent and affecting how people get around."

Chicago cyclists had been pushing the issue even prior to Clear the Way, most noticeably by sharing photos of blocked lanes with the hashtag #enforce940060 (a reference to the ordinance that prohibits the parking violation).

Supplemented by its Clear the Way findings, ATA advised three recommendations to CDOT: further streamlined 311 reporting (including social-media and text functionality); posting contractor permits online, so that information about construction projects can be easily found; and increased enforcement—including allowing city staff other than police to issue the pertinent violation.

"Some aldermen have been interested and supportive of [allowing other city staff to enforce the ordinance]," Whitehead said. "We recognize that police resources are limited and need to be applied to other issues. So perhaps other staff, such as public way inspectors, can help properly address safety issues."

“Any time sidewalks and bike lanes are illegally blocked, it creates inconveniences and raises safety issues for everyone using the right of way—especially more vulnerable users such as people walking and biking,” Rebekah Scheinfeld, CDOT Commissioner, said according to ATA. "...[W]e look forward to continued collaboration with partners like Active Trans and other community stakeholders as we roll-out our Vision Zero action plan this year.”

The Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic-related fatalities by 2026. The long-in-the-works, multi-department plan is expected to be finalized later this month, CDOT spokesperson Michael Claffey told Chicagoist. According to the latest preview, one of the plan's components will be to analyze data in order to raise awareness of dangerous driving behaviors.