On Elston Avenue, it’s a red minivan. On Canal Street, it’s a shuttle bus. On Hubbard Street, it’s a construction truck. And on Halsted Street, it’s an Uber car.
Nothing grinds the gears of Chicago cyclists more than vehicles parked illegally in bike lanes. On some streets, the problem is so consistent that some frustrated cyclists said they feel like they’re constantly putting themselves in danger by veering into traffic.
“An everyday, all-day occurrence,” reads one complaint filed with the city about cars parked in a bike lane in front of a social service organization in the Little Italy neighborhood. This one spot netted 85 complaints, the most of any location in the city.
Citywide, the problem is so severe that one of the area’s most prominent bicycling groups — the Active Transportation Alliance — launched an awareness campaign last fall and received more than 500 reports of vehicles parked in bike lanes. Around the same time, city officials made changes to the non-emergency 311 call center to make it easier for bicyclists to file complaints about blocked bike lanes.
With so much attention on vehicles parked in bike lanes, WBEZ decided to look at this common complaint among both veteran and newbie bicyclists. We wondered: Where in the city do vehicles get ticketed the most for parking in bike lanes, a penalty that comes with a $150 fine? And do those areas match with the neighborhoods with the most complaints?
Here’s what we found.
Neighborhoods with the most tickets
Almost 3,000 vehicles across the city were ticketed for parking in bike lanes last year, according to city records. This year, there have been 2,761 tickets issued through July, far more than the 708 complaints the city received in the same period.
Out of all of the city’s neighborhoods, the Loop had the most vehicles slapped with a ticket.
Serco, a private company hired by the city to enforce parking restrictions, also issues tickets in the Loop, and even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security steps in. (Last year, the federal department ticketed two vehicles parked in a bike lane near the Dirksen Federal Building.)
One possible reason for why the Loop saw more tickets is because more city agencies issue tickets in this area than in other neighborhoods. Those agencies include the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Department of Finance, and the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation.
Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Finance, said parking meter enforcement aides have added bike routes to their patrol in an effort to clamp down on vehicles parked in bike lanes.
Enforcement By City Agency
Neighborhoods with the most complaints
Another reason why the Loop is the No. 1 spot for tickets is that it’s also the top neighborhood for complaints of vehicles parked in bike lanes, according to city records of non-emergency 311 calls. This year so far, the Loop received more than 100 complaints.
But that doesn’t mean that every neighborhood with a lot of complaints saw a bonanza of ticketing.
In West Town, there have been 65 complaints made so far this year, but only 36 tickets have been issued, city data shows. In Bucktown, there have been 78 complaints filed with the city, but only 35 vehicles were ticketed. And the area around the United Center has seen 56 complaints but only 12 tickets.
This data comes after the city in February created a new category for bike lane complaints. According to Poppe, the data helps officials prioritize their enforcement efforts on a daily basis.
Since the city began better tracking bike complaints, it has received a total of 708 complaints so far this year about vehicles parked in bike lanes. Here’s a map of where complaints were made.
2017 Bike Lane 311 Complaints Map:
Neighborhoods with the fewest tickets and complaints
The areas with the least amount of parking tickets issued last year were, not surprisingly, neighborhoods that do not have a lot of bike lanes.
Those areas include Jefferson Park with two complaints, Boystown with four, Chatham with three, Humboldt Park with six, and Logan Square with 12, according to city data.
Additionally, there are several neighborhoods that saw no tickets. Those neighborhoods include North Park, Hermosa and Pullman.
What gets ticketed
A majority of vehicles ticketed are passenger vehicles, which totaled 2,203, according to city records from last year. Trucks were the runner-up at 269, followed by taxis at 71 and moving trucks at 53.
While many of the complaints to 311 and on social media allege that ride-sharing vehicles are common offenders, there are no publically available records that show ticketed vehicles were affiliated with companies like Uber or Lyft. The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection collects information on ride-share drivers, but it declined to provide those records because the information is sensitive and proprietary to the businesses.
How many tickets are paid
Drivers parked illegally in a bike lane can face a $150 ticket, and that price can climb up to $300 if they don’t pay up within the 21-day deadline, or if they are found liable after contesting the ticket.
Last year saw a total 2,766 tickets issued, but only 1,548 tickets were paid. To think about that in a different way, out of all the tickets the city issued last year, about 44 percent have not been paid. That’s because 356 tickets were dismissed, and the rest are either still being contested or the city is still trying to get the vehicle’s owner to pay up.
What does this all mean for bicyclists?
City records show there are very clear hot spots where the city cracks down on vehicles parked in bike lanes. But those areas don’t always match up with where people often complain about vehicles blocking bike lanes.
Jim Merrell, the advocacy director for the Active Transportation Alliance, said this is a huge problem.
“For every documented crash, there’s probably hundreds and thousands of close calls,” he said. “So the safety threat is real.”
Data used in this story from the Chicago Department of Finance and 311 can be found here on GitHub.
Elliott Ramos is a digital data editor for WBEZ. Follow him @ChicagoEl.