Monday, May 20, 2013

Why are signs needed forbidding bikes on the Fullerton sidewalk?

by Michelle Stenzel

Street signs help us remember what is and isn’t allowed on the streets and sidewalks of Lincoln Park. However, I’ve noticed lately that they sometimes reflect unmet needs of people wishing to undertake legitimate actions. I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to solve the problem of the unmet demand rather than simply forbidding the behavior. 

This is the first of a two-part post on this subject. Today I'll discuss signs forbidding riding bikes on the sidewalk, and in the next installment I'll provide examples of other signs and behaviors.
Signs threaten arrest of people riding bikes on the sidewalk along Fullerton. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
I noticed an entire series of signs forbidding bicycles on the sidewalk along Fullerton from Lincoln Avenue to Stockton Drive.

I’ve written before about how bicyclists riding on the sidewalk are telling us that they don't feel safe riding on the street, and they need better accommodation. In the past, when enough bicyclists rode on the sidewalk in an area, the city's response was to erect these signs.
Why was it felt to be necessary to erect those signs here? It’s funny that the blocks of Fullerton between Lincoln and Clark are often thought of as some of the most picturesque in the city, and indeed the street is lined here with historic dwellings. Because our brains discard ugly images of parked cars (see this post), when people think of this stretch, they only remember this:
Stately homes line Fullerton between Lincoln and Clark. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Seems so bucolic, doesn't it? Maybe if you're walking. But  for a person riding a bike on the street, this section of Fullerton is narrow and has thickly parked rows of cars on either side. The two moving lanes are usually in slow-moving gridlock (which I’ve written about here)  and so the reality of trying to ride a bicycle on the street through this stretch of Fullerton looks like this:
Riding a bike on the street on Fullerton is not fun. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
When motor vehicle traffic is backed up, the space on the right is very narrow, visibility is poor, and the risk of dooring or being squeezed out by turning cars is high. When MV traffic is not backed up, there's not enough room for a car to pass a bicyclist with at least three feet to spare, as is required by law. However, if the bicyclist takes up the full lane to prevent the driver from passing on these short five blocks, the drivers often become irritable because the bicyclist is "slowing them down". Therefore, it’s not at all unusual to see even people who are young, strong and likely moderately  brave on their bikes nevertheless riding on the sidewalks and risking arrest along here.
When the young and strong prefer to ride on the sidewalk, you know you need better accommodations for people riding bikes. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Bicycling on Fullerton east of Clark gets even more treacherous, as more lanes are added and motor vehicle drivers begin increasing speed with their eyes focused on getting to the 10 wide lanes of Lake Shore Drive as quickly as they can. 
East of Clark, the number of lanes for motor vehicles doubles, but there's still nothing to help bicyclists.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
It’s ironic that bicycling gets even scarier there, given that Lincoln Park the park begins, and cultural, family-oriented destinations like the zoo, conservatory and Nature Museum abound. That’s where people on bikes should be able to relax, and breathe a sigh of relief, but no. Their choice is to break the law on the sidewalk or to take chances on the street, mixing it up with SUVs and tour buses.
Riding a bike on Fullerton at Stockton, right near the zoo and the Nature Museum: Not exactly family friendly, unless Mom and Dad want to risk arrest on the sidewalk. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
I remain hopeful that we're in a new era in Chicago, where the response to apparently unmet needs is not to erect signs, but to provide better accommodations. The Lincoln Park section of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 reflects that this section of Fullerton won't be receiving any upgrades, unfortunately. However, alternate routes to Fullerton via nearby streets like Dickens and Belden are slated for improvements, and they can't come soon enough.

Follow us on Twitter @BikeWalkLP


  1. Don't forget the new double right turn lane at LSD which forces cyclists to cross Fullerton and take the sidewalk across the bridge.

  2. When I lived in Rogers Park and regularly commuted between there and the Loop, riding a short section of Fullerton near Halsted was an occasional part of my commute. I can deal with Loop rush hour traffic and I found the close quarters and unpredictability of Fullerton traffic hairy enough that I found other ways to go. (Wrightwood was a good alternative.) I wouldn't even consider riding Fullerton east of Clark. It's a bit too zoo-like - not in a good way.

  3. I just avoid this area on a bicycle. As you said, there is no safe place to ride.

  4. Thank you all for your comments! -- MS

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. "Why was it felt to be necessary to erect those signs here?"

    Probably because there are a lot of pedestrians on the sidewalk and a lot of bicyclists were breaking the law and endangering pedestrians. Bikes are supposed to be on the street and respect the laws of the road. It is illegal and dangerous to pedestrians to ride a bike on any sidewalk anywhere in Chicago.

    Screenshot of the law:
    Full text of the law here (section 9-52-020):

    1. I'm not saying riding bikes on the sidewalk should be legal; I'm pointing out that if bicyclists were given a safe place to ride on the street, they wouldn't feel the need to ride illegally on the sidewalk en masse instead, and the signs would be unnecessary. -- MS

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