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Bikers, beware of possible big fines

Submitted on Tue, 06/19/2007 – 13:59.
Story by Dan Selecman
A proposal that would more than triple the fine cyclists face if they’re caught riding on the sidewalks of Sheridan Road in Edgewater is being considered by the Chicago City Council. The ordinance, which would raise the fine from $50 to $250, was introduced by 48th Ward Ald. Mary Ann Smith.

The proposal seeks to reinstate a 2002 ordinance that ended less than a year after it took effect. It would affect Sheridan Road from Devon Avenue (near Loyola University) to Ardmore Avenue, several blocks to the south. Though it has yet to pass, signs warning of the bigger fine have already gone up on Sheridan Road.

The first increase, in 2002, began as a pilot, said Tom Samuels, a member of Ald. Smith’s staff. He said the program started after pedestrians complained about increased bike ridership. The success of the program, Samuels said, led to the fine being decreased to $50, still twice the fine anywhere else in the city for bikers caught riding on sidewalks.

Norm Cratty, the president of the North Edgewater Beach Association block club, says the proposal to again increase the fine is warranted because the residents of Sheridan Road say bike riding on sidewalks is a problem. His block club, with 125 names on its e-mail list, has Sheridan as its eastern border and residents who live on the road as members.

There was a huge response from seniors upset about the number of bicyclists on the sidewalks of Sheridan Road, said Samuels. But bikers have their own problems with the road.

“I would never ride on Sheridan,” says Clara Terrell, a Loyola student who lived near the school until recently and often rode her bike to school. She says the traffic on the street is too heavy and fast to attempt to ride on.

“Whenever I see people riding on Sheridan, I am afraid for them,” she says. Terrell, an employee of Uptown Bike located at 4653 N. Broadway, says she believes that most people who ride their bikes on Sheridan are inexperienced or recreational riders.

The lakefront bike path ends at Ardmore Avenue. Samuels said bikers have difficulty going from the lakefront over Sheridan Road to roads with designated bike paths.

“You got to be gutsy,” he said.

Riders familiar with the area tend to travel on Kenmore or Winthrop avenues, said Terrell. Both streets are one way, have much less traffic than Sheridan Road and feature bike lanes.

While there are plenty of signs drawing attention to possible fines, signs pointing cyclists to these alternate bike routes are rare.

Samuels said the alderman’s office recognizes the need for more signs and is working on getting more installed. But he said that might not be enough. Samuels would like the city to consider redesigning Ardmore Avenue at Sheridan Road in order to funnel bikers more effectively and safely toward Kenmore and Winthrop avenues.

Redesigning a street is not something that can be done overnight, however, and Cratty says that one sure way to avoid fines, even for people ignorant of the bike paths, is simply to walk your bike while on the sidewalk.

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