Learning some street smarts
Back-to-school time means area police have to haul out their own textbook for educating bicyclists who disregard the rules of the road: a pad of traffic tickets.
Faced with the sting of a three-figure fine in both Champaign and Urbana, bicyclists usually need only one ticket to complete that education.
Urbana, Champaign and University of Illinois police have all recently been on details, especially in the campus area, to drive home the point that bicyclists have to follow almost all the same rules as motorists.
The good news for wayward cyclists is that both cities and the UI participate in a diversion program wherein the tickets can be dismissed after the offender completes an online education program.
"It's all about education to try to get everybody to realize they can't ride the wrong way and must pay attention to the rules of the road," said Champaign police Lt. Jim Clark.
Last year, his department wrote a little more than 100 city-ordinance violation tickets for bicycle infractions.
"All but one completed the bicycle diversion course," he said, resulting in the citation being dismissed and no fine. The one who chose the road less traveled faced a minimum fine of $185, he said.
Urbana police Lt. Robert Fitzgerald said cycling transgressors have that same opportunity for redemption in his city, except that a person who completes the course and submits a certificate has the fine reduced from $100 to $30. The program is equally popular in Urbana, he said.
"It is not a revenue generator," said Urbana Assistant City Attorney Michelle Brooks of the tickets.
Instead, the fine is seen as a way to deter unsafe behavior that was leading to accidents with motor vehicles and pedestrians.
"This was really motivated out of concern, because unfortunately, our public-safety campaign and education wasn't making a dent," she said.
Fitzgerald added that the fine also helps offset the cost of paying the officers who conduct the bicycle-enforcement details, which usually have to be done as overtime because of staffing limitations.
"We don't really make anything off this. It just recoups our costs," he said, adding that it's always the hope that education coupled with enforcement will reduce injuries.
Urbana's bicycle problem areas, all on campus, include Lincoln Avenue south of University, Illinois and Coler streets, and most of Green Street, Fitzgerald said. In early August, officers handed out about 100 bicycle-safety brochures instead of tickets to offenders.
But since the start of the enforcement campaign two weeks ago, they've issued about 30 tickets, he said. On Tuesday, for example, Urbana police issued 13 tickets to a dozen men and one woman who ranged in age from 18 to 41. The tickets were for disobeying a traffic control signal on Goodwin Avenue near Green Street.
Clark and Fitzgerald said their officers take note of bicycle violations year-round, but during August and September, they do concentrated patrols in problem areas.
With the ticket comes a brochure on how to take the online course (bikesafetyquiz.com). Expect to spend about 30 minutes to get the certificate of completion, which has to be presented to city attorneys in order to get the ticket dismissed.
UI Deputy Police Chief Skip Frost said his officers don't write many citations the first few weeks of school.
"We try to go through educational enforcement to begin with because at the beginning of the semester, it is clear to anybody with two eyes, the bicycle traffic is extremely heavy. We have had complaints and significant injuries, not only of bicyclists but pedestrians injured by bicyclists," Frost said.
"We have just recently instituted our own citation for the university bike code that we will be utilizing after we believe we have educated everyone about the new bike code that has just been revised and put in the campus administrative manual," he said.
The bicycle code itself, as well as just about anything else you could want to know about bicycling on campus, from where to register your bike to where to park it, can be found on the UI's Facilities & Services website: fs.illinois.edu. Once there, click on the buttons for "Transportation (TDM)" and then "Biking."
Offenders ticketed by UI Police also have the opportunity to take the diversion program.
"We do realize a lot of people are uneducated about what's lawful and what is not," Frost said. "Our ultimate goal is voluntary compliance. It is not in our interest to write a gazillion citations. This is a huge public-safety concern."
What: UI Public Safety Day.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 11.
Where: UI Quad, south of the Illini Union.
Who: UI Police and other safety agencies will be on hand to answer questions on anything from bicycle and pedestrian safety to defense against sexual assault.