URBANA – It may be illegal to ride bikes on sidewalks in areas of Champaign or the University of Illinois campus, but violators in downtown Urbana face the possibility of a $100 ticket.
Deputy Police Chief Pat Connolly said there have been concerns for years about people riding bikes on sidewalks and the city posted signs with warnings that bikes are banned on sidewalks.
"It's not a pro-bike issue or anti-bike issue," Connolly said. "It's a safety issue. We're very lucky that nobody has been hurt."
Connolly said Urbana police issued 13 city tickets for bike-sidewalk violations since June 1. Half of those were before the city council raised the fine "so it's not a money issue, it's a bike-safety issue."
The ordinance against riding bikes on sidewalks in the central business district was adopted in 1996. Urbana raised the fine from $25 to $100 effective Nov. 1, 2009.
Jennifer Selby, civil engineer for the city, said Urbana first put up signs in 2006 telling bicyclists to "walk your bike on downtown sidewalks." In the late fall of 2009, new signs were installed with a red circle and a red line across a bicyclist logo over the words "not on sidewalks" indicating the ban and also notice of a $100 fine.
"Urbana is a bicycle-friendly city," Selby said.
A bicycle rodeo, a bike ride and a presentation to Urbana officials of signs officially recognizing Urbana as a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists were all scheduled Saturday, she said. Shelby is an ex-officio member of Champaign County Bikes representing the city.
"We encourage people to ride bicycles," Selby said. But, she said, "It is unsafe for everybody for bikes on the sidewalks."
The biggest risk, she said, is people stepping out of stores and not seeing a bike whizzing down the sidewalk, she said.
Gary Cziko, a bicycle advocate and member of the Urbana Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, said bike riding on downtown sidewalks is generally not safe for pedestrians.
But he added, "Like any law, it should be enforced intelligently and with discretion. A 4-year-old girl on a bike with training wheels poses no danger to pedestrians. Riding a bike from the bike rack a few feet across the sidewalk into the street with no pedestrians in the way is also not a safety hazard. Indeed, any bicyclist riding at pedestrian speed is also not likely to pose a safety hazard."
Cziko said, "Clearly hazardous behavior should be warned or ticketed."
Rick Langlois, chairman of Champaign County Bikes, said he doesn't think the bike community has a problem with the city ordinance.
But, "most bike riders can roll along at a slow, pedestrian pace, causing no danger to themselves or others," he said. "When no pedestrian is present, there is no danger."
Cynthia Hoyle, a transportation consultant and also an ex-officio member of the local bike riders group, said it is not safe to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in front of a business with doors that open onto the sidewalk. She said she was in downtown Urbana on Thursday afternoon when a young man wearing a headset went zooming down the sidewalk on his bike.
"No one was around to give him a ticket and he certainly deserved one," Hoyle said. "The bicycling community needs to be consistent in advocating for bicyclists to follow the law and supporting law enforcement."
Hoyle said a customer in a store cannot see a bicyclist coming and the bike rider cannot see the customer ready to leave the store.
Champaign has an ordinance prohibiting bicycles from being ridden on sidewalks in the business district.
Champaign police spokeswoman Rene Dunn said, "To our knowledge no warnings or citations have been written" for any bike-sidewalk violation.
University of Illinois police Lt. Skip Frost said there are also some restrictions for riding bicycles on campus in certain areas, but police campus officers do not generally spend time on that enforcement. The campus parking officers are in charge of enforcement, he said.
"They can ride bikes on the sidewalks anywhere except where it is prohibited," Frost said.
The prohibited areas are posted, he said.