As the weather continues to warm up and students pull their bicycles out from storage, local police departments begin reinforcing the rules of the road for bicyclists.
Last Tuesday, Urbana police began stricter enforcement of bicycle infractions, as 22 people were cited on campus. Sgt. Andy Charles, Urbana Police officer, said the department enforces these rules every year to remind the community of the importance of obeying the rules of the road.
“We want to clearly define what our purpose is,” Charles said. “The purpose comes down to where we enforce the traffic laws so that traffic can move safely and efficiently, safety being the first thing and efficiency being the next.”
The bike violations fall under the Illinois vehicle code, stating bicyclists will follow the same laws as motorized vehicles. If the violator pleads guilty, the individual is subject to a fine, which does not work against insurance policies if the violator owns a car. However, bicyclists are given the option of taking a course on their first violation, thus reducing their fines for both the Champaign and Urbana police departments through the Bicycle Diversion Program, which focuses on educating bicyclists on obeying the rules of the road.
“If we see a car run a stop sign, we enforce that law. If we see a bicycle run a stop sign, we enforce that law. If we see someone dart out into traffic in the middle of the block, we enforce that law,” Charles said.
Lt. Jim Clark of the Champaign Police Department said the department has issued about 114 city ordinance violations since it started the Bicycle Diversion Program.
“The violator has the option to go online and complete a safety quiz. If they do that, they don’t have to pay a fine and that’s the end of it,” Clark said.
He expressed that he has not seen a large increase in compliance yet because the program is still in its infancy. But Clark plans to begin enforcement for bicyclists as the weather improves because of many nearly missed accidents.
Nicholas Ezyk, sophomore in Engineering, received a citation for running a stop sign on Goodwin Avenue. He said he agrees with the police tactics to treat traffic violations from cars and bikes equally, but he holds one specific concern in mind: He wants the fines to be used to enhance bicycle infrastructure on campus.
“I have popped so many tires on the gravelly, busted-up bike lane on Wright (Street) and have had too many close calls with pedestrians walking in poorly striped lanes,” Ezyk said.
Charles said the most common reasons the police are stopping students is for running a stop sign or going the wrong way on a one-way street.
The Regional Planning Commission conducted a traffic safety study several years ago to identify the areas where personal injury and fatality occurred. Some of the highest numbers were in Urbana near Goodwin Avenue, between Gregory Drive and Springfield Avenue. They primarily involved pedestrians and bicyclists, Charles said.
Nicholas Picciolini, sophomore in Engineering, was also cited for not following the stop sign, and he was given the option of taking the course because it was his first offense. He said he understands the dangers that not following rules might pose.
“Bicyclists ignoring stop signs and weaving in and out of traffic make for a dangerous environment for everyone on the road,” Picciolini said.
After receiving a citation, bicyclists were also given a bicycle light. The lights are courtesy of The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign and the Safe Routes to School project.
“(The Bike Project) passed the lights to us with the message that, again, we’re not interested in raising revenue. What we’re interested in is the safety aspect, and we’re really promoting that,” Charles said.
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