As Chicago police ramp up their ticketing of bicyclists, more than twice as many citations are being written in African-American communities than in white or Latino areas, a Tribune review of police statistics has found.
The top 10 community areas for bike tickets from 2008 to Sept. 22, 2016, include seven that are majority African-American and three that are majority Latino. From the areas with the most tickets written to the least, they are Austin, North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, South Lawndale, Chicago Lawn, West Englewood, Roseland, West Garfield Park, New City and South Chicago.
Not a single majority-white area ranked in the top 10, despite biking's popularity in white areas such as West Town and Lincoln Park.
African-American cyclist Patric McCoy, 70, said he's experienced the heightened enforcement firsthand.
McCoy had just left his Kenwood condo on a frigid January evening to go to dinner when he was stopped by two Chicago police officers in an unmarked car. The white officers told McCoy repeatedly that he could be ticketed for riding on the sidewalk and even arrested, and McCoy said he waited in the cold while they ran his driver's license to check for warrants. Eventually, they let him go without a ticket.
McCoy, who said he was only on the sidewalk in front of his own building and a neighboring building and already off the bike when he was stopped, supports enforcing the rules but said it cannot be "arbitrary and capricious."
"It's so unfair," said McCoy, a retired Environmental Protection Agency enforcement official. "It creates a situation where you get a dislike for the police because they're not doing what they should be doing. They're messing with you for nothing."
Police say the citations are in the interests of public safety. African-American bike advocates say the higher number of tickets in some South and West side areas could be caused in part by the lack of bike infrastructure like protected bike lanes, leading cyclists to take to the sidewalk to avoid traffic on busy streets.
But some bike advocates and an elected official expressed concern that police may be unfairly targeting cyclists in black communities while going easier on law-breaking cyclists in white areas. Blacks, Latinos and whites each make up about a third of the city's residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The differences in enforcement were stark — for example, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 22 of last year, 321 bike tickets were issued in the majority African-American, low-income area of Austin, compared with five in white, wealthy Lincoln Park. Austin, on the West Side, also ranked high for citations issued to motorists parking or standing in bike lanes, with 309 tickets in 2015, compared with 30 in Lincoln Park on the North Side, according to city Department of Finance figures, which keeps parking records.
Enforcement for bike citations has shot up citywide in recent years — from 468 total tickets in 2010 to 3,301 in 2015, or about seven times higher. In the majority black area of North Lawndale — the increase was 23 times higher, from 8 to 185. The increase comes as the city encouraged biking, by providing more bike lanes and more Divvy rideshare stations, including in lower-income neighborhoods.
The most common cyclist citation citywide was riding on the sidewalk, which is not permitted for riders 12 and older.
"I don't know what possible rational explanation there could be for the police to write more bike infraction tickets in neighborhoods that have less — less money, less businesses, less bicycle infrastructure than in other communities," said Brendan Kevenides, a lawyer who specializes in bike cases. He referred to the issue as "biking while black."
"There is definitely a perception in these neighborhoods that there are better things for the police to be doing," said Chris Willard, owner of Small Shop Cycles & Service in the South Side's Bronzeville neighborhood in the Douglas community area.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police are concerned with the safety of all Chicagoans.
"Where bicyclist and vehicular safety has been an issue of concern, officers have been working with the community to enforce applicable traffic and safety laws," Guglielmi said.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th, a former police sergeant whose ward includes part of Austin, said he has never gotten a complaint about people bicycling on the sidewalk.
"I find that to be incredible, to have such a disparity like that," Taliaferro said. He wondered how many cyclists were stopped but not ticketed in Lincoln Park, compared with those stopped and ticketed in Austin.