Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, told the handful of residents at her ward meeting at the Evanston Public Library Tuesday night that she thinks bicycles in Evanston should have to have licenses plates or identification stickers.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, told the handful of residents at her ward meeting at the Evanston Public Library Tuesday night that she thinks bicycles in Evanston should have to have licenses plates or identification stickers.

Fiske, who says she was shaken up some weeks back when she was hit by a bicycle as she stood in Davis Street downtown, said the way things are now people could get hit and have no way to identify the bike that hit them.

Fiske raised the issue after one resident, Bob Atkins, the president of Northwestern Neighbors, complained that police weren’t enforcing a ban on bike riding on the sidewalks of Foster Street between Sheridan Road and Maple Avenue, something Atkins said residents fought to get and a rule he said Northwestern students regularly ignore.

We dug around a bit in the city code and learned that Title 10, Chapter 9, Section 2 already requires that people who live in Evanston and “operate their bicycles on the public way” register the bike with police and attach a license sticker to it.

Of course, since the registration fee is just 50 cents, and penalties can be as small as being given a leaflet on bicycle safety and top out at $100, it’s not clear that the police have much incentive to aggressively enforce the law when they could be chasing after muggers and thieves instead.

And we’ve seen those stickers — they’re not very big. It’s unlikely you’d be able to catch the sticker number if you were the victim of a hit-and-run cyclist.

So, readers, what do you think?

Are stricter bike rules needed? How should they work? Could we help balance the city’s budget by charging cyclists the same heavy city sticker fees that motorists face? Or, in the name of saving the planet, should we not do anything that would discourage bike use?

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Bicycle ‘License’
    A ‘license plate’ and a fee similar to other vehicles won’t work…too expensive in relation to the cost of the bike and no one would use them, just as an obviously significant percentage of residents don’t register their bikes with the Police Department. If people have trouble getting the plate number of a moving 4 wheel vehicle, what makes anyone think that a plate on a bicycle would be sufficiently readable as they scoot away?

    Downtown riding seems to have subsided and if there are problems with the students, why can’t we get Campus Security to assist with the code enforcement?

    I’m less concerned about bikes on sidewalks and more concerned about the number of bicycles, secured or not, that are stolen weekly around the city.

  2. Why are bicycles on the side walks?
    Why are bicycles on the side walks? Because there are not enough bike paths in Evanston. Let’s not address the symptom here but the cause. Rather than penalizing bike riders we should create an infrastructure that is safe for everyone. It is in Evanston’s long term interest to encourage people to ride bikes rather than cars. It’s more sustainable, healthier and will foster community, plus it will help with traffic. A license for bicycles will be counter productive and it would be nightmare to enforce.

    1. Bikes on sidewalks because of unsafe streets
      Ms. Fiske should try to ride from NE Evanston to the downtown–perhaps the library, or the cinema–and maybe she would understand why people ride on sidewalks.

      When I ride to downtown Evanston from NE Evanston with my 10 year old daughter I direct her to use the sidewalks when we get to Foster. I am more than willing to pay a fine to avoid her injury or death. The cabs around Orrington and Hilton hotels idle in bike lanes, drivers rarely respect the lanes, and strangely, they disappear at intersections.

      Before attacking bikers, we need to acknowledge that this town has a long way to go to protect bike riders.

  3. Alderman targets bikes
    Mr. Metzner, I respectfully disagree.

    As a committed player in Evanston’s Climate Action Plan I want to encourage walking, bicycles and other alternatives to automobiles…

    But, I don’t want to share the sidewalks with bicycles (especially when I am walking my dog) and I’d personally raise the bar and require mandatory helmets plus front and rear lights after dark!

    If a license is a way to enforce common sense then where can I get one? (provided it is a modest fee and not another “Tax”)

    Yours sincerely, Brian G. Becharas

    1. Mr. Becharas,
      I don’t suggest

      Mr. Becharas,
      I don’t suggest that bicyclists should ever use the sidewalks. I was just highlighting the cause of the problem, which is the absence of decent bike paths in the city. Those bike lanes, like the one on Davis Street are a beginning, but not really that safe. When you come to the intersection on Davis and Church the bike lane cuts across car lanes and creates confusion for and dangerous situations for bikes and cars alike.

      To be clear, what I am advocating is more bike paths so no one will ever feel the need to ride on the sidewalks.

      Aren’t there case studies we could learn from, like Portland, Oregon?

  4. Police need to enforce the law, people need to be educated
    The police should absolutely enforce the law with regards to bikes on sidewalks. It is dangerous for pedestrians, dangerous for the cyclist, and dangerous for vehicles at intersections who aren’t looking for a fast moving bike coming off of a sidewalk into the street.

    The public also needs to be educated on where bikes belong. I’ve heard plenty of motorists yell at people for riding bikes in the road, so I think there is often some confusion about where people should ride.

    Also, as Joerg mentioned, people ride on the sidewalks because they don’t feel safe in the streets.

    I don’t really see how licensing bikes would have any effect on these issues, and I think our police force would be more effective if they focused on enforcing the traffic aspects of cycling and not the ownership.

    1. +1, I agree. I was yelled by
      +1, I agree. I was yelled by a driver once for being on the road at a red light, my right foot on the sidewalk. Said driver wanted to take a right in a one lane road, and, hence, I was in his way as he was trying to squeeze between the car on my left and my bike. More colorful versions of “get off the road!” are frequent.

      [News flash — dear car drivers: I pay taxes for the roads, too (I do drive), and for the schooling of the brats in your back seat to boot.]

  5. Let’s license all city aldermen
    Now it’s licensing bicycles that at least one alderman seems concerned about.

    In case anyone hasn’t noticed, there’s an $8 million city budget gap, a Recession, a 10.2 state unemployment rate, rising property taxes and plunging property values and an unsustainable pension mess that is leading the city to bankruptcy.

    I have a better idea.

    We need to require a license for anyone who is or wants to become a city alderman with the prerequisites of examinations and an annual continuing education requirement, including ethic courses.

    Of course, the aldermen would pay out of pocket to take the exams and attend the annual CE courses. If they fail the exams they can not run for city alderman. If they fail to attend the CE courses, they would lose their alderman license and must relinquish the city seat.

    Now that’s what I’m talking about.

    1. Aldermen
      What we really need are aldermen who take the job to help the city, not get another position and then say they accomplised what they wanted [like the state’s junior senator], feel they finally got the chance to get all their pet project accomplished [including what they consider art], subsize a few businesses that they ‘chose as the winners’, and inflate their ego.
      They should go into it to fix the city’s problems not find ways to tax everyone for their own opinions of what they would like.

  6. Bikes on Sidewalks
    Another complicated and bureaucratic solution to a simple problem.
    I agree bikes on sidewalks are a problem downtown. Instead of a complicated solution just do what you have to do anyway—have the police enforce the ordinance–even if with just a warning the first time. Maybe it will also have the side-effect of people warning their friends.
    That said the bike paths downtown are useless. Few bikers use them [or can even see them anymore] and cars and busses park in them. Streets with diagonal parking like Sherman are especially bad for bikes—you can’t tell when someone is pulling out until the last moment. Even parallel parkers are bad because they open their doors without looking.
    Riding on streets is very dangerous given the speed of drivers, almost trying to see how close they can come to bikers, streets in such bad condition potholes or seams can throw you at any moment, drivers on cell-phones that don’t notice and one can’t control their cars and of course those ‘under the influence.’

  7. Was the alderwoman standing in the street?
    The story isn’t clear, and there are many new students every year who take a long time to get the word about riding on the sidewalks. The Bike Lady believes that Evanston needs to be much more bike friendly. I’d like to see some murals around town, perhaps under the Metra or CTA stations where there are just blank walls anyway that spell out safety rules for bikers, pedestrians, and drivers.

    I’ve been screamed at by a driver just for crossing Ridge, but I’ve also been stern with bike riders I’ve seen on Ridge.

    Downtown Evanston is a terrific place to bike to, and it’s great to run errands and go to the movies on a bike, but other than increased bike parking, the whole design of downtown is very unfriendly to bikes. We need to put the alderpeople on bikes and take them around, following every rule and see how they like it.

    Columbia, MO, has a great program where riders can take a city bike safely class twice a week. I’d like to see our police officers on bikes give a safety tour several times in the spring, with special tours offered to student at NU every September. How about a few Bike Ambassadors with stickers, tables, etc, set up downtown every May and September.

    I’d certainly buy a fancy Evanston bike license plate if I knew that the funds raised were going to bike safety and outreach. I would be cool to have, but I don’t know how it would improve safety or deter bike thieves.

  8. Only in Evanston
    Only in Evanston: an alderman is standing in the middle of a busy street, gets “hit” by a bike, and comes up with an idea for a new tax.

    Hit and run is a crime. Did she report it?

    My understanding is that in her case the cyclist did stop. She was concerned about what would happen if one did not stop.
    — Bill

    1. Did anyone ask her if she
      Did anyone ask her if she realized that if a pedestrian is hit by a bike, the cyclist is most likely to hit the ground, too? It would be extremely rare for someone to be hit by a bike and the bike managing not to stop as a consequence. As a matter of fact, the cyclist may more often than not fall harder than the pedestrian in the vain attempt to avoid the crash.

    2. I happened to have been there
      I happened to have been there when alderman Fiske was hit by the bike. She was on the side walk when the bike hit her and it knocked her down. The person on the bike continued without stopping towards Sherman Avenue. Alderman Fiske had various bruises and surface cuts and she reported this to Evanston police. I don’t think this is a joking matter and alderman Fiske was fortunate to have not been hurt more seriously.

  9. A little ridiculous
    I love Evanston, and I love everything that it has to offer, but as I bicycle around the city, I go out of my way to avoid going downtown. It just scares me, enough so that I’ll take some pretty creative routes through neighborhoods to avoid it. I don’t like bicycling on sidewalks– it’s not safe for me or for pedestrians– but there’s no way anyone could objectively say that downtown Evanston’s streets are safe for bicycles. To echo Mr. Metzner and others, THAT’S the problem that should be addressed.

    But when it comes to licensing bicycles, I’m supportive only up to a point. There’s nothing wrong with making dangerous cyclists easier to identify and it would potentially help prevent thefts, but the cost would seem to hit the NU student body disproportionately. With somewhere around 40 percent of us receiving need-based financial aid (with a sizable chunk of the bill still left for us to pay), I’d prefer to find a way to balance Evanston’s budget that doesn’t come on the backs of students. I’m trying to help out through sales taxes, but if you make my rusty, rickety used bicycle too expensive for me to own, I might not be able to make as many trips to local businesses.

    I’m just saying, if you think NU isn’t paying it’s fair share, blame the administration, not people like me. With things like this, I can’t help but feel like Ald. Fiske is out to get me. (Never mind the fact that I live in the former Seabury-Western and use the “Great Room” dining space all the time!)

    Also– What on earth was she doing standing in Davis Street downtown? She’s lucky it was only a bicycle that hit her!

  10. Shifting police resources
    Fiske’s idea would shift police resources from crime-fighting to licensing bicycles.

    I love how she uses one incident that she was involved in to propose city-wide policy changes.

    Let’s look at the ACTUAL DATA. How many bike-pedestrian accidents were there in the last 12 months? How many incidents have we had when there was a hit-and-run biker?

    Then we need to figure out a) if licensing bikes would actually solve the problem, b) how much it would cost to administer, c) where the money would come from to administer the new policy, d) do the benefits arising from the new policy outweigh the costs of reduced resources elsewhere, etc..

    In the absence of any data that suggests this is a problem, it is extremely irresponsible to propose policy actions. It strikes me as the embodiment of a George Bush-style solipsism whereby a political figure thinks that the mechanisms of the state are there to serve their own private interests instead of those of the public.

  11. Hello,
    I am a cyclist myself.


    I am a cyclist myself. Each of my bikes is registered with the police and has the sticker on the frame. The thought that this might be useful for someone to identify a bike in a hit and run is hilarious. Is Fiske intending that bikes have license plates the size of car license plate for this purpose?

    Honestly, the city could solve its budget crisis with a couple of months of law enforcement: between traffic violations left and right every other step (people rolling through stop signs, double parking on bike lanes, not stopping at pedestrian crossings, turning on red when it is clearly posted not to, etc) to cyclists on sidewalks or riding against traffic on the street.

    I believe a cyclist education campaign is warranted and I would presume Northwestern would be willing to pitch in, as might be the bike shops in town. But it needs some police enforcement. Some months I read of a campaign elsewhere (maybe Canada) to encourage cyclists to use lights at night: during this campaign, the police would stop cyclists without lights, give them a citation and a blinking tail light. I’d be willing to pitch to purchase a stack of tail lights for this purpose.

    Some pedestrian and driver education is also needed: frequently, people will step from the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming bike one the road, which can cause dangerous stop or swerving into traffic to avoid the pedestrian. Cars double parking on bike lanes, e.g., along Davis, is another danger, especially when there is heavy traffic in the afternoon.

    I’m not opposed to the registration fee for a bike being increased if more cycling will be encouraged, and it contributes to maintaining the roads. Debris and potholes on the side of the road are more dangerous to cyclists. Now, should these fees be the same as cars? Definitely not — a bike does not have the weight to damage roads that cars do and they don’t take parking spots (which motorcycles do). Most bikes don’t circulate regularly, either.

    Evanston Police Department: a bike rack in front of your building, please?

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