An Evanston alderman Wednesday night asked the city’s legal department to draft an ordinance that would repeal the city’s rule requiring lights on bikes at night.
Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said he believes police are using the bike light rule as an inappropriate pretext for stopping late-night riders who they suspect may have committed some other, more serious crime.
The issue arose from a complaint filed against two officers by a man who was stopped about 1:15 a.m. on May 19 after the officers saw him riding on Elmwood Avenue near Dempster Street without a light.
Officers said the man, who smelled of alcohol, became verbally abusive and combative after they stopped him, leading them to handcuff him while they wrote a citation for the ordinance violation.
One of the officers said he was aware that burglars sometimes use bikes without lights at night to be more elusive.
After initially filing the complaint with police, the cyclist didn’t pursue the issue and, after reviewing the officer’s statements, the department ruled the complaint unfounded. (The full text of the Office of Professional Standards review of the complaint starts on page 9 of the Human Services Committee meeting packet.)
Miller said that while Evanston police issued well over 100 citations last year for riding a bike on a business district sidewalk, it hardly ever cites someone for riding without a light at night. And he suggested that disparity provides evidence that when the light rule is enforced it’s done in a discriminatory way.
Increasing enforcement of the sidewalk rule has been a demand of some other members of the City Council, notably Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and the council last year considered, but ultimately tabled, a plan to raise fines for that offense after launching an educational campaign about the rule along with a focused ticket-writing effort.
Other aldermen on the committee seemed nonplussed by Miller’s proposal.
“Isn’t that a bit extreme?” said Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said that after reviewing the police report, she believed the officers had acted appropriately.
And Fiske said, “The last thing you’d want is to hit somebody on a bike,” adding that enforcing the bike light rule should be a priority.
It appeared from the discussion that Miller’s proposal is unlikely to win approval. But even if it did, it’s still a violation of state law, 625 ILCS 5/11-1507, to ride a bike at night without a light.