This article (thanks for clicking on it!) features a spreadsheet of every Urbana Police Department stop/arrest on August 27th, 2015. If that spreadsheet is all you want to see, scroll down.

There’s also a statement of policy from Alderman Charlie Smyth. You’ll want to read that to make sense of the spreadsheet.

The rest is stream-of-consciousness navel-gazing. It provides context, but it’s just as long-winded as all my previous navel-gazings. The contributions from victimized perps are good, though.

I was jogging south on Goodwin one sunny afternoon, when I spotted the flashing lights of a traffic stop. In front of the Canopy Club, a cyclist stood in the bicycle lane. An Urbana Police SUV occupied the northbound lane.

I approached the cyclist and asked what was up.

He told me he’d been pulled over for failing to stop enough at a four-way stop sign. He’d already explained the story to a pedestrian in her 40s, who’d offered some moral support. As he told it, he’d looked at the cop, recognized that the cop wasn’t going to move, and continued on.

Was he expecting a ticket? she asked. He hoped not, as he was broke. Not an uncommon situation among students, perhaps more common among students who choose to travel by self-powered means.

Did he decelerate to achieve — or in fact ever attain — a speed comparable to the rolling-stop of most motorized vehicles? We don’t know.

I told the cyclist I write a column about bad laws. Would he like me to take a picture of the stop from across the street? He demurred, not feeling it was his best opportunity for publicizing his talents.

EVERYBODY STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING the squad car said, non-verbally, THERE’S A CYCLIST WHO DIDN’T STOP ENOUGH.

The cop emerged from his SUV. I recognized Sgt. Adam Chacon, who called to “Mr. Smith.”

I wished Mr. Smith good luck, and continued with the last two miles of my run. By the time I got home, I’d formulated a series of conjectures about the Urbana police. Every one of them proved correct. (Running sharpens the mind.)

HUNCH #1: Chacon didn’t happen upon Smith by chance.
RESULT: Correct.

HUNCH #2: Chacon never intended to pass through the intersection, but was purposely lying in wait for a cyclist
RESULT: Supported by documented evidence

HUNCH #3: Chacon was not a lone-wolf operating outside the bounds of city policy.
RESULT: Correct.

HUNCH #4: Smith was not the only cyclist ticketed that day.
RESULT: Jackpot

54% of the people arrested by Urbana police that day were cyclists. None were involved in an accident, or any other criminal activity. Either Sgt. Chacon or Officer Brian Wilfong was the arresting officer in each case. The territory they staked out was limited to an area of Goodwin and Mathews, between Loomis Lab and Nevada Street.

[Click picture/open in a new window or tab to enlarge]

I’m not philosophically opposed to The Money Grab of municipalities citing & fining citizens as a means of raising revenue. I favor it, frankly. I’d rather have Bad Actors pay to pave our streets. But I want punishments and fines to make our city better, to improve quality of life.

I don’t like punishing “crimes” that don’t hurt people. I’d rather see Urbana allocate its minimal resources to tiny misdemeanors that do hurt people.

Here’s an example: The car parked across the sidewalk.

The City of Urbana has and will issue tickets for blocking a sidewalk. You probably know someone who’s complained about getting a ticket for parking across a sidewalk. People do it all the time in this town.

Who cares?

The answer: Blind people care. Wheelchair occupants care. Small children on tricycles care. The elderly and mobility-challenged care.

The self-absorbed complainant never contemplates all the people he injured or potentially will injure. That’s what makes him an asshole. He’s not thinking about others.

Not thinking about others is easy. Thinking about others takes time.

Another example of injurious behavior, still limited to mobility on sidewalks: People who don’t trim their bushes and trees.

Are they assholes? Yes, they are.

This summer, again while jogging, I arrived at the corner of California & McCullough just in time to holler a warning to a blind man. He was three feet from walking face-first into the branch of a tree (southwest corner, on the McCullough side, if you’re interested).

The owner of the property is probably a compassionate, progressive liberal, like most of the people in that neighborhood. It’s just that s/he never contemplated how not trimming a tree could actually injure one of our most vulnerable citizens.

Urbana has a person assigned to this beat. He really does cite & fine people. His name is Jason Arrasmith.

In recent years, I listened while two people complained about Jason Arrasmith. The first was a wacko libertarian, so that made sense. He’s morally opposed to government. The second was a doctoral candidate in parks & recreation (now a professor of same) and distinctly a liberal. That didn’t make sense at all.

The wacko had allowed a pile of detritus to grow and fester in his yard for a period of years. The liberal hadn’t trimmed his hedges, which bulged outward over a high-traffic sidewalk.

Jason Arrasmith acted correctly in both cases. It’s good policy.

But Urbana has a ton of quality-of-life issues that go unaddressed every day. So when I see a cop blocking off a city street so a cyclist can be detained, it makes me angry.

I emailed Alderman Charlie Smyth, Urbana’s major bicycling proponent.

Are there any other crimes, perpetual nuisances or other dangers you can think of which might provide Urbana cops a revenue source while simultaneously making people safer and more comfortable?

Smyth wrote a comprehensive response.

Rob,

I've done some follow up to better understand and it's not too complicated to follow what is going on.

First, Urbana as a Gold level Bicycle Friendly Community (League of American Bicyclists, http://bikeleague.org/bfa) tries to meet as many of the "5 E's" as it can: Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, and Evaluation. One of the reasons Urbana was able to qualify at the gold level is due to a very nice Enforcement/Education combination that is being used in our community.  You can see more the 5Es at http://bikeleague.org/content/5-es

There are lots of complaints about bicyclists, particularly around campus, blowing stop signs and signals, running into pedestrians, and riding the wrong way. We have long had a light give away program (I think the bike project/CCB just did year 7). There are constant needs to do education based on the constant influx of new folks to this part of our communities. The UofI distributes 10,000 maps per year to incoming students and others (The Champaign Urbana Savoy Bike Guide and Map produced by Champaign County Bikes).  (I've copied Jeff Yockey, president of CCB on this as he's leading some additional education efforts for campus using some graphic illustrations that are being done in English and several other languages).

A couple years ago, Ed Barsotti of the League of Illinois Bicyclists developed a computer based education tool, the Bike Safety Quiz (bikesafetyquiz.org) which the three police departments (UofI, Champaign, and Urbana) have adopted for a diversion program based on stepped up enforcement of 4 important laws: signals, stop signs, lights at night, and riding in the direction of traffic. If you get a ticket, you can take the quiz and most if not all of the fine is waived (Urbana charges an administrative fee so waives $70 of the fine). The most controversial aspect of this enforcement has the what constitutes a stop at a stop sign. It is my understanding that it is the egregious violators that get stopped: those who don't look, don't take their turn, don't even slow down. I've seen video of bicyclists who insist that they've stopped and they've actually gone right through without even looking, even passing closely to pedestrians in the cross walk.  Yes, I know that stopping on a bicycle is a momentum killer but that doesn't allow you to blow through a stop sign when a car is about to cross.   But as a bicyclist and motorist, I see this behavior daily. As a bicyclist, I make the effort to take my turn at 4 way stops and I check for traffic, almost always making it clear that I'm slowing down at intersections where I don't have the right of way.  And the worst thing is distracted drivers and bicyclists let alone pedestrians talking on cell phones while walking blindly across the street. Personally, I'd love to adopt the Idaho stop sign as yield for bicyclists law but that's a whole different effort.

The bike safety quiz is a great tool that we encourage folks to take. There are 3 versions, one each for bicyclists, motorists, and kids as well as different levels of competency. I encourage you to try it out.

With this as intro, here's what I found out about the particular day you've sent info on:

1.) It was a standard STEP patrol with 2 officers on overtime, not part of the regular day's duty crew. There are 5 regular per 12hour shift not including Sgts/Lt. And M. Carr is the animal control officer.
2.) The list is only traffic stops, not the full dispatch for the time period. Other things were going on too.
3.) It was part of enforcement/education done early in the semester. One thing I need to find out is if they've also done the same for the crosswalks on Lincoln (which has been done in the past). For my ward, this is an important bit of education/enforcement that needs to be done on a regular basis as well and for much the same reason - we have lots of "new" people driving in town and they need to learn to watch for pedestrians, particularly in the campus area.
4.) Multiple intersections on campus were targeted.
5.) All of the work was in a single 4 hour block of time targeting pedestrians, motorists, and bicycles. Bike violations outpace everything else.

We think that the program is having an effect and people are being more careful. Safety is the primary reason for this, even if the bicyclist is the one most hurt in a typical accident (though pedestrians can be seriously hurt by getting run into by a bicycle). The UofI and Champaign police conduct similar enforcement efforts though I don't keep track of when they are doing what.  STEP is supposed to be a break even proposition but given the cost of putting an officer on the street for overtime, I seriously doubt we make any money. More likely it's a bit of a loss.

I would also encourage you to talk to Sgt. Charles. Andy handles most of the STEP patrol requests and could probably add to what I've provided here.

-charlie

I disagree with “2.) The list is only traffic stops, not the full dispatch for the time period. Other things were going on too.” The warrant served on Arnoldo Molina (about halfway down) demonstraes that Urbana’s FOIA officers correctly responded to my request for “all stops and arrests.”

But otherwise, it’s a compassionate and enlightening response.

I emailed all the perpetrators. Four responded. Here’s what Dan Hanns, Cain Camacho, David Thunga and Jonass Placitis had to say about their experiences.

Dan Hanns:

Rob,

I was riding westbound on Nevada street towards the quad around 12. There were way too many people walking to be riding on the sidewalk. I was knowingly riding the wrong way down the street, but I was keeping it towards the right side of the road and very very aware of all cars coming towards me (Not that there were very many at all). Just as I approached Mathews street, I saw an Urbana PD squad car around the corner, throw the lights and lay on the horn. I was off my bike and had it off the street before he even came to a complete stop. He stopped in the middle of the street, with just enough space to fit a compact car around him.

He got out of the car and asked me if I knew why I was being stopped and I told him yes that I was going the wrong way. He took all my information, made sure I stood directly in front of the car (I’m assuming for his camera), then went into his car. At this point a massive traffic jam had formed behind him and he was seemingly unaware. Eventually as a dump truck attempted to pass him he pulled up some. He then came out of the car and told me he was issuing me a citation for the offense. I’ve been riding a bicycle everyday on this campus for 4 years, and not until this moment did it occur to me that I was about to get a ticket for riding a bicycle. So I asked him what I could do to avoid getting a ticket again and his suggestions were to ride on the sidewalk or act like a car. So with that he shook my hand for being the most polite person he was going to deal with all day and took off.

The next day I get a phone call saying, “Hey Dan, soooooo I forgot to give you your ticket…. Can I drop it by your place?” So after a few days delay the ticket was left on my back porch by another Urbana PD officer…

I have been riding a bicycle most everyday it was possible in Champaign-Urbana for the past 4 years, and this whole experience has made me very weary of riding a bike at all. I have always been very considerate of pedestrians and motorists, and now I just am scared I’m going to get pulled over for making the slightest wrong move. I actually have had the tendency to walk my bike by the police just so they don’t have a reason to pull me over.

Hopefully something there will help you out. I look forward to reading the column.

Dan

Jonass Placitis:

Mr. McColley,

Yes, I will gladly comment on my experience.

On the day that I was arrested, I was in a rush to get to class (as I only had 10 minutes to make it over there after the end of my last class) and, thus, was biking pretty quickly. I didn't even come close to hitting anyone or stopping the flow of traffic, and yet a police officer decided that it was a worthwhile endeavor to follow me for at least five blocks to give me a ticket outside of the building that my class was in. Despite how relatively inconsequential my "crime" was, the police officer also decided to make quite a scene by turning on his lights and driving onto the sidewalk to berate me rather loudly.

When I was approached, I explained that I was simply in a rush and apologized. The response was that the day upon which I decided to bike quickly happened to be the same day that the Urbana police department was enforcing bike safety laws. This statement alone made the erratic nature of their bike safety enforcement very apparent. I can't speak for the financial state of the police department, but I wouldn't be surprised if these "bike safety days" are just being used to raise local government revenue.

If you do end up using any of my statement, would you mind sending me a link to the article?

Thanks,

-Jonass Placitis

Cain Camacho:

Yes! I was riding up Mathews Street by Noyes Lab and in the distance I saw a police car stop abruptly in my path. The police officer came out and told me he was going to write me a ticket for riding in a one way street. New to campus, I was frustrated as I had no warning of the bike regulations on campus. To add on, there is construction on Mathews street so I had no clue that it was a one way. He issued me a fine of $100 but said it would be $30 if I took an online bicycle test and passed. I find it unfair to me that I got a ticket for just riding a bike. It seems the Urbana-Champaign Police Department takes advantage of us and makes money off of us. I think it would be fair to have given a fair warning along with a test instead of having to pay a fine.

-Cain Camacho
Freshman-Class of 2019

David Thunga:

Hey Rob,

Yes I was given a $100 for a bike violation where I was riding down a one-way street in the opposite direction of car traffic for a few 100 feet, as there was a construction crew that was blocking the bike lane and this forced me to ride in the street.  The cop was waiting around the corner and pulled me over to give me the ticket.  I was given the choice of either paying the $100 ticket, or paying $40 and taking an online bicycle course.  Also there was a court date in which I could dispute the ticket, but as a busy student this was not worth it to go to court.  I opted to pay $40 and take the online bicycle course, which didn't take too long but in truth it hasn't changed my cycling habits very much.  I just don't take that one way street to class any more.

Have a good one,
David

The city’s policy might be a problem. Or perhaps the problem is execution. The police could, theoretically, insert themselves in bicycling situations that present actual danger to others.

Why not stand in the middle of the quad, and ticket cyclists whizzing through crowds of pedestrians? I’m not especially in favor of that action either, but at least it has some arguable benefit.

Why not ticket cyclists for whizzing through packs of pedestrians on crowded sidewalks while looking at their phones? I see that too often, and it actually scares me.

Just getting out of their cars would be a good first step. There’s nothing about a militaristic police presence that endears itself to a voting public. Blocking all traffic on a Campustown street because someone rode a bicycle incorrectly is the worst PR the city can generate for its police department. “We are trigger-happy assholes with guns” is the silent declaration conveyed by that sight.

How many students skipped a lecture that day because they worried that a cop car parked astride the sidewalk, warning lights ablaze, signalled something far more sinister than an errant cyclist? How many thought “bomb-threat” or “chemical leak”?

Why do our public servants protect & serve us with such outlandish spectacle?

All these questions were still buzzing in my mind on the night of October 2nd, at 11:11 p.m., when I encountered an Urbana police SUV at the corner of Vine & Washington. Again, I was in the home stretch of my regular run.

The cop had the right of way. He was northbound on Vine. I was eastbound on Washington. If he’d simply taken his turn, I could have continued without a hitch. But he didn’t move. He just sat there.

“Fuck, really?” was the thought that flashed through my mind. “You’re going to make me stop in the middle of my run so you can observe me obeying pedestrian traffic procedure?”

But no. Through the sodium vapor, I saw his hand rise and wave me through.  He thought he was just being nice.

The Honda coupe that preceded him to the intersection had made a pedantically complete stop — the kind of stop one makes only when he knows there’s a squad car behind him.

Maybe the cop saw that. Maybe he wanted the Honda’s driver to know that he wasn’t being tailed. It’s stressful when you’re being tailed by a cop, when you know he’s running your plates, when you’re just waiting for the flashing lights.

Normally, I wouldn’t have broken my stride. My typical frame of mind is “well, if you’re not going to go I’ll assume you’re waving me through because people often wave joggers, pedestrians and cyclists through.” If cars move into an intersection while I’m already in it, I’ll dart behind them. I spend a lot of time and effort triangulating four-way stops while I’m running. (Can you tell?)

But knowing what happened to Mr. Smith, who had the same reaction to a non-moving police SUV, gave me literal pause. My faith in the goodwill of Urbana police officers, and the politicians who direct their actions, was tested.

Urbana is desperate for money, but there’s an endless supply of texting drivers out there. Plenty of outrageous noise nuisance still plagues the town. Animal control policy has not improved since my last series of long-winded navel-gazings.

Why can’t we pad the budget by cracking down on these behaviors? They’re actually dangerous.