Bicyclists surprised to learn that University clips locks

By Daniel Gilbert

A solitary blue sign at the front entrance of the Biological Sciences Learning Center reads: DO NOT CHAIN BIKES TO HANDRAILS. This sign provides one of the few clues to the University’s new push to maintain facilities in keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the last few weeks, the University’s policy has included snipping locks and impounding bikes stationed illegally.

Last week, Nick Marinides, a fourth-year in the College, locked his bike to the railing outside the Reg, and returned a few hours later to find his bike missing. “My first reaction was to think that it had been stolen, and to wonder if the lock had for some reason not clicked when I locked the bike to the railing,” said Marinides, who owned a U-shaped lock. He went to the University Police Department to report the incident, and was initially relieved to find his bike locked up outside the station with about 20 others.

“The police officers explained to me that they were compelled to impound bikes more strictly now because the University had been threatened by the federal government with loss of funding if it allowed bikes to block handicap access,” Marinides said. He added that while he was not angry with the University for destroying his lock, he wished that the University had done more to make it clear where it was illegal to lock a bike.

Last June, the University’s Facilities Services received requests from various members of the University community to review the issue of bicycles blocking ramps and entrances to buildings, according to Elaine Lockwood Bean, associate vice president for Facilities Services.

“On June 30, Facilities Services sent out an e-bulletin to the campus community requesting their help in not blocking these ramps and entrances,” Bean said. “We understood that we could not reach 100 percent of the University community, therefore, we initially instituted a program of ‘tagging’ offending bicycles with large, neon orange violation stickers. This did little to rectify the situation.”

Following this attempt, Facilities Services, in collaboration with facility managers in affected buildings and with the University of Chicago Police (UCPD), began cutting locks and removing offending bicycles.

Although it offically began in June, the policy of forcefully removing illegally locked bikes has gained greater attention after affecting students who arrived in the fall and were unaware of the initiative.

“This is not about a new policy, but about the seriousness with which this important regulation is being taken and enforced,” said Steve Klass, vice president and dean of students in the University.

Martina Munsters, the deputy dean of students in the University for Student Affairs, sent an e-mail on Monday, October 18, to the area deans of students, warning that bikes improperly stationed would be impounded. In the e-mail, which was forwarded to “as many students as possible,” Munsters wrote: “Keeping handrails clear is a matter of safety. Elderly people and people with temporary injuries rely on railings on stairs and ramps. Also, as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the University is required by law to maintain access to handrails for people with disabilities.”

Klass noted that the Chronicle is carrying an announcement of the renewed safety concern, and Munsters added that the University of Chicago News Office was requested to forward the announcement to the student press. Despite these efforts, many students, especially those living outside Housing, have not received Munsters’s e-mail.

The University’s new policy of enforcement has raised another issue on campus: Whether or not there are sufficient bike racks to accommodate students. Recently, the bike racks outside the Reynolds Club were removed, which unfortunately coincided with the University Facilities Services’ increased vigilance in removing illegally stationed bikes. According to Richard Bumstead, University planner, the bike racks have been temporarily removed as part of an overall renovation of the Reynolds Club site.

“New ones are expected any day now and will be installed as soon as they arrive,” Bumstead said. “We have recently developed a plan that will increase the number of bike racks on campus by about another 250 spaces.”

There is also some confusion as to who is enforcing the policy of cutting locks and impounding bikes. While the bikes are kept locked together outside the UCPD office on Ellis Avenue, the UCPD is not involved in collecting the bikes.

“We have nothing to do with this,” said Rudy Nimocks, executive director of the UCPD. “The Facilities Services just drops the bikes off here. I don’t know how they do it. We just give the bikes back to students.”

The process of retrieving impounded bikes raises a security issue. When asked as to how the UCPD guarantees that a student is the rightful owner of a bike, Nimocks first evaded the question, saying, “I don’t personally handle this,” and adding that the employees in charge of returning bikes to students were not available. When pressed, however, Nimocks said that students who come to reclaim their bikes must have the bike’s serial number with them, or some other convincing proof that it is their bike.

Samuel Jacobson, a fourth-year in the College who had his bike impounded in early October, gave a slightly different account of the retrieval process.

“Each bike locked up outside has a little blue tag saying where that bike was found,” Jacobson said. “I told the sergeant on duty where I had left my bike, and pointed it out to him. Then I signed my name in a book, and left with my bike.”

Jacobson’s experience suggests that there may be a risk of students reclaiming bikes that do not belong to them, by simply reading the tag specifying where a bike was found before entering the police department, and then claiming that bike as their own.

According to Lieutenant Holmes of the UCPD, there have been no reported cases of students claiming bikes that do not belong to them.