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Know Your Biking Code, Especially on Sheridan

If you’re among the many full-time cyclists in Chicago, it’s about time you got to know your code as it pertains to bike riding.

In case you were wondering…

“(a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by the laws of this state…” – Municipal Code of Chicago, section 9-52-010

That means stopping at red lights, stop signs, etc. More importantly, it means staying on the road.

This is one that I myself don’t always follow, especially on streets like North Ave., where the traffic is terrifying and the roads are generously pot-holed.

Perhaps it would be in my best interest to start adhering to those rules, as I could stand to face a hefty fine—in the event that I am riding on the sidewalk in a very specific place:

“(a)     The penalty for any person age 18 and older who rides a bicycle on the sidewalk adjacent to North Sheridan Road, between West Ardmore Avenue and West Sheridan Road (6400 north) shall be as follows:

(1)     the bicycle shall be temporarily disabled without permanent damage; and

(2)     the violator shall be subject to a fine of $50.00.” – Municipal Code of Chicago, section 9-52-021


Why this specific area? Maybe the traffic is particularly light? Maybe there are lots of small dogs being promenaded up and down this affluent walkway? If anyone can tell me, I would love to know. Also, What do they mean when it says that the bike will be disabled? Is that like a boot or something?

The list of bicycling codes goes on, found here.


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…on Building Facade Inspections, and Falling Facades

If you’re heading downtown anytime soon, you may want to pack a sturdy umbrella.

The city recently pulled back on requirements for building facade inspections, much to the chagrin of some architects and engineers who warn that rescinded regulations on the exams could threaten public safety.

Previous to the revisions, buildings 8 stories and taller were subject to critical examinations, termed below, in 4-, 8- and 12- year intervals:

“… a close-up visual examination of the condition of all elevations of the exterior walls and enclosures.  All examinations shall be performed by or under the direct supervision of a professional employed by the owner for the purpose of determining if remedial work is required.” – Municipal Code of Chicago section 13-196-031

These inspections are implemented to check for damages and disrepair on building exteriors that could potentially lead to falling materials.

As of Oct. 22nd, qualifying buildings that have been deemed safe by past examinations are no longer required to undergo the routine exams. Owners are now instead required to file on-going “short form only” reports, a less extensive survey conducted at ground level with binoculars, in two year intervals. If a building’s façade is deemed at risk by these inspections, a more thorough exam will be required.

“At this time we felt it was acceptable to change the requirements of the inspections without impacting public safety,” said Department of Buildings spokesperson Bill McCaffrey.

While the revision could be a blessing for building owners financially stretched by inspection costs, some on engineering side say the new regulations are too lenient.

“It’s a difficult balance to strike between lessening the cost and yet maintaining enough rigor in the ordinance and the rules and regulations to make it effective,” said William Bast, Principal with the structural engineering firm Thorton Thomasetti.

The ordinance directing building façade examinations was drafted over 30 years ago, spurred by the 1974 death of a pedestrian who was struck by a piece of falling cornice from the 16th floor of a building on West Madison.

For more on the new inspection rules, check out an article I wrote for this week’s Chicago Journal Skyline

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My name is Ian Fullerton, and I am a freelance journalist living and working in Chicago. This is my new blog, Know Your Municipal Code.

The purpose of this blog is to write about issues and topics surrounding the Municipal Code of Chicago, that blessed collection of rules and regulations that dictates what one can and cannot foreseeably do within the boundaries of said fair city.

I hope to write not only about the Code as it applies to the matters of the day, but also on how it reflects the cultural and political advancements (and regressions) made in the city since the Code’s inception.

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The Ugly Blog

As my first official post for this blog I will start with something ridiculous:

Up until only a few decades ago, Chicago had a law against being ugly. Well to be fair, it was a law prohibiting public ugliness.

Ratified in 1911, the ordinance made it illegal for “deformed” people to appear in public:

“No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.” – Chicago Municipal Code, section 36034

So, just to be clear, not only would a person get fined for being ugly, but they were fined every time they were ugly.

Other cities that enacted “Ugly Laws” include San Francisco (the first to introduce the ordinance in 1867), Omaha and Columbus, Ohio. Attempts to pass similar measures in New York failed.

In reality, this was one of many discriminatory measures of the day made against people with disabilities. As public support for Disability Rights mounted, most cities had rescinded their ordinances by the mid-1970s.

Chicago was the last to repeal its Ugly Law in 1974.

Notre Dame professor M. Cathleen Kaveny condemned the law, well after the fact, in a lecture at Loyola University in 2005:

“…the problem with the Ugly Law extends far beyond the fact that it tightly restricts the ability of persons with disabilities to go about their day-to-day lives; it also encompasses the broader messages that it conveys about the relative worth of persons with disabilities. The effects of these messages are not limited to the streets of Chicago, but can influence interactions between people in many other contexts. Consequently, any adequate moral analysis of the Ugly Law Moral must move beyond its concrete requirements and prohibitions to consider these broader ramifications.”

She went on to cite Ugly Laws as a prime example of how more responsibility is needed in the consideration of law as a teacher of moral lessons.

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