Scooter Parking in Chicago

May 19, 2004

scootparking.gifSince writing my rant about buying a scooter, I’ve received dozens of emails asking about the parking laws in Chicago and elsewhere. I didn’t really know where to start until 2SB reader Dan Applebaum sent me several ordinances he found when researching the issue. So first of all, many thanks to Dan for taking the time to look all this up and share it with us.

Second of all, a disclaimer: This information is absoultely not guaranteed complete or accurate. It is provided as a general reference only. 2strokebuzz and its contributors are not an attorneys, judges, nor law enforcement officials, nor are we responsible for the quality of this legal information or the quality of our editorial comments. Please respect the law to the best of your understanding, park responsibly, and face the consequences of your actions like an adult. This information is specific only to Chicago and Illinois and for the sake of clarity, I’d prefer comments related only to parking in the City of Chicago.

Finally, before we look at the laws, please understand that it’s not impossible to park downtown, people do it every day. Like I said in the “buying a scooter” story, I have no intention of talking you out of it, but the “park anywhere” spiel some dealers may give you may contradict information police might use to cite you. I have several friends who are scooter salesmen, and one who is a policeman, and I don’t believe anyone is “out to get you” but the only thing that’s clear about the motorcycle/scooter parking situation in chicago is that nothing is clear. This page is not a list of excuses to get out of a well-deserved parking ticket, or reasons not to buy a scooter, my goal is just to collect all relevant information, both legal and anecdotal, in one place. I’m absoultely sure there’s plenty missing here. If you have access to any more relevant or up-to-date information, please send it and I’ll gladly add it to this page.

Let’s get started with the actual text of a few laws. Please note that some are edited for clarity with irrelevant passages deleted.

text in a white box is the written law.

text like this is my interpretation and comments.

Illinois Laws

(625 ILCS 5/) Illinois Vehicle Code.

These are the laws defining vehicles in the state of Illinois:

(625 ILCS 5/1-145.001) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 1-148) Sec. 1-145.001.
Motor driven cycle.
Every motorcycle and every motor scooter with less than 150 cubic centimeter piston displacement including motorized pedalcycles. (Source: P.A. 90-89, eff. 1-1-98.)

By this definition, any motorized bike under 150cc is defined as a “motor-driven cycle” This includes most small-to-midsize scooters and all mopeds. This means a bigger scooter, of exactly 150ccs or more, no matter what the shape or size, is a “motorcycle.” The Illinois DMV requires a “L-class” endorsement for “motor-driven cycles” and an “M-class” endorsement for motorcycles.

I personally and many friends have taken the riding license test on a 150cc scooter and received an “M-class” endorsement (was so excited to get that license right from one of those EIS cards printers). Most scooters listed as 150cc are actually a bit smaller than 150ccs, but if they remove your cylinder head and caliper your piston at a driving test, you have bigger problems than what endorsement you’ll get. Thus, if you take your test on, for example, an automatic transmission Kymco Bet&Win 150, you are legally licensed to ride a Suzuki 1300cc Hayabusa sportbike. Most other countries have stepped licensing where you have to work your way up from class to class, but the motorcycle industry knows Americans aren’t that patient and has lobbied to keep it easy to buy a bike well above your riding skill. It is nice to only take one test on a smaller bike and then learn on progressively bigger bikes without having to face all that bureaucracy, but that’s not how most people do it. Then again, a large number of sportbike and cruiser riders ignore the whole “get a license” step anyway.

(625 ILCS 5/1-148.2) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 1-148.2) Sec. 1-148.2.
Motorized Pedalcycle.
A motorized pedalcycle is a motor-driven cycle whose speed attainable in one mile is 30 mph or less, which is equipped with a motor that produces 2 brake horsepower or less. If an internal combustion engine is used, the displacement shall not exceed 50 cubic centimeter displacement and the power drive system shall not require the operator to shift gears. (Source: P.A. 83-820.)

This law is defining a what is commonly called a “moped” as having a smaller-than 50cc engine, an automatic transmission, and a less-than 2-HP engine unable to attain more than 30mph in one mile.

Note that the wording does not say “capable of more than 30mph,” this strangely-worded provision seems to be an acceleration limitation, not a speed limitation. Also note that it says nothing about the cycle having actual pedals. That brings us to possibly the biggest ambiguity regarding classification of 50cc scooters. Some would argue that to be called a “motorized pedalcycle” it would have pedals, while others say there’s nothing specific requiring pedals. If you interpret it as the latter, most restricted 50cc scooters would fall in this definition. Higher-performance 50cc scooters or derestricted scooters are definitely NOT motorized pedalcycles, but most law enforcement officials don’t carry the Scoot Quarterly Buyer’s Guide around, so they’re probably going to use markings on the bike to determine its displacement, or failing that, they might just guess. Current wisdom seems to indicate that in most situations, parking enforcement officials in Chicago consider an average scooter a “motorized pedalcycle” but it’s open to interpretation. Let me say once more that I think it’s a fantastic idea to get a full motorcycle license, take a motorcycle safety course, and wear appropriate safety gear even if you only plan to ride the smallest of mopeds. Any two-wheeled vehicle is inherently dangerous and you should use every safety resource at your disposal as possible no matter what the displacement of your cycle.


(625 ILCS 5/11-1403.1) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-1403.1) Sec. 11-1403.1. Riding on motorized pedalcycles.
(a) The operator of a motorized pedalcycle shall ride only astride the permanent and regular seat attached thereto, and shall not permit 2 persons to ride thereon at the same time, unless the motorized pedalcycle is designed to carry 2 persons; any motorized pedalcycle designed for 2 persons must be equipped with a passenger seat and footrests for use of a passenger.

Clear enough, don’t ride 2-up if the bike wasn’t designed for it. It’s not good for the bike, either. And yes, i’ve seen people get tickets for no passenger footpegs, even on a Vespa that has a floor runner that extends back to the passenger. Ridiculous but true.

(b) The provisions of Article XV shall be applicable to the operation of motorized pedalcycles, except for those provisions which by their nature can have no application to motorized pedalcycles. (Source: P.A. 85-830.)

This law allows mopeds to park under the stipulations belowOe

(625 ILCS 5/Ch. 11 Art. XV heading) ARTICLE XV. BICYCLES
(625 ILCS 5/11-1513) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-1513) Sec. 11-1513. Bicycle parking.
(a) A person may park a bicycle on a sidewalk unless prohibited or restricted by an official traffic-control device.
(b) A bicycle parked on a sidewalk shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of pedestrian or other traffic.
(c) A bicycle may be parked on the roadway at any angle to the curb or edge of the roadway at any location where parking is allowed.
(d) A bicycle may be parked on the roadway abreast of another bicycle or bicycles near the side of the roadway at any location where parking is allowed.
(e) A person shall not park a bicycle on a roadway in such a manner as to obstruct the movement of a legally parked motor vehicle.
(f) In all other respects, bicycles parked anywhere on a highway shall conform with the provisions of this Code regulating the parking of vehicles. (Source: P.A. 82-132.)

So this is what most of you came here looking for: yes, you can park a moped on the sidewalk. In Illinois. Keep reading for Chicago’s rules.

AND, we’re still not clear on whether or not a 50cc scooter is a motorized pedalcycle. It’s also important to remember that if you’re on private property (parts of sidewalks and alleys downtown) it’s up to the property owner to set the rules. If you’re parking in a building courtyard or driveway, don’t expect to come out and try to stop the guy throwing your bike on a flatbed with this piece of paper. Finally, “impede the normal and reasonable movement of pedestrian or other traffic.” is certainly up to the law enforcement officer’s discretion. And if you park somewhere legally and leave plenty of room, then six other mopeds park around you and block traffic, chances are you’ll all get a ticket.

Chicago Laws

Chapter 9.4.010 Definitions.

“Vehicle” means every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a street or highway, except motorized wheelchairs, devices moved solely by human power, devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks and snowmobiles, as defined in the Snowmobile Registration and Safety Act of Illinois.

So a scooter, moped, go-ped, electric bicycle, motorcycle, and basically anything with an engine or motor, is by Chicago law defined as a VEHICLE, baby. (Try not to get that Ides of March song stuck in your head.) And local law trumps state law. This in theory means that specific local laws regarding cars COULD BE enforced on ANY motor vehicle. So it could be argued that motorcycles and scooters are presumably expected to follow all city laws regarding parking, that is: no sharing metered spaces, no sidewalk parking, and I believe (I can’t find it) that there’s actually a law saying it’s illegal to park on the street anywhere in the city for longer than 72 hours. This law is rarely enforced other than for abandoned vehicles and street cleaning, but it’s a good way for your neighbors to get your scooter towed if you don’t ride it every day. A scooter parked in an “iffy” parking spot for three days will attract a lot more attention than a car, just by virtue of novelty.

As I said, there are certainly more laws out there that relate to scooter operating and parking in Chicago, but these are the ones Dan sent. If you have access to the laws and find anything of interest, please send it and I’ll add it to this page.

Other notes:

  • If you’re new to Chicago, you’ll soon learn that the city had the brilliant idea a couple decades ago to relieve all parking enforcement duties from the police and place them under the control of the Department of Revenue. The police obviously still enforce obvious violations, and sometimes go out looking for them, but when you get a ticket and think “don’t they have anything better to do?” the answer is “No!” There’s an entire city department outside the Police Department with the sole directive to issue parking tickets and collect the resulting revenue. And it brings in big money for the city.
  • In practice, you could follow all laws to the letter and still get a ticket, or towed, by an overzealous parking enforcement officer. And when the city tows motorcycles and scooters, they don’t use soft tie-downs in the back of a pickup truck. I’ve heard a couple horror stories about the city showing up in a flatbed truck, plasma cutting a dozen locks, and having four guys literally throwing bikes in a pile on the truck. I used to ride by the city tow yard every day on the Metra train, and every day, I’d see a twisted pile containing a dozen or two motorcycles and scooters. The lucky bikes would maybe get leaned against a chain-link fence.
  • The best way to find a safe space is to find other bikes parked in your area and rather than just adding yours to the cluster, leave a note tucked under the seat grip asking for their advice. Leave your phone number and email address. If they feel it’s safe for you to park there, they’ll let you know, if they don’t, don’t park there. Making contact with other bikers is always a good idea, they’ll watch out for you if you watch out for them. Conversely, if you see someone parked in a spot where you had problems, leave them a note warning them. I used to park in front of my building in the warehouse district until someone left me a note letting me know three bikes had been stolen in the neighborhood in the past month. I really appreciated that note, and it probably saved my bike from being stolen.
  • If you do get a ticket, and you feel you were wronged, contest it. If you deserved it, shut the hell up and pay it. Lots of people park illegally every day and only get a ticket every few months, paying the damn thing is still a minimal expense compared to paying for monthly car parking. Parking enforcement, while a cash cow for the city, is still a service we should appreciate, and while it’s a drag to get a ticket once in a while, I have no sympathy for these people that manage to rack up (and not pay) ten tickets and wonder why they got booted or towed.
  • There are other factors to consider when parking other than the law: will your scooter be safe? Thieves and vandals love scooters. Always try to lock the headset AND ignition, cable-lock it to something solid (or friend’s bikes) and use a disk brake lock if applicable. Look over your scooter carefully before riding if it’s been parked in public. Also, city medallions and license plates are commonly stolen by motorcyclists with illegal or untitled vehicles. use a razor blade to cut “X”es in your plate sticker to make it harder to remove. Use theft-proof bolts for your plate and medallion. Bolt your medallion through the middle and use all four bolts in your plate to make them harder to cut off the bike. It’s sad, but it happens.

This is a work in progress, but I hope you found it useful. One last time, I want to thank Dan for his research and beg you to add your knowlege to this report. Email me if you have any information. Thanks!


23 Responses to “Scooter Parking in Chicago”

  1. k.No Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 12:31am

    I just got my first parking ticket…for parking my 50cc scooter on the sidewalk. I plan on contesting the ticket, if only to hear what a judge has to say on the matter. I’ll let you know what happens.

  2. A. L. SuisseNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 12:47am

    Great Article. I’ve lived in Chicago for the past three years and have some following advice for Scooterists interested in parking downtown. First, don’t park on the sidewalk or on the street. You’re scooter will either be towed, run over, or simply moved out of the way to make room for some of SUV. If you work downtown check with the building supervior about parking at the bike racks or in back, by the delivery area. Whatever you decide to do check with the mangers of the property owners before parking. Also, Chicago has tons of parking structures and if you ask the ticket personel nicely they will let you park it (usually for free) and might even keep an eye on it. Good luck.

  3. moeNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 10:55am

    Great article bb. One comment I would make regarding tickets in Chicago: if you routinely park in a questionable way, and eventually get a ticket, count on getting a ticket every time you park there in the future. Once a meter maid or police officer decides you are in violation, they usually spot you every day they are working and write you a fresh ticket every time. I’ve had this happen a couple times and it is quite annoying (and costly).

  4. ChristianNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 11:07am

    Bb., one of the better articles you’ve posted. Thanks for digging through the muck to try and get some clarity.

  5. nikkiNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 2:35pm

    I had my scooter parked on the sidewalk in front of my office today, where it is most days that it is not going to rain. I was locked to a pole on the sidewalk, again, a regular thing. My scooter lock was cut, my scooter was towed, and I have to pay $160.00 to get it back. I am writing a letter to the mayor’s office, city of streets and san, alderman natarus, police HQ, OPS (office od professional standards). Yeah, a little disturbing. When I parked in a vehicle metered spot, someone moved my scooter to park there, when the meter ran out I got a ticket. Previously I have parked another scooter on the street and it was stolen. Whats the answer??? Why is it that we are not bothering anyone, saving the ozone, keeping to ourselves and still getting punished???

  6. ChadNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 3:04pm

    Great article! This is such a fine city, no?
    Did you find anything about parking perpendicular to the curb while researching these inane laws? IE: does a bike have to park in the same direction as a car? (moped, bike, whatever)…Just wondering…

  7. PJ Chmiel on May 19th, 2004 3:09pm

    I’ve gotten 2 tickets in two years, but I don’t park on the street regularly. One was for street cleaning and the other was “a day at the impound lot” after parking on Wabash in the Loop and getting towed under dubious circumstances. It was then that I learned (the hard way) the importance of having a city medallion. I regularly share metered spaces (outside of the loop) with cars and have never gotten a ticket for that. Haven’t really tried sidewalk parking, as I have a 150cc Vespa.

  8. 4-stroke buzzkillNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 7:03pm

    Now, onto the real question. How many thousands of tickets will I get this summer parking at North Avenue Beach, just inside the boathouse, but not inside the pay lot? Didn’t get any last summer, but I’ve a bad feeling about it this time around. Mind you, there is apparently a THIRD set of rules that the parks police follow, and apparently the beach area is their jurisdiction. Still, who can resist pulling right up to the sand and hopping off?

  9. cha cha on May 19th, 2004 7:13pm

    the abandoned vehicle thing is (according to the ticket) more than 7 days.

    but they like to make exceptions for scooters they dont like and issue you a ticket and tow order for more than 7 hours. mother f*ckers.

  10. jenNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 8:12pm

    i racked up over $600 dollars in parking tickets one summer parking off of michigan ave on a side street at at meter i would pay the meter but since i didnt take up the whole space cars would pull behind me in the space and i would get the ticket . tried to fight but its hard to prove who fed the meter!
    also had problems with valet parkers who would pick up my bike (yes lift it) and move it onto the sidewalk so they could park cars in my space.
    once again tried to file a complaint but since i didn’t actually see who did it i could not file a report.
    just becareful

  11. illnoiseNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 10:23pm

    nikki: three words: Taste Of Chicago.

  12. JennaNo Gravatar on May 19th, 2004 11:03pm

    I’m thinking of getting a scooter, and this article has been a huge help. Understandable that tickets are inevitable, but would like some feedback as to how many tickets those with scooters average. Once a week? Month? Year?

  13. spourk1No Gravatar on August 29th, 2006 1:02pm

    Hey K.

    Any updates regarding court and contesting your ticket in front of a judge??
    I just got my first ticket and I wanted to contest it as well.

    The issue is: If we park them in the street, they get moved, stolen, or damaged because they are so light and small. That is why they need to be chained to a rack somewhere.

    If we park them at a Rack they get ticketed. The City needs to help protect them some how.
    Keep us posted!!

  14. m1spikeNo Gravatar on October 31st, 2006 11:13pm

    Hey I just contested and won a $100 parking on sidewalk citation in San Francisco yesterday. The comments on this site help give me some good ideas. Here’s what happened:

    A while ago I met some friends at a place in the Tenderloin after class. There wasn’t any motorcycle spots around so I decided to park on the sidewalk. I ended up getting a $100 parking ticket from SF DPT for a “parking on sidewalk” violation of CA Vehicle Code Section 22500. Anyways, I won the appeal based on four grounds:

    1) I argued there is an explicit statutory exception for parking small scooters such as mine on the sidewalk when there is not motorcycle spots around. VC22500 has an exemption that states: “except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic.” I argued that my scooter is just a 150 pound, 49 cc yamaha vino – one of the smallest models on the market. I argued that it is very difficult for cars to see it when i park in car parallel parking spots and that it has been run into in the past. The administrator seemed very convinced by this argument.

    2) I argued it was not within the spirit of the statute b/c the statute was designed to prevent people from blocking sidewalk traffic with their cars. My scooter only took up 1.5 ft width of a 12-15 ft. wide sidewalk. It definitely did not block any traffic. The administrator also seemed convinced by this argument.

    3) I made a necessity argument that based on the area (the Tenderloin is a very high crime rate area) I need to lock my scooter up to something to prevent it from being stolen and that my lock couldn’t reach from the street. This was a shaky argument.

    4) I argued for a public policy exception that it is bad public policy to have a small 150 pound scooter take up an entire 20 ft. parking space when it can easily be parked on the sidewalk and make room for a car to park on the street. This argument seemed shaky to me but the administrator liked it. She said the city recognizes this public policy and has been trying to make more motorcycle parking spaces to encourage more motorcycle and scooter use since they save so much parking/traffic space and they are better for the environment.

  15. 2strokebuzz » Blog Archive » Chicago’s laws, for what they’re worth. on November 6th, 2006 2:59pm

    […] If our Scooter Parking in Chicago story isn’t comprehensive enough for you, Silent Ron tracked down the entire Municipal Code of Chicago online. […]

  16. Parking a Moped in Chicago at the kinetic tfr project - a Moped Blog on December 17th, 2006 12:30am
  17. phenleyNo Gravatar on July 3rd, 2007 11:41am

    Earlier this morning, when I parked my scooter at the Mercantile Exchange, I was informed by one of their security guards that the building was no longer going to allow Scooter or Bicycle parking along the fence overlooking the river.

    Here’s a link to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue website which has a FAQ section as well as a “Guide for Parking your Motorcycle or Scooter in Chicago”.

    Finally, the website also includes a list of a few parking garages which offer discounted monthly rates for Scooters / Motorcycles. If you work downtown, it might be a good idea to try contacting a parking garage near you to see if they’re willing to match the rates that their competitors are offering.

  18. Parking in Chicago: Clear answers : 2strokebuzz on April 7th, 2008 3:15pm

    […] been talking about scooter parking in Chicago for ages now, here and on the boards, and arguing over laws and interpretations, but Grace just […]

  19. kalakaua7No Gravatar on October 2nd, 2008 1:00pm

    I noticed a comment from a rider above who said they shared meter spaces with cars, but had never gotten a ticket for it. I think this needs clarification because legally, you should NEVER get a ticket for this, as long as your bike is entirely within the metered space. I have gotten tickets for this and have won before hearing officers. I’ve also been lectured to by an officer on the street who claimed there is a “one vehicle per space rule.” THERE IS NO SUCH LAW OR RULE. The ordinance regarding metered spaces says only must be “entirely within the area defined by the markings for that space” 9-64-190(b). Also, if you look at the official City of Chicago brochure mentioned above (Guide for Parking your Motorcycle or Scooter in Chicago), which is available on the City website, there is a photograph showing how to park your bike. It shows a bike, SHARING A SPACE WITH A CAR, parked 90 degrees to the curve, NEAR, but inside, the adjacent parking meter. I now carry this brochure with me, along with a copy of the ordinance, in case I get lectured again. If you get a ticket for this, if you were inside the metered space, you should take a picture of your bike in the space and ask to have it admitted as evidence when you challenge the ticket at your hearing.

  20. illnoiseNo Gravatar on October 2nd, 2008 1:13pm

    I can’t comment on the absolute legality of parking two vehicles in one space, but I’ve been ticketed for it and I’ve always been told it was illegal. I’d say if kalakaua is right, you’re still going to have a hard time fighting the ticket, because that’s certainly the impression they want to convey, unless it’s an electronic meter on a block without lines dividing the spaces, where they can charge you full car rate to take up 1/6 of the space a car would take up.

    That photo in the brochure is funny, because the point of it is to show how to park at electronic meters, yet it’s clearly sharing a space at a traditional meter. When we pointed that out to the DOT people when they showed us the draft at the roundtable, they were embarassed and said they’d change the photo, but they didn’t, so I’d say that’s as good of an argument as any if you’re fighting a ticket.

  21. kalakaua7No Gravatar on October 2nd, 2008 2:51pm

    Illnoise, I don’t want to belabor this, but did you challenge those tickets? Both me and a fellow rider have had tickets for this, and challenged them successfully, but we had pictures showing our bikes within the space. The hearing officer cannot legally rule any other way (unless she questions the veracity of the photo) because there simply is no ordinance that says a motorcycle can’t share the space with another vehicle. And for practical reasons, they couldn’t write such an ordinance, because logically it would divulge into a dispute over “who came first,” which in most cases would be impossible to prove.
    In any event, and I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, it isn’t rational for the city to punish motorcyclists for simply maximizing the use of available parking space downtown. Meanwhile, the city seems to encourage motorcycle and scooter use in other ways, for example, by exempting bikes from residential parking permits.
    Incidentally, in the space I was chastised for parking in today, I paid the meter for a full hour, since it was nearly expired when I got there, which is usually what I end up doing even when I’m sharing the space.

  22. CityScooterNo Gravatar on December 18th, 2008 11:14pm

    Realize this is an old post, but when referring to bicycles parking on the sidewalk, where do you draw the line to include mopeds? Just wondering if there it does state explicitly that parking for mopeds is legal on sidewalks. Should be interesting in Spring of 2009 as scooters are getting big now in Chicago!

  23. illnoiseNo Gravatar on December 19th, 2008 9:47am

    City law forbids ANY motor vehicle parking on the sidewalk, including Mopeds. The STATE law may allow mopeds to park at bike racks, but even if that’s so, any city would have their own rules that may override the state ordinances.

    In practice, you can probably get away with it in less-crowded areas, but I wouldn’t dare park a moped on the sidewalk in the Loop or a touristy/trendy area, or be surprised if you get a ticket for it anywhere in the city.

    Mopeds also require the City Road Use tag, by the way, that’s a scarier ticket than the parking ticket, and if you don’t have one, you’re even more likely to be “towed,” (lock cut, thrown on a truck, then thrown in a pile at the tow yard). I never risk it because I’ve seen the consequences, but some people want to pretend it can’t happen.

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