Official website for the City of Aurora, Illinois. Mayor Robert J. O'Connor

This story by Heather Gillers was entitled “City to Put Inspectors on Bikes.” It was published in the August 16, 2005 edition of the Beacon News and is posted here with permission from the Beacon-News.

City to Put Inspectors on Bikes

When city inspector Allen LaFan decided to buy a bike in March hoping to lose pounds and cut gas costs, he wasn’t looking much further than his wallet and his midsection. He never guessed he’d pioneer the first inspector bike program in the state and possibly the country, inspiring city inspectors nationwide to consider trading four wheels for two.

LaFan intended the bike for his commute, but he suspected it could also help him do his job. Code violations - like broken windows and unlicensed vehicles - would be much easier to spot from atop a two-wheeler than out the window of a car, he reasoned.

His bosses agreed. The city footed the bill for LaFan’s bike, and Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner wondered whether other city employees could be convinced to follow LaFan’s lead.

“He was up on our floor one day and I grabbed him and brought him into the office and picked his brain a little bit,” Weisner said.

Sensing that other cities might be interested as well, LaFan showed up at a July meeting of inspectors from across Illinois, handed out Lance Armstrong T-shirts and explained the merits of his bike. The organization, the Illinois Association of Code Enforcement, was so impressed that it’s trying to cobble together funds to send LaFan - and his bike presentation - to a national inspectors’ conference in Florida in October, said Third Vice President Bill Donovan.

“I think there are many in the southern area of the country that would embrace this,” Donovan said, explaining that inspectors in warmer cities could utilize bikes year-round.

Model program

The national conference - the American Association of Code Enforcement - has shown interest in hearing LaFan out, said spokeswoman Alicia LeMasters. If his presentation is a hit, Aurora could become a model for inspectors across the United States, since the City of Lights might be the first in the country to put inspectors on bikes.

“I think it’s the first time this program has been run for code enforcers,” said Maureen Becker, director of the non-profit International Police Mountain Bike Association, noting that law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians have used bikes for years.

But LaFan’s most devoted followers have proved to be his coworkers. As summer approached, six city inspectors, some of whom had not ridden since relinquishing their training wheels, volunteered to join LaFan on bikes.

At an informal training session in July, LaFan’s proteges were as jazzed as their mentor about their new two-wheelers. They gingerly mounted 24-speed mountain bikes, equipped with water bottles and special cases for the inspectors’ cameras, and spouted enthusiasm for the bike program.

“When we’re driving by in a car and you see (a property code violation), you can’t stop in the street,” added inspector Jeff Chesnutt. “In a bike you can pull it right over and get off and check more efficiently.”

“You get to see a lot more, especially with junk and trash issues,” agreed inspector Connie Perez, who hadn’t been on a bike since she got her driver’s license at 15 and admitted that she was “a little concerned about the uphills.”

The city will wait to formally unveil the program while officials address liability issues, Weisner said, but biking is set to begin in September, around the time when the bikers’ new uniforms - slick black jerseys with silver city logos arching across the chest - will arrive.

Cost benefit

Meanwhile, the benefits of the program are becoming obvious to the city.

Mounting bikes doesn’t just help city employees spot infractions, said Weisner. It keeps them healthy, protects the environment and saves money. LaFan estimates that within a year, the amount of money each inspector saves on maintenance and gas will exceed the price of his or her bike.

The bike program now has a four-inspector waiting list, LaFan said, and other city employees are jumping on the bandwagon.

Two meter checkers and a downtown maintenance supervisor are scheduled to inherit bikes from the Aurora Police Department, Weisner said. An electric bicycle, donated to the police by Commonwealth Edison, will go to the Mayor’s Office of Special Events to be trotted out at city festivals.

“Maybe the mayor himself will use it,” Weisner said.