Legalizing 24/7 Commuting on The Bloomingdale Trail Would Make It Safer

cyclist riding on the Bloomingdale Trail

Last summer, a Chicago Park District spokeswoman told me that, according to the park district code, it’s legal to commute on the Bloomingdale Trail at all times of day. But in the wake of the mugging of a cyclist on the greenway last Friday night, the agency seems to have flip-flopped on the issue – a spokeswoman implied that the 2.7-mile facility is closed between 11 p.m. and 6 p.m. However, if it was open 24/7, that would improve safety because there would more “eyes on the trail.”

Some 80,000 people live within a half mile of the Bloomingdale, aka The 606, and many of these residents regularly bike commute home from work or entertainment after 11 p.m. It’s only logical that these people should be allowed to use this car-free route to get home safely, rather than take their chances with drunk drivers on busy North Avenue or Armitage Avenue.

Last June spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – as on the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking are permitted on the elevated path due to an ingress and egress provision in the park district code. “Persons and vehicles may pass through such parks without stopping on the more direct walk or driveway leading from their point of entrance to the exit nearest to their point of destination,” the code states. Lemons said this allows commuters to use paths through parks, including The 606, for transportation.

However, in practice, police officers enforce the city’s usual 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. parks curfew by clearing the Bloomingdale at 11 sharp. When they encounter people commuting on foot or by bike on the path after hours, they order the trail users to leave. Last summer Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs confirmed this is the department’s current protocol.

After I notified Sedevic and Lemons that the two policies were in conflict, they said they would get in touch with each other and resolve the issue.

On Friday at around 11:30 p.m., a 25-year-old man was biking on the trail near Kedzie Avenue when he was jumped and mugged by four males, DNAinfo reported. They pulled him off his cycle, beat him, and took his wallet, phone, before leaving the scene, according to police.

“I was biking home from work in Lakeview and took the trail because there were a lot of cars out, and I have ridden late at night before without incident,” the victim told DNA.

In the wake of the attack, park district spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner indicated that it was illegal for the cyclist, as well as the assailants, to be on the trail at the time, referring to the fact that the parks are usually closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Therefore it appears that the park district and the police department are now on the same page. Unfortunately it’s the wrong page.

Unlike New York City’s popular High Line elevated trail, the Bloomingdale doesn’t have gates and it’s not locked at night. The 606 does have security cameras at each of its 12 access points plus cams at other locations where a bend in the trail obscures the view.

But an easy way to help prevent repeats of Friday’s assault and save work for the police would be to allow cyclists and pedestrians to legally commute on the trail all night, in keeping with the park district code. After all, as long as late-night trail use is outlawed, only outlaws will use the trail after hours.

This recent incident may discourage some people from biking home on the trail after 11 p.m. — the victim said he’ll avoid the trail at night from now on. But many people will continue to do so, because the path provides an alternative to sharing busy streets with drunk drivers. Legalizing this behavior would make it safer by providing more potential witnesses, which would discourage criminal activity.

Rather than shooing people off the trail who simply want to get home in one piece, the police could spend more time addressing serious crime issues. And more biking and walking trips on the trail would mean fewer traffic crashes on surface streets.

The only people who’d lose out in a scenario where The 606 is legal to commute on 24/7 are the would-be trail bandits.

  • I don’t live in Chicago, but I was at a party the night after Christmas and used the 606 to get to the Clybourn Metra station a little after midnight. As far as I could tell, there was absolutely no reason I couldn’t use it; the stairs were wide and inviting, it was well-lit, I saw the cameras, there was no signage telling me not to go up there, etc. It was my first time using the trail and I felt perfectly safe, though I didn’t see a single person for the entire mile (or so) I walked.

  • Harlan Pepper

    Great article, and I do hope the park district and the PD come to a consensus on the issue.
    That being said, might I make a recommendation? The picture of the guy on the bike is almost 7MB in size. My building has poor cell coverage. I had a hard time loading the article, took forever. Unless your intention was for the reader to be able to identify the gender of the bugs in the rider’s teeth, it’s always good practice to consider files sizes when including images in your article.
    Keep up the good work!

  • High_n_Dry

    If nobody is allowed to use the trail after 11pm then this paragraph from the DNA article is confusing:
    Though The 606 website advertises the park as closing at 11 p.m. daily, the Chicago Park District Code permits usage of parks between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on the following day when the park is used as a direct route.

    This makes it sound like you can use it IF it is used as a “direct route”. Or maybe not.

  • That is precisely the difference in policy that everyone is talking about.

    CPD policy in general says that you can use paths across parks at night if you just go straight through without stopping — say, in Grant Park, or one of the big square-mile parks throughout the city, you can legally cut through on the paths on your way somewhere else to avoid using the streets.

    Because the 606 basically IS just a trail, except for a few small areas where you can sit and mill around, though, there’s this muddy middle: the police are used to rousting out all users sharp at 11 and expecting parks to be empty, but there’s that rule technically still sitting on the books that says you can go THROUGH without stopping at any time of day or night.

    Exactly which way the long-term policy implementation will go is still up in the air.

  • Fibinaccignocchi

    Wasn’t there a stipulation that trails which received federal funding couldn’t enforce this type of restriction?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s pretty clear which way the policy implementation will go — the park district is now siding with the police department in saying that the trail is closed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

  • BlueFairlane

    I’m all for the trail being open 24/7, though I wonder if late-night traffic would really be significant enough to change the level of safety on the trail. There wouldn’t be that many more eyes than there are now, and muggings happen on public streets where there are plenty of eyes anyway.

    At the same time, I wonder whether the trail’s really that unsafe to begin with. I know that people use the thing despite the policy, and this is the first incident I’ve heard of. Things happen in a city, and I suspect this guy was just unlucky.

  • planetshwoop

    I expect signs will be up by next week.

  • Fill Errup

    “Driver strikes pedestrian in late-night DUI on Western Ave. City proposes closing street from 11pm-6am!” While we need to work for zero injuries and assaults in our city, CPD (both of them) are applying double-standard logic here that seems rooted only in the fact that the 606 is a ped/bike facility.

  • Your italicized text from DNAinfo is a paraphrase of the Park District’s code (“Persons and vehicles may pass through such parks without stopping on the more direct walk or driveway leading from their point of entrance to the exit nearest to their point of destination.”).

  • As someone who uses the trail after 11 PM to get to the West Side from Lincoln Park on some weekends, I took particular care to spot any signs indicating the path hours. I haven’t spotted any!

  • So there are cameras all over the place, yes? I bet there’s a good chance that they turn out to be useless for nabbing the muggers.

  • neroden

    So they’re now “enforcing” a law/regulation which does not exist?

    That’s not acceptable. Ever.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Get ready to see a blurry photo of four average sized guys with their faces obscured by shadows from a hat or hood.

  • BlueFairlane

    People both for and against the proliferation of cameras tend to vastly overestimate what these cameras can do. We’ve all watched too many quirky tech wizzes on CBS procedurals enhance tiny corners of blurry pictures into studio shots. In real life, they’re all just for show.

  • The CMAQ conditions say that the bicycle/pedestrian facilities built with its funds cannot be exclusively recreational, I wonder if having closing times affects the conditions of receiving that funding at all?

  • I had the same thought about there being enough “eyes on the trail” that late to make a difference. The lakefront can get pretty lonely even well before official closing time. (On the other hand, it’s more remote than the Bloomingdale Trail—but density didn’t protect this person, either.)

  • David P.

    The law does not really depend on whatever a Park District spokesman says, now, does it?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I probably should have mentioned this in the article but it *IS* legal to commute on the Lakefront Trail 24/7:
    http://chi.streetsblog.org/2014/05/30/the-lakefront-trail-really-is-open-all-day-all-night/

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Obviously not, since the park district was previously saying it was OK to commute on the trail 24/7, but police officers were still kicking people out at 11.

  • Anne A

    More anti-bike action in the 14th district – business as usual.

  • I don’t argue with the police, but OK.

  • Pat

    Just need to wait for the first person to be ticketed to file a lawsuit to force the issue.

    But, I would hope the Park District, CPD, and City would just come to their senses and treat it like the Lake Path.

  • Security theater as they say. It’s the same with street lighting. I used to say the brighter the street lighting the more dangerous the neighborhood. Been to Wilmette at night?

  • BlueFairlane

    But do people get ticketed for this? My understanding is that the cops just shoo them off the trail. I suppose somebody could resist and force the issue, but I suspect they’d come out of that on very shaky legal ground.

  • Pat

    I mean if someone wanted to they could already file a lawsuit to challenge the hours.

    And yah, usually they just shoo people away, but I wouldn’t put it past the CPD to give out a ticket for something like this.

  • BlueFairlane

    I am not a lawyer (and thus should stop here … but it’s the internet …), but I think that in order for there to be grounds, any lawsuit would require a plaintiff to demonstrate some sort of damages. Just being shooed off a trail doesn’t meet the criteria.

    But there are actual people with legal knowledge who read this site. Anybody have any thoughts on this?

  • Street lighting is hardly security theater.
    I am unwilling to use streets without lighting. I don’t want to run into things or people, and I don’t want them to run into me. And I don’t like surprises, either.

  • There are lots of things suburbanites think are indicators or causes of safer streets that are actively dangerous.

    High unclimbable iron fences around parking lots, for example.

  • There is adequate lighting and then there is overkill. Of course, what makes a city a city is some lighting rather than none. I always appreciate the bikers that bring an abundant amount of their own lighting: for attention, rather than illuminating.

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