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It was an unseasonably warm 61 degrees just before midnight last Tuesday, and there was the best kind of rain for bicycling, a refreshing mist that was too fine to soak into my jacket, but one that gave the streetlights a dreamy glow.
Beneath the dull roar of the Kennedy Expressway, I approached the eastern trailhead of the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as the 606. I was about to do something the Chicago Police Department insists is a fineable offense: pedal on the 2.7-mile elevated greenway during the city’s 11 PM-to-6 AM park curfew.
Representatives of the Chicago Park District, which manages the trail, and the Trust for Public Land, the national nonprofit that’s spearheading its ongoing development, disagree with police on this matter. They say it’s perfectly legal to commute on the 606 at night, and cite a clause in the Park District code that allows for nonstop after-hours travel through the city’s green spaces.
Police officers are currently shooing all cyclists, joggers, and strollers off the path at 11, and may show up to oust them at other times if a neighbor calls to complain.
Nonetheless, plenty of people are using the trail to bike home from work or play late at night, which is only common sense. Some 80,000 Chicagoans live within a half mile of the path, which provides an alternative to sharing the road with cars on busy Armitage and North Avenues, the two nearest parallel main streets.
Recently though, bad actors have taken advantage of the late-evening path traffic and the relative isolation of the linear park. In the wake of three recent muggings of bike riders, it’s time for the police to step up their patrolling of the Bloomingdale and start allowing 24/7 commuting. A higher number of legitimate users at all times of night would mean more eyes on the trail and safety in numbers.
As I spun west on the gently undulating path last Tuesday, there were a few people out on bikes, foot, and skateboards, despite the gentle rain and the curfew. One of them was Jessica Dickerson, 31, who was pedaling a black fixed-gear bike home to her apartment near Central Park and Cortland, a block north of the trail.