The Lakefront Trail Really Is Open All Day, All Night

Fog at Fullerton
Bicyclists can and should feel free to enjoy the Lakefront Trail’s beauty 24 hours a day. Photo: Jennifer Davis

Have you ever been hassled by Chicago police officers while bicycling on the Lakefront Trail after parks officially close at 11 PM? You’re not alone. Sebastian Huydts, who bicycles for most of his transportation needs, has been stopped twice this year — most recently on May 13, at about 11:15 p.m. “They actually told me to stop with a bright light and asked why I was there,” Huydts recently told Streetsblog. The police insisted that the park is closed after 11 p.m., telling Huydts “that you cannot use the path after that time, and that it wasn’t safe anyways.”

The Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile path used by tens of thousands of bicyclists on warmer days, and by many as a key commuting route throughout the year.

Huydts said that the officers weren’t unfriendly, and that he wasn’t mistreated. He countered the police, saying that riding home among drunk drivers on Kinzie Street would be far less safe. The officers asked for his destination (Montrose Avenue), and after talking amongst themselves, they “told me I was good to go — but should exit as soon as I could.”

The police officer on duty when I called the news affairs office said that he would look into what the rule is, and also how many bicyclists the department has warned, issued citations to, or given a contact card to.

The Chicago Park District, which owns and maintains the Lakefront Trail, said that the path is open at all times. Spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said flatly that “the trail is open for ingress/egress after regular hours.” The Chicago Department of Transportation deferred to the Park District for a response.

Maxey-Faulkner’s answer that the path is open is in keeping with Park District code, which states that nobody can be in a park between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., “except that 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.” This code appears to extend to trails through other large parks throughout the city.

Others have previously reported instances where a police vehicle parked squarely across the path, with the attending police officer ordering bicyclists to immediately exit the trail. Active Transportation Alliance said in 2010 that they would like to see better awareness of the overnight trail use policy. This policy should be conspicuously posted along the path, and communicated to the police units who patrol the trail.

  • In general, I would like to see more police education on the rules regarding bikes. Last fall, i had a state trooper yell at me to move over the right in the lane i was using (he didn’t have his lights on or siren, he was just driving). I think most city cops are pretty friendly and reasonable with bikers, especially with the expansion of the bike cop program. Nothing makes you appreciate biker more than becoming one yourself.

  • Anton Cermak

    It MUST remain open 24/7 (given reasonable weather conditions) as a requirement for accepting federal funds. If it was a limited access trail, it loses its eligibility for congestion mitigation dollars.

    It’s a very expensive delineation.

  • Anne A

    My impression from situations I see on the street, what I hear from friends and conversations with officers is that the vast majority officers are NOT up to speed on bike laws.

  • Has the Park District ever used federal funds to maintain, extend, or build new paths?

  • They could all benefit from having the Chicago Bike Laws app on their smartphones.

  • Fred

    I would love to see solar powered LED lighting embedded in the pavement along the LFT. Not only would it make it safer, but it would look damn cool!

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    A throwback to 1968 only without the batons and tear gas.

  • Anton Cermak
  • The police may be right about whether it wise to walk in certain sections alone at night though. Biking is likely safer, although there have been incidents of attacks even then.

  • oooBooo

    Cops are IME universally ignorant about laws when it comes to bicycling. Like most people they have never read them and only go by what other people told them and their own assumptions. When informed on what the law actually is they don’t react well IME either.

  • Jim Angrabright

    Which brings up the question of the Bloomingdale Trail (the 606): since they’re using Fed transportation dollars and the trail will be owned by the CPD, will the bike path be closed after 11pm? Years ago when they were just forming the plans for the trail, I asked this question at one of their info meetings and never got an straight answer. I assumed at the time either they didn’t know for sure or they didn’t want to say because they didn’t want to queer it with the residents along the trail. Obviously the entrance/egress CPD rules should apply.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The photo with the story confuses me. Is there a difference between the trail and the esplanade? Perhaps if I am confused, so are the police. If cyclist s use both, perhaps that’s where the confusion may lay. Perhaps the police budget is not enough to fully police the lakefront parks after 11 pm and if walkers and bikers use the trail and become victims of crime or accidents there will be a public uproar. Not sure what the late night safety plan for the Bloomington trail will be. If bikers and walkers using that trail can’t be visible late at night, how do you protect them? Further if police manpower is perceived going to protect late night park users and not deployed into higher crime areas… oh well.

  • The photo shows the trail (you can see the yellow dividing line) and was taken from about here.

  • I don’t remember if the answer about 24-hour access was ever answered. It was indeed a question back in 2011 when I wrote this article. (I can’t find any more discussion about the hours in any of my notes.)

  • The Bloomingdale Trail has better lighting, I feel, than the LFT. It also has people’s home windows overlooking the trail so theoretically there are more possible witnesses to an incident.

  • And yet the Bloomingdale is explicitly said to close at 11 in all the documentation.

  • I wrote an article last year that quoted the Chicago Parks District spokesperson as saying the Lakefront Trail (the path way and all the paths leading to the main path) are open 24 hours a day. The CPD code says that parks close at a certain time except for the paths and that you must take the quickest route between the point you enter and your destination.

  • Is it safer than riding on a road with likely drunk drivers? Also, the reason why it is dangerous is because its deserted because….well, they told everyone to leave.

  • Since you linked to this story recently, I should probably tell you that the headlights on the trail are a CPD van containing officers who are about to tell me that I need to leave.

  • Dottie Tides

    Always nice to have a witness to you’re Murder !!