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Police, Park District Still Disagree About Late-Night Travel on The 606

5:19 PM CDT on June 30, 2015

Photo: John Greenfield

Some 80,000 people live within a half mile of the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, the 2.7-mile elevated greenway that connects Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park. 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.

However, that’s not currently how things work. As it stands, Chicago police officers are enforcing the city’s 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 politely (according to all accounts I’ve heard) order the trail users to leave. When I looked into the issue two weeks ago, Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs confirmed that this is the department’s current protocol.

However, the police policy contradicts that of the Chicago Park District, which owns the Bloomingdale. Two weeks ago, 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. “This allows commuters to use paths through our parks, including The 606, for transportation.”

When 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. I made several follow-up calls to both agencies over the last two weeks, and was repeatedly promised an update in the near future.

In the meantime, I checked in with community leaders in the surrounding neighborhoods about the issue. Alderman Scott Waguespack’s 32nd Ward includes the Bloomingdale east of Western Avenue, where the trail is bordered by upscale housing. Prior to the path’s June 6 opening, constituents had expressed concerns that heavy foot and bike traffic would lead to a spike in crime. That fear hasn't materialized, but there have been complaints about noisy skateboarders.

Waguespack seems to endorse the police-enforced curfew. “From early planning stages, the word was that the Bloomingdale Trail would be open during regular park hours only, and the hours would be enforced by the police or park district security,” he told me. “I don't think that rule has changed and likely won't.”

Photo: John Greenfield

Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno’s 1st Ward includes the western portion of the Bloomingdale. His assistant Rocio Verela told me that idea for the ban on after-hours commuting originated with the 14th Police District, which is responsible for security along most of the trail. “This is something that the 14th District is doing,” she said. “They don’t want anyone up there after 11.”

14th Ward Commander Marc Buslik told me his interpretation of the park district code’s ingress and egress language is that parks can only be used for brief shortcuts, such as cutting across a small neighborhood green space to access a bus stop, not as commuting routes. “That was what every citizen was told at every community meeting," he said. "If the park district wants to change the code, they can do so.”

I pointed out that the code 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.” If a person is at the east end of the Bloomingdale and lives near the west end, wouldn’t the western trailhead be the exit nearest their destination?

“No, sir, I’m not going to argue this point with you – you’re wrong,” Buslik responded. “You cannot use park property between 11 p.m. and 6 p.m. The fact that The 606 is linear, rather than rectangular, doesn’t change that.”

I followed up with the police and park district spokeswomen today, and they both said they are still working on settling the matter. “[Lemons’] understanding of the code is different than ours,” Sedevic acknowledged. “We want to get on the same page with the park district.”

Lemons told me the police department is currently in contact with the park district’s director of security. “I don’t know if any resolution has come forth but, like you, I’m just waiting to hear from them.”

It’s understandable that Bloomingdale neighbors are concerned about “bad actors” hanging out on the trail and causing problems. However, as Lemons noted, people who keep moving and don’t loiter should be allowed to use the path as a safe commuting route. I’ll keep following up with the agencies, in the hope that common sense will prevail.

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