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

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.

  • DrMedicine

    I suppose any of the streets ending in “Drive” through the various Chicago Park District parks will be closed to all vehicular traffic after 11, then?

  • Bingo! Lawsuit otherwise?

  • It’s likely that the roads themselves are not under park district jurisdiction but rather CDOT, IDOT, etc.

  • Terry Bloom

    funny they weren’t too concerned about the security up there prior to the trail being done… used to call the police and alderman’s office on a weekly basis for 2 years living next to that site in Humboldt. There is no way there’s going to be more crime and bad behavior up there than there was before. I’m glad you can deal with their crap John because I would have a hard time not laughing at some of their responses, and that wouldn’t help.

  • Anne A

    Another chapter in the anti-bike saga of the 14th police district. Disappointing but not surprising. Definitely worth pushing for consistency with park district policy on the lakefront.

  • JacobEPeters

    Considering that it was still busy with walkers, rollerbladers & cyclists when I was biking on the trail at 10:55 last night, the 11pm curfew doesn’t make sense as applied to people using the trail as transport. However, I also saw exactly what the police are concerned with. They get complaints from neighbors about loitering, and there were at least 2 groups hanging out with skateboards and instruments. The police know that it would be harder to enforce the curfew for these groups if they were trying to get them to disperse at the requests of neighbors at the same time that a group of cyclists biked by.

    Skateboards can be used for transport, and so can your feet, so unless the code is altered, allowing transport on the trail after 11pm would only lead to more police hours being spent on games of cat & mouse, whereas a simple ban on everyone frees up man hours for addressing the more worrisome things that occur at night. The code wasn’t written with a linear trail in mind, and it needs to be adjusted if the city plans on building more with CMAQ grants.

  • “The police know that it would be harder to enforce the curfew for these groups if they were trying to get them to disperse at the requests of neighbors at the same time that a group of cyclists biked by.” On the contrary, the code should be easy to enforce. If the police encounter people loitering after 11 p.m., they should order them to leave. If they encounter people biking or walking, they should let them proceed, perhaps with a reminder that stopping on the trail after 11 is not permitted.

  • JacobEPeters

    But someone skateboarding is technically transporting themselves along the trail even if it involves a trick. If an officer encounters someone who had stopped on the trail, are they to follow the person until they exit the park? It isn’t difficult to understand how enforcement would work, but the hours could build up, and tensions could mount with the complaints of neighbors who were promised by officials like Waguespack that this park would be handled differently than other parks.

    Clarification is needed within the code to identify how it applies to trails.

  • It should be pretty easy for officers to tell the difference between someone who is riding a skateboard to actually get somewhere and someone who is doing tricks on the trail, and making excess noise in the process. If the police encounter someone who is stopped, they can order them to use the nearest exit, which is usually not more than a block away, and keep an eye on them until they do so.

  • JacobEPeters

    Once again, not talking about ease of identifying, it is ease of enforcing that I am sure they are trying to ensure, since they are likely trying to avoid a situation where someone protests the request to vacate the trail. If I were a teenager who was using the trail to skateboard & an officer told me that I had to leave & at that moment a cyclist passed on their bike I would probably spend twice as long leaving the trail since I would be asking why this & why that. Unless the code is clarified, the cops will likely defend their current misreading of the code in order to make sure they have something black & white to enforce.

  • Do people just forget, or do they simply not know about, the police cars that park at chokepoints on the Lakefront Trail and kick people off (read “kick everyone off,” regardless of how transportational you appear to be) starting at about 10:45pm every night during Taste of Chicago?

  • Kathleen Murphy

    This seems like it could be relevant since the 606 was also funded in part through federal CMAQ funds: http://bikeportland.org/2009/01/08/fhwa-says-springwater-trail-closure-decision-must-be-reversed-13036

  • Matt

    How utterly foolish and trivial for CPD to be spending time hassling people walking and biking. How about we enact a driving curfew from 11pm-6am to reduce car noise, speeding, crashes, pollution, drunk driving, and honking? I’d sure sleep a lot better.

    Prohibiting biking and walking is emblematic of our hopelessly unhealthy and sedentary culture. For some reason we still keep thinking of feet and bicycles as “recreation” instead of transportation. How dare you get exercise on your way home from work! You should be driving an SUV with a bag of fried fast food in your lap.

    Which activity should we really be trying to discourage?

    And why should we try to stop people from recreating either? What if I work nights and my only time to run and get some exercise is between 11pm-6am? I guess I need to buy a gym membership, ride in my car, and maybe stop at a drive-through on the way…

  • Mike Schwab

    Shut down the interstates at night too.

  • skelter weeks

    Classic cop attitude. “No, sir, I’m not going to argue this point with you – you’re wrong. 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.”
    So certain even though totally WRONG.
    The 606 is a federally funded ROAD that happens to travel thru a park.
    If the park district asked the police to close Humboldt Blvd because ‘it’s park property since it passes thru Humboldt Park’, the police (and everyone else) would rightly think they’re crazy. But because it’s a bike path, forget the law and do whatever you want with it.

  • skelter weeks

    “Busy North Avenue or Armitage Avenue”?? How busy are they after 11PM?
    I think the only ones who’d benefit from biking the trail at night would be those without lights. But maybe they’d get lights if the police hassled them about it.

  • The amount of speeding on a road is inversely proportional to the amount of congestion and, obviously, there are more drunk drivers on these streets after people leave bars and parties.

  • dave1305

    The issue is really why do parks and forest preserves have curfews at all.

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  • alisa

    I biked it last night just after 11, from Ashland/Walsh to Damen. There were police on the trail at Damen, sitting on the plaza there and facing west not east. Thankfully I was able to get off at the ramp right behind them, so they did not see me. There were at least 7 or 10 others on the trail after 11 between Walsh and Damen too, but I’m (just) guessing anyone that they saw was asked to leave the trail.

  • tg113

    there are no curfews in new york and in california you can sleep on the beach and actually live there if you want. what’s the difference between 11 pm and 4 in the morning. crime happens all the time. if you don’t have a curfew more regular people will be in the park and deter any rough characters and criminal activity will go down. the city has it backward.

  • tg113

    SO CERTAIN EVEN THOUGH TOTALLY WRONG. LOL. i have been looking for the right words for that. lol i have said this before, people are so sure and yet absolutely and totally wrong. two people agree, let’s build on this.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Absolutely untrue about NYC:
    §1-03 General Provisions
    Hours of Operation
    Persons may enter and use the parks from 6:00 a.m. until 1:00 a.m. unless other open hours are posted at any park.
    Whenever a threat to public health or safety exists in any park resulting from any natural cause, explosion, accident or any other cause, or by riot or unlawful assembly or activity, the Commissioner may close the park or any part thereof to the public for such duration as he deems necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of the public.
    No person shall enter or remain in any park without the permission of the Commissioner when such park is closed to the public.

  • tg113

    central park and all parks and public spaces are open 24 hours in new york. and if you’e trying to compare chicago to new york i don’t think so, i’m from chicago but new york is bigger better smarter cooler everything. not like someone that googled new york park district rules and talks about it like you knew it all along. i don’t care you guys can suck chicago all you want.
    suck it til you die. i hate it here. and as soon as i can i’m leaving.
    I HOPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • So then why aren’t trails?