Active Trans May Launch a Petition Drive to Keep The 606 Open 24/7

While many people would like to commute after 11 p.m. on The 606, it’s currently illegal to do so. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

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.

Dickerson says she prefers to ride to her job at Logan Square’s Dill Pickle Food Co-op on the street, in order to avoid daytime congestion on the 606. But at night she usually takes the path.

“It feels safer,” she says. “There’s no car traffic or drunk drivers to worry about.”

“But I also feel a little wary riding on the trail at night, because there aren’t many people,” she adds. “It’s empty, so you feel vulnerable.”

Recent attacks suggest there is cause for concern. On Friday, February 19, at about 11:30 PM, a 25-year-old man was biking home from work on the Bloomingdale Trail when he was jumped by four assailants near Kedzie, police said. After tackling and beating him, they fled with his bike, wallet, and cell phone.

Read the rest of this article on the Chicago Reader website.

  • Chicagoan

    You’ve painted a wonderful scene in that first sentence, John. Felt like I was reading Hemingway describe Paris or something :)

    Seems quite clear that the city didn’t realize how popular The 606 was going to be as an option for commuters. Makes sense, though, why should you ride on Armitage or North when you have a great trail right there?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Nah, too many multisyllabic words.

  • Lisa Curcio

    The crime on the 606 is of concern, but I have the same concern walking or riding in the “good” neighborhood in which I live. As to the strict enforcement, I have two thoughts: 1) will the enforcement be like the enforcement we see on a regular basis for speeding, running red lights and stop signs, and obstructing the protected bike lanes; and 2) if the police have time to issue tickets to users of the 606, don’t they have time to patrol?

  • Chicagoan

    Yes, you’re right. Still, I picked up some “Lost Generation” in that sentence!

  • johnaustingreenfield

    While I believe the police are still doing 11 p.m. sweeps of the trail, I don’t think they go out of their way to kick commuters off the trail late at night. If they get a complaint or happen to be up there and encounter commuters, they might give them a warning and/or kick them out.

    It’s more an issue of perception: Since the police have promoted the false idea that it’s illegal to commute on the trail after hours, it discourages some people from doing so. Even though I know that the park district says it’s legal, it probably wouldn’t do much good to argue with a police officer about that at midnight on the trail. That’s a disincentive to use the trail after 11 p.m.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s hard to get lost in a well signed linear park.

  • If more people were using the trail then it would often be reasonable to wait for another rider or riders to form a pack for additional protection.

  • Anne A

    Suggestion from a CPD officer I know: there’s a citywide overtime initiative available to all districts. If the 14th district commander feels that regular scheduled officers aren’t enough to cover other needs AND patrol the trail at night, make requests to aldermen whose wards include sections of the trail and ask them to ask the commander make use of the OT initiative to have police do bike patrols of the trail at night. In those requests, emphasize that people want a safer alternative to being on streets late at night when the risk of being hit by drunk drivers is greater. If this is your commute home from work, emphasize that point.

    Do folks have a sense of when this would be most needed? 7 pm to midnight? Slightly later? If the initial requests specify an approximate time frame, it helps in getting a response. There are plenty of officers who have gotten the bike training who are likely to jump at the chance for OT on bike patrol. That’s the $0.02 worth from my CPD friend.

  • BlueFairlane

    What time have the incidents that have made the news taken place? I’m thinking those were all right around midnight or a little earlier, weren’t they? I’d pin the requests to that time.

  • johnaustingreenfield