There is No Reason for the Police to Use ATVs on the Bloomingdale Trail

A police officer drives an ATV on the Lakefront Trail. Photo: Milosh Kosanovich
A police officer drives an ATV on the Lakefront Trail. Photo: Milosh Kosanovich

The Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, was intended to be an oasis of calm in the hectic city, a place where residents can stroll, jog, bike, or relax free from the sight, sounds, fumes, and dangers of motor vehicles. So it’s completely wrongheaded that the Chicago Police Department will soon be patrolling the path with all-terrain vehicles.

As recently reported by DNAinfo, officers from the 14th District will receive training on how to use ATVs, which they’ll ride while patrolling the Bloomingdale and other parts of the area. These wide, noisy, inefficient vehicles have long been used by police on the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail.

While it’s somewhat understandable that ATVs are used on the shoreline, since police may have relatively large distances to cover to respond to an emergency, they make no sense for the Bloomingdale. The elevated trail is only 2.75 miles long, which means it only takes 11 minutes for bike cops traveling a brisk 15 mph to traverse the whole thing. The ATVs don’t have much more carrying capacity than a police bike with saddlebags either.

Meanwhile, ATVs are much less maneuverable than bicycles, which means they might actually be slower than bikes for responding to emergencies during peak usage times. And if an ATV cop activates lights and sirens in an attempt to clear the path and speed down the trail when it’s crowded, that would create a danger for the many small children walking and biking there.

And as some residents interviewed in the DNA article noted, even when the officers aren’t in a hurry, ATVs would make the popular trail even more congested. “An ATV would take up a lot of real estate on an already crowded path,” said Joe Williams, who uses The 606 to take his daughter to her daycare facility. “ATVs seem to be a bit much.”

It’s understandable that the police feel more patrolling of the trail is necessary, since there were reports of five armed robberies on the trail during a roughly one-month period last fall. (On the other hand, a study released last month found The 606 is helping to reduce crime in the neighborhoods it runs through, likely because the presence of more “eyes on the street” helps deter criminal activity.)

But it seems that just about the reasons for the police to use ATVs instead of bikes to patrol the Bloomingdale would be to have fun operating recreational equipment on a beautiful trail, and to avoid physical activity. As a result of this poor choice by the CPD, the path will become less tranquil and – when it comes to the risk of collisions – less safe.

On the plus side, more 14th District officers will be receiving bike patrol training in the coming months, DNA reported. In addition to health, cost savings, and environmental benefits, getting more police out of SUVs and onto bikes can help with community relations by making officers more accessible and less intimidating to the public.

As I’ve written before, another strategy to reduce crime on the Bloomingdale would be to allow 24-7 access to the path for non-stop commuting, as is the case with the Lakefront Trail. Since the police currently clear the path at 11 p.m., which contradicts Chicago Park District policy, the lack of lawful users late at night makes it more likely crime will occur.

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