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.

  • Anne A

    Using ATVs late at night when the trail is relatively empty might make sense. During the day it seems only *slightly* less ridiculous than the idea of taking a squad car down the trail.

  • The ATVs are also really noisy!

    Back in 2011 the Chicago Police Department said it would only use ATVs for off-road use, because the manufacturer said they weren’t for roads.

  • Pat

    And I’m sure the CPD will say that the 606 is not a road but a multi-use trail.

  • It’s made of the same materials as a road, but who knows if the policy is still in place.

    Aside: I was watching the Blackhawks parade in 2010 from a fifth floor office window. A police officer was riding an ATV, looked away, and then crashed into and knocked down someone who was walking in the parade.

  • Pat

    If ATV cops roll in the same packs that the Lake Path bike cops do, better make sure to flash your headlight if you want to pass the convoy.

  • Frank Kotter

    ‘might make sense’. If an ATV makes sense, being on a bike makes sense in spades.

  • David P.

    There are no ATVs or UTVs that are street-legal, but the 606 is not in any legal sense a street, and a vehicle need not be street-legal to use it.

  • Jim Angrabright

    Would you want a noisy ATV driving past your bedroom window at 1am?

  • Jim Angrabright

    24-7 access, which as you know I am all for, may never be possible because of the push-back that would ensue from people whose bedroom windows are 10 feet from the trail. And I understand that. Although I’d like to quietly use it at 1am strictly as a commute instead of busy Milwaukee Ave on a Saturday night, I’m sure people living along the trail would look at that as the opening the floodgates. And many of those people are very rich and can be very noisy themselves when it comes to expressing opinions at the alderman’s neighborhood meetings.

    Ironically, there were probably more people using the Bloomingdale overnight before it became a trail. The Railriders used to camp out there.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Beats a railroad or L train doing so, it’s not like the tracks are brand new. Developers/property owners may want to think a little more carefully about how closely they build to the trail.

  • Anne A

    Yes, they are really noisy.

    I mentioned this proposal to a CPD officer I know, who works in another district and is trained on the ATVs. He says that, unless things have changed recently, the manufacturer does NOT recommend these for use on paved surfaces. They are intended for use on grass, sand, etc.

    When they are used on the lakefront, they are transported by trailer to the lakefront and unloaded there for patrol use.

  • Anne A

    Probably not. If it was my window, I’d prefer to see bikes out there.

    However, Carter has a point.

  • Jim Angrabright

    I get your point. I was never involved in the charrettes or neighborhood meetings re the trail so I can’t speak from personal knowledge but I can’t help but think the trail was presented as a park, one that closes at 11pm; this would be one way to mollify any opposition from people living near the trail.

    As an aside, in the 80s I lived on Wilton with my bedroom right under the Ravenswood tracks – very cheap rent. Amazing what one can get used to. I remember one sleepless night when the CTA trainmen went on strike – the lack of trains kept waking me up.

  • david vartanoff

    if they are too lazy to either walk or bike, get them electric golf carts.

  • Carter O’Brien

    It’s been quite a long, strange trip. From my viewpoint, there was the original project, the Bloomingdale Trail, which is still a distinct pathway. The City created the larger 606 system by taking entry points and making many of them into pocket parks, which is fantastic, but did muddy the waters somewhat.

    I’m not saying I support ATVs, btw, but if anything I think it is likely to be the newer homeowners in direct proximity to the park who like the idea of the increased CPD presence & whatever tools they decide are best to do the job.

  • hopeyglass

    I know it’s terrible but I can’t stop laughing. Also that parade definitely almost killed me on my commute in so ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

  • Bruce

    Have you seen those bike cops? There is no way they can travel a “brisk 15 mph” even if they wanted to.

  • If I ever bike again, I’m going to document every instance when I’m booted of the LFT at 10:45pm.

  • Frank Kotter

    ‘Developers/property owners may want to think a little more carefully about how closely they build to the trail’

    A trail, by designed and built for exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists is a logical source of ATV noise because this is the only option CPD has to keep users safe? Anyone who lives there should expect a massive two stroke engine to come by at any hour? That’s out there, Carter.

  • Frank Kotter

    Cops want to be on ATVs for the same reason rednecks in Wisconsin want to be on ATVs: they are fun, powerful and rattle the balls. But don’t come at me with ‘reasonable use’ and ‘policing effectiveness’.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Again, not saying I agree ATVs are necessary. But this was originally pitched as a safe commuting option to the street, not an idyllic park where urban reality melted away for the benefit of people living directly adjacent to it. Not building condos or other properties so close to it is just common sense.

  • Anne A

    Some of those guys can really ride. I do see some of them moving at that pace.