With No Place to Grind Legally, BMXers Have Damaged Navy Pier Flyover Stonework

Catching air on the stonework under the Navy Pier Flyover. Photo: Lowell Nelson
Catching air on the stonework under the Navy Pier Flyover. Photo: Lowell Nelson

The Navy Pier Flyover is literally taking longer to build than the Golden Gate Bridge, but unfortunately it’s already getting deconstructed.

Streetsblog reader Lowell Nelson says BMX riders have discovered that new stonework built by the Ohio Street underpass to the Lakefront Trail as part of the flyover project is suitable for rail riding, and they’ve been causing damage. “Grind marks can be seen on the edges of some of the stones and I found one paver a few feet away,” Nelson reported. “Looked to be attached with some kind of construction adhesive.”

Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is building the flyover, said he hadn’t previously heard about the problem. “The construction crew has been made aware of this and we are going to work to address it,” he told me. I’m guessing the city will install some metal studs along the stonework to deter rail riding by BMX riders and skateboarders.

But you know what’s even more effective for keeping bored young people from trashing public property with bikes and boards? Giving them safe, legal places to ride and skate. Chicago has done a good job with this when it comes to skateboarding, by building skate parks in Grant Park, at 31st Street and Wilson on the Lakefront Trail, and underneath the Kennedy Expressway on Logan Boulevard, providing a positive outlet for healthy recreation.

The stonework and the damage done. Photo: John Greenfield
The stonework and the damage done. Photos: Lowell Nelson

But you’re not supposed to ride BMX bikes on any of those skate ramps and jumps. The Chicago Park District was planning to install a “wheel-friendly plaza” at the east end of the Bloomingdale Trail in Walsh Park, which would have welcomed both cyclists and skaters. But that plan was recently scrapped, partly due to neighbors’ fears about the facility attracting “a different element” to the upscale Bucktown neighborhood.

Thanks to that NIMBYism, there will be one less bike park, which means we’ll see more damage to public property by BMX riders who don’t have a legal place to grind.


  • Combin8tion

    The BMX riders are already showing their colors by damaging and defacing public property. They know this isn’t a BMX course but choose to ride there and cause damage anyway. Is it a wonder that Bucktowner’s don’t want them there?

    There is a BMX bike course though in the riverfront park next to the boathouse between Addison and Belmont. So there is a spot for BMXers to ride. If they want a bike park work with the system and local alderman to find a place. Crowd fund to develop it and surprise – it will happen.

  • NarcAlert

    Dear Lowell Nelson,
    Stop snitching.

  • rohmen

    We absolutely need more BMX and skate parks, but as anyone who has ridden BMX or skated knows, riders are going to ride wherever a feature is found worth riding. They don’t want to be corralled into a park with the idea that it’s illegal to ride anywhere else in the City, and to suggest parks as a solution to stopping people from riding BMX other places isn’t doing that community any favors.

    Sucks that this seems to be causing as much damage as it is, but most of the times a little cosmetic damage is all that happens, and it’s just an overblown reaction.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Obviously it’s legal to BMX anywhere you can legally ride a bike, it’s just not legal to grind against public property.

    “Riders are going to ride wherever a feature is found worth riding.” Actually research shows that providing legal facilities for skateboarding (and, likely, BMX riding) deters property damage. “Creating a community skatepark will help minimize damage skaters do to public and private property. For example, In the City of Calgary, 75% of 24 communities surveyed after the skatepark opened, reported a significant reduction in the ‘street’ skate problem.”: http://californiaskateparks.com/get-a-skatepark-designed-and-built/social-and-economic-benefits-of-skateparks/

  • JacobEPeters

    That course is only dirt jumps. Unless they’ve added something recently, there aren’t any curbs or rails for grinding, which is why I see the most BMX riders consistently at the skate park on Logan near Western, which they’re technically not allowed to use. This comes down to poor design in my opinion though, it’s like putting a paper mache sculpture of a fire hydrant next to a dog park & complaining about it being peed on.

    If BMX riders are caught grinding on this they will likely face charges & the cost of damages, but this all could have been avoided by a design that acknowledged the realities of being adjacent to one of the busiest multi-use paths in the world.

  • Anne A

    It isn’t just cosmetic damage. There are plenty of downtown spots where skateboarders have cracked and chipped stone benches, walls and pavers, shortening their useful life – sometimes by many years.

  • Kevin M

    The messenger is not the problem.

  • Rob Rion

    A better idea it is to try to design it so that there isn’t a place to do it. Why are those walls there for? They don’t seem to serve a purpose from these pictures. Handrails and benches can be designed so they cannot be used by BMX riders. It seems a lot of times the designers should know better and design with this in mind. Its not like BMX riding is a new thing.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Neither is the ex-messenger who wrote this post.

  • JEK

    Navy Pier is a 30 min bike ride minimum (probably more on a a BMX) from Walsh Park so connecting the two somehow seems like a bit of a reach. I think the the main thing being ground is John’s Walsh Park NIMBY axe. I’ll agree with the basic connection though that more bike parks would probably reduce illegal grinding, and concur with others that there are simple design solutions to the problem.

  • bdickus2001

    The flyover is an overpriced band-aid for what should be a total re-imagining/reconstruction of the LSD bridge. But that’s another story altogether.

  • nickferreira

    Or instead of acting like the problem/activity doesn’t exist, you can build a plaza knowing it will be used for BMX and skateboarding. It doesn’t even have to be a “skatepark” or “skate plaza”, it could be as simple as understanding that the urban landscape is going to be used for BMX and skating and just accepting it- e.g. instead of capping ledges with unsightly and prohibitive metal knobs, make the ledges more durable. As JEK mentions, a simple design solution could fix the problem.

    BMXers and skaters are always going to use the streets- it’s part of it. And BMX and skating, similar to art and music are things that bring life to a city (as well as $$$ with shops like Let’s Roast Cycles and Uprise, not to mention people spending money at other local businesses).

    I understand where the concern comes from but at the same time it seems more productive to put a “non-place” (like the spot shown in the video above) to creative use than using prohibitive design features.

  • Alex

    I like how they moved the stone for the photo to make it look way worse than it actually is. And it’s really going to be a waste of money to skate stop all of the stones because no one will probably ever grind that again, especially skateboarders.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    How many people actually use BMX bikes, that they should have purpose built facilities for them every x square miles?

  • rohmen

    Just my opinion obviously, but things like street art, street skating, BMX riding, etc., while technically illegal and violate of property laws, are a pretty big part of urban life and why I’m drawn to a large City in the first place.

    Not trying to be flippant, but I’m willing to live with a shorter lifespan for some public works if it means skate and BMX culture continues. And as others note below, if you design fixtures with the idea that they’ll be used that way from the start, you can minimize those issues to a large degree in the first place.

  • rohmen

    Sure, it could lead to a reduction, and skaters and BMX riders will use parks (which means they’re not on the street, obviously). That said, not a single person I know who skates or has skated (or rides or has ridden BMX) would agree with the concept that providing more parks would mean they wouldn’t ride on public features. Riding public feature is part of street skating and BMXing. Build the parks. People deserve them. Just don’t paint it as if the parks will change the culture, and to be honest I personally hope the culture doesn’t change.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I don’t have an axe to grind, only a BMX bike.

  • mike roberts

    I ride BMX. I’m in the city every weekend out riding street and the cops never give me a problem. You can build all the skate parks you want and also put locks on all the street spots, but all BMX riders and skaters will find ways to ride the spots we love. So if you see us in the streets just leave us alone

  • Anne A

    Many people would disagree, especially when BMXers and skaters are destroying expensive stuff. Your mileage may vary.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Let’s see this issue on a public referendum – I’ll wager that less than 1% of the populace agrees with this stance.

    Being willing to “live with” is not the same thing as being willing to pay for. This attitude is going to be yet one more nail in the coffin of mandatory bike licenses and insurance.

  • Carter O’Brien

    When exactly did BMX become a verb? This looks to be as cut and dry as riding on the sidewalk – it’s not actually legal to ride bikes where these folks are.

  • rohmen

    BMX and street skate culture have been around in various forms for over 30 years. We’ve managed to live with (and pay for) it that long without turning to draconian methods of bike licensing and insurance. I doubt this article, or this instance of damage, is going to be the straw that breaks people’s backs.

    Also, given that the culture has survived for so long, I’m betting more than 1% share an affection for it, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s already illegal to ride on something like this, has largely been illegal from the start, and the people doing it do so knowing full well they run the chance to get a fine/hassled by the cops.

    Given that, you either embrace the culture and design the infrastructure for that reality (which would be my choice), or you implement the infrastructure in a way where it can’t be used for riding (which I think just pushes riders to a different spot, so not a real solution).

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I’d argue that society’s attitudes towards BMX riding, skateboarding, and street art have evolved, as the people who were doing these things as teens years ago are now decision makers. More and more, people realize that, as the old sticker said, “Skateboarding is not a crime,” nor are BMX riding and street art, but the more opportunities we give people to do these things legally, in a way that doesn’t involve damaging public property, the better off everyone will be. Sure, let’s design street fixtures to resist damage from potential grinding, but let’s also give people more legal outlets for their energy and creativity.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Food for thought: 1% of the City’s population is 27,000 people.

    I’ve been riding on this stretch of the LFT for over 30 years. I guarantee you that after waiting this long for a fix to the maddeningly dangerous area the Flyover is built to address, the wants (not needs) of a small handful of cyclists and skaters that are damaging it, and it isn’t even done!, is not tops on anyone’s list.

    So your options are to alienate all the rest of us who just want to be able to safely ride on the lakefront, or be grateful for the options you already have, or do what everyone else does and get involved in a larger advocacy effort and do fundraising, lobby government representatives, and win over hearts and minds.

  • Allan Marshall

    Not a BMX bike rider, but it’s a shame they never built the BMX bike grinding park at Walsh Park. Particularly if things like that, would reduce illegal BMX grinding by the Navy Pier lakefront path flyover. It’s ridiculous that NIMBYism, was what led to that BMX park at Walsh being killed off.


Workers complete Phase I of the flyover, between Ohio Street and the Ogden Slip. Photo: John Greenfield

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