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“Walk Your Bike” Signs Were Installed After One Cranky Guy Threatened to Sue the City

Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday I wrote a post (OK, a rant) about the infuriating "Share the riverwalk: Walk your bike" signs that were recently installed along the Chicago Riverwalk. Of course it's necessary for cyclists to be courteous to pedestrians when pedaling on the promenade, and to dismount when it's really too crowded to safely ride. But the signs give the false impression that any kind of cycling on the path is against the rules, when in reality the facility was pitched to the federal government as something for cyclists to ride on, and it appears on the city's bike map as an off-street trail. The misleading signage could lead to cyclists being unfairly scolded by pedestrians, or even ticketed by police.

After the the article came out, a guy who used to work at the Chicago Department of Transportation, which built the riverwalk, contacted me to say he was the one who came up with the wording for the signs. He's no longer working in transportation, but I'll leave his name out of this post to avoid any unnecessary bridge-burning. (Riverwalk-burning?)

According to the ex-staffer, the Chicago Department of Fleet and Facility Management (2FM), which manages the riverwalk, reached out to Transportation for help with the signs because they had a conundrum on their hands. "[2FM has] private security guards who patrol the riverwalk, and one busy Saturday one of these guys tried to ask someone on a bike to walk his bike because it was really crowded," he told me. "The guy freaked out and said he was going to sue, and he contacted someone at the mayor's office. [2FM] wanted to be able to tell people to get off their bikes when it was busy without getting sued, which is a great reason for a sign."

In that case why not just post placards saying "Please walk your bike when riverwalk is crowded" or something? "Because 'crowded' is a relative word," the ex-staffer replied. "Also, I think the cops basically said 'We are never going to arrest people who are just riding,' so 2FM wanted the strongest possible wording." He stressed that these details aren't hearsay, but rather that he had a series of conversations with F2M project manager Michelle Woods about the matter, after CDOT assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel asked him to come up with a solution.

Woods, the mayor's office, and Police News Affairs didn't respond to requests for confirmation of the ex-staffer's story. CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey declined to comment. This morning the Active Transportation Alliance reiterated its displeasure with the signs.

So by all appearances, thanks to one hotheaded, overly litigious dude on a bike, the rest of us are much more likely to be yelled at whenever we try to take a relaxing spin on the riverfront. The ex-staffer's story makes the city's motive for installing the signs somewhat more sympathetic. But wouldn't it make more sense to replace the signs with "Cyclists: Please yield to pedestrians" placards? That way we could avoid discouraging all bike riders from enjoying a facility that was originally intended for their use. It doesn't seem like a big deal for the city to deal with the occasional kook as necessary.

Update 9/6/18: Officer Anthony Guglielmi from Police News Affairs stated "If it's legal to ride [on] the riverwalk then there would not be any enforcement."

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