Active Trans Comes Out Against Ald. Reilly’s Absurd Proposal to Ban Biking on the Riverwalk

The Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield
The Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

Earlier this month Streetsblog Chicago pointed out that the “Walk Your Bike” signs that were recently installed on the new sections of the Chicago Riverwalk are bogus. Of course bicyclists need to use common sense and ride at walking speed or dismount when the path is crowded. But it’s perfectly legal to cycle on the promenade, which was pitched to the federal government as a bike facility and appears as an off-street trail on the city’s bike map. However, a security guard I encountered last week while slowly cycling there during a not-particularly-busy time was unaware of that fact. She called out “No biking on the riverwalk” as I rode past.

The U.S. DOT project description for the Chicago Riverwalk identifies it as a bike and ped facility. Click to enlarge.
The U.S. DOT project description for the Chicago Riverwalk identifies it as a bike and ped facility.

Now downtown alderman Brendan Reilly wants to make the perception that it’s illegal to bike on the riverwalk a reality. As reported by Block Club Chicago, today Reilly proposed an ordinance that would ban biking on the riverwalk altogether.

Reilly is something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure when it comes to bicycling. On the one hand, he’s generally been supportive of installing protected bike lanes in the Loop. On the other hand, he’s done misguided things like blocking the installation of Divvy stations on the Magnificent Mile, helping to get pedicabs banned from downtown streets, and closing an entrance to the Lakefront Trail at night.

“We’re not looking to penalize bicyclists… I’m a big fan of keeping Chicago bicycle-friendly,” Reilly said, according to Block Club. “This is to make sure people understand this is a code violation.” Once more, it is not currently against the law to bike on the riverwalk, but Reilly argues that the ordinance would empower the security guards to notify cyclists that it’s illegal to ride there there. And, again, they guards are already doing, erroneously.

Thankfully the Active Transportation Alliance is around to serve as a voice of reason to counter the alderman’s illogical proposal. “[We] agree with Alderman Reilly that bikes should be walked when the Riverwalk is crowded,” said executive director Ron Burke in a statement. “However, we don’t support a complete ban on biking because there are many hours and times of the year when it’s safe for people biking and walking to share the path.”

Burke noted that the riverwalk was originally conceived as a biking and walking facility. “It’s important that biking remain an option because the majority of people aren’t comfortable riding on city streets, and the riverwalk is a popular connection between the lakefront and downtown jobs, retail and entertainment.”

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Upper Wacker has plenty of room for protected bike lanes. Image: Google Street View

Burke added that the group is eager to work with Reilly and other city leaders to brainstorm ideas to improve safety and ease congestion on the riverwalk. When the new signs first came up, bike advocate Michelle Stenzel proposed converting a lane or two of six lane Upper Wacker Drive, which sits right above the riverwalk, to protected bike lanes, which could easily be done without causing undue traffic congestion. Burke seconded this idea.

“Upper Wacker Drive is an obvious choice,” he wrote. “Wacker parallels the river and has excess roadway capacity. Adding a protected bike facility would improve safety for everyone using the streets and sidewalks by narrowing the road and slowing down cars that drive way too fast today.”

Indeed, while Reilly’s proposal to ban bikes on a bikeway makes no sense, the Wacker protected bike lane idea is a very sensible one.

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