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.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 5.21.35 PM
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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  • Tooscrapps

    Sounds great! Let’s put paying back the CMAQ grant to vote on the spending the 42nd Ward’s menu funds.

  • Kevin

    As others have pointed out with other projects, isn’t the ban of bicyclists illegal if federal grants/funds were used?

  • Random_Jerk

    As an avid biker I think having people on the bicycles on the Riverwalk is not a good idea. It’s just to crowded.

  • Tooscrapps

    Sometimes it can be. But as stated above, sometimes, especially at certain times or in the colder months, crowds are sparse. A ban would apply 24/7/365.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Is banning bikes on the Riverwalk really that insane? The space usage has developed to be more like Millennium Park and it really isn’t a great place to ride. I don’t have a problem with letting the Riverwalk be a park for gathering and casual strolling rather than a transition corridor.

    The problem ATA should be worried about is the lack of quality east/west bike routes and poor connections between the Loop and LFP. If cyclists actually felt safe in the Washington/Randolph PBLs there wouldn’t be a problem with the Riverwalk not being a bike route.

  • Obesa Adipose

    And just how and who will make the determination as the specific times bikes will be banned? The riverwalk is subject to crowding at any given time probably even during the winter – think xmas, the Mart light show, loop night out or any other number of periodic events.

  • Tooscrapps

    You don’t. You keep it open and let people use their judgment.

    I sit and eat lunch at the Riverwalk 3-4x a week and ride by it every day. Most instances of people running into each other are caused by cyclists but generally large strollers, joggers, and people walking 3-4 abreast.

  • Tooscrapps

    It’s the creep that concerns me. Just like the “No Bikes” sign on the pedestrian portion LFT. I don’t see any “No Peds” on the bike portion. How long until the stroller parents on the 606 call for bikes to be banished there? The Riverwalk is a shared space and until the City gets serious and starts re-purposing car lanes for well designed PBLs, it should continue to be treated as such.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “It’s the creep that concerns me.” Alderman Reilly is off-base on this issue, but there’s no need for name-calling.

  • Tooscrapps


  • rohmen

    I’m not sure of the legality of a ban (people used to say you couldn’t close the LFP at all to cyclists at night, but then it came out that the law doesn’t seem to actually say that, so….), but this is a big part about the proposal that rubs me the wrong way.

    Projects like this and the 606 were sold as being bicycle friendly—something I always rolled my eyes at, but it is what it is. Then grants were secured based on the project being bicycle friendly. I don’t like the idea that we design things that everyone knows won’t work well for cyclists, but ignore that fact and spin it as a cycling project anyway to score money and support, and then simply crack down later under some sort of “well, cyclists couldn’t handle it” BS.

  • Whoa, I did not read “creep” as referring to Alderman Reilly, or anybody for that matter. I interpreted that in a similar sense as “mission creep” or something, equivalent to “slippery slope.” Am I being too charitable?

  • Leap Day ride!

  • Tooscrapps

    I believe John is none to pleased with Reilly’s “shout-out”:

  • rwy
  • johnaustingreenfield

    Sorry, my humor runs on the dry side.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Not at all, I appreciate credit when it’s due. But, again, an ordinance that designates an existing mixed-use off-street trail as being a bike-prohibited sidewalk makes no sense.

  • Scott Avers

    If people used common sense, then this wouldn’t be an issue. It’s the most liberating thing to be on a bike, but too many Lance Armstrongs riding on trails & paths. You’re on the Lakefront Trail ok Lance? It’s not the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia.

    If you see the Riverwalk busy walk your bike. If you did this, then we wouldn’t have this stupid ban.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The problem with the 606 is that exists at all. We all knew there was going to be a problem when they co-opted the Bloomingdale Trail and redefined it as part of the larger park system branded the 606. I get that it helped them with some PR, but really, a lot of misconceptions stem from that. They should have just stuck with the fact that the trail simply connected to individual parks instead of pretending the Bloomingdale Trail is a park. That’s the problem.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Yep. I’d like to see ATA stay focused on connectivity issues, specifically the river and expressway crossings. This seems like a nice to have, not a must have.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Has ATA ever really been focused on river or expressway crossings? Despite being really important, they lead to great ribbon cutting photo ops or contribute much to the miles of bike lane statistics so they don’t get much attention.

  • rwy

    ATA should get on it. The bridge over the North Shore Channel, between Lincoln and Devon, the bridge that has been in planning for years. Finishing it would be a great opportunity to cut a ribbon.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I agree – I should have said “get focused,” as right now, they seem to have instead focused on the side streets. That’s fine to a point, but those streets don’t cross rivers and rarely go under the expressway.

  • Carter O’Brien
  • Tooscrapps

    Good catch!

    Rode the length of it yesterday and this was the only section I saw those. Maybe because the two paths are so close?

  • Bernd

    Well designed PBLs? There’s no such thing. PBLs are for people who crawl along on bicycles, not for speeds in excess of 15mph and the low speeds are fundamental requirements of their design if the bicyclist doesn’t have a death wish.

    When shuffled off to the side out of the general viewing of other traffic adding speed to the equation makes things very dangerous. Not only because motorists are not looking for traffic moving at vehicular speeds over there at intersections but because pedestrians will decide to use the walled off space as well. Then there is the problem of making a left turn.

    As a vehicular bicyclist I make left the turns almost the same as I do when using an automobile. One added step is that I have to move from the right of the lane to the center. Then it’s the same, move over to the left lane if there is one and/or into the left turn lane if there is one. Signalling of course. Protected bike lanes physically prohibit this maneuver. Instead requiring a very sharp left dive or making a box turn. Neither is acceptable and the former is dangerous, especially at speed.

    Nor should we disregard the right hook issue. Motorists are going to turn right, crossing the PBL and they will not even see a bicyclist moving at 25mph. Their brains don’t conceive of the possibility, they are considering bicycle riders at 8mph. Thus the situation becomes deadly. At 25mph before bike lanes the bicyclist could take the lane in typical traffic situations. I certainly did. (even though the PSL is generally 30mph on many city streets 25mph or less is the normal speed of traffic during the day)

    There are two proper ways to ride at speed. The first is vehicular bicycling. No bicycle lanes. Bicycles are part of traffic. The second is a completely different road system for bicyclists like lake front trail. Not something off to the side but an isolated road system that is at least many yards away from a parallel road.

    As to peds on the lake front trail, they have always wondered into the bicycle spaces. That’s what peds do. They would not respect bicycle only designations even if they did exist. Meanwhile bicyclists only go into the ped space to pass, usually peds in the bike space.

  • Bernd

    I long ago noticed that projects are not designed well for practical transportation bicycling. They are designed for people who want to go 8mph. (I can’t even go that slow under power, but yet on some bike trails I’ve seen such speed limit signs)

  • BlueFairlane

    It’s a narrow path full of 90-degree angles shunting you back and forth between slick surfaces and unprotected drop-offs into a stagnant pool of fecal matter. I don’t get wanting to ride there anyway. Add the fact that it’s full of a million tourists and downtown office people on break, and it becomes even more absurd. I don’t care where they got the money, but they didn’t design this thing for bikes.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I think this may be part of the deal with respect to meeting conditions of the Griffin gift for separated bike lanes.

  • johnaustingreenfield