The City Has Posted Signs Threatening Prosecution for Biking on Riverwalk

The new sign. Photo: Dan Korn
The new sign. Photo: Dan Korn

At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, it’s currently legal to cycle on the Chicago Riverwalk, which was originally conceived and pitched to the federal government as a bike facility and appears as an off-street trail on the city’s bike map. That’s despite the fact that the Chicago Department of Fleet and Facility Management, which manages the promenade posted (reasonably polite) signs this summer stating “Share the riverwalk: Walk your bike.”

Heck even downtown alderman Brendan Reilly, the guy who introduced an ordinance last month that would ban cycling on the riverwalk 24/7/365, acknowledged at the time on Twitter that it was still legal to pedal on the promenade.

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Granted, Reilly was trolling us, but he did admit we were right.

Streetsblog followers are probably getting a little tired of reading about the issue, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out this latest bit of riverwalk-related absurdity. Bike advocate Dan Korn spotted new signs at entrances to the facility that ratchet up the anti-bike rhetoric. The placards state that, along with unleashed pets, smoking, skateboarding, and peddling, pedaling is prohibited. “Bicycles must be walked: Violators will be prosecuted,” the signs threaten.

Once more for those in the back: That’s not true.

While Fleet and Facility Management and Reilly didn’t respond to inquiries about the new signs, city records confirm that the alderman’s ordinance hasn’t passed City Council yet, but has merely been referred to the council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety.

The text of Reilly’s ordinance states that, if the legislation passes, people of all ages would be prohibited from biking on the riverwalk, not just folks 12 and over, as is currently the case on Chicago sidewalks. It also dictates that, in the event that the ordinance passes, city officials “shall erect and maintain signage indicating that the operation of bicycles is prohibited on the Chicago Riverwalk.” But the ordinance hasn’t passed yet, so why has the city already done that?

The details of Reilly's proposed ordinance.
The details of Reilly’s proposed ordinance.

In the meantime, you can contact your alderman (find your ward here) to request that they vote against Reilly’s ordinance in the event that it comes before the full council for a vote.

Obviously cyclists should always yield to pedestrians on the riverwalk, and pedal slowly or dismount in crowded sections. But if anyone gives you guff about biking there, let alone threatens to have you arrested and prosecuted, please let us know the time and location of the incident and, if possible, the name of the security guard or police officer involved, and we’ll try to straighten out the situation.

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Screenshot from the Chicago Riverwalk website.

Update 10/11/18: As if things weren’t confusing enough, Dan Korn pointed out that the Chicago Riverwalk website’s FAQ section (above) indicates that bicycling is legal on the riverwalk, except in designated locations with posted signage. Obviously the new signs seem to contradict that policy by implying that bicycles must be walked on the entire riverwalk.

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  • Tooscrapps

    I rode it Sunday morning at 7:30 am to get under the marathon and it was almost empty. Under this terrible ordinance, that would have been banned. This is all so dumb.

  • Dan Korn

    If you go to, and scroll down in the weirdly tiny window to “Are bicycles allowed on the Riverwalk?”, it says this:

    “Yes. However, there are designated locations where bikes must be walked. Please obey any posted signage pertaining to your bicycle. Whether or not a sign is present use caution and mind the safety of yourself and others.”

    Which contradicts the signage.

  • Charlie Short

    This is eerily like when the pedicab ordinance was passed. Reilly just pushed it through. Seriously this guy is the worst.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Biking on the riverwalk is ridiculous, regardless of legality. Would you bike on the sidewalk on Michigan Ave? No, obviously, unless you are a complete tourist jackass. Well, the riverwalk is even narrower and more crowded than Michigan Ave…I’m a biker but also an enjoyer of the riverwalk. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you should do it…Sure, if you are biking at a time when the riverwalk is devoid of pedestrians, bike the shit out of it. Otherwise, please don’t bike on the riverwalk.

  • Jeremy

    “Sure, if you are biking at a time when the riverwalk is devoid of pedestrians, bike the shit out of it”

    That is the point. This ordinance would ban biking 24 hours a day, including at 7:00 am, when there are few pedestrians and it is convenient for people getting to work to use it as a bike path.

  • Tooscrapps
  • David Henri

    I’m not a smoker, but is it really illegal to smoke on the Riverwalk? That seems absurd to me.

  • Kelly Pierce

    This is toothless tough talk. Who will be doing this
    arresting and prosecuting? I do not believe the security guards on the Riverwalk
    are sworn and have police powers. Bike offenses, when they actually exist, have
    civil penalties and are not prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s Office. Besides,
    the current State’s Attorney has no interest in sending people to jail for low-level,
    non-violent offenses.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Perhaps my initial tone was unnecessarily rude. My apologies. I am not an “avid biker” per the definition of your link. I am a person who does not own a car and relies on biking for 80% of my day-to-day transportation, but who also understands that some places are not practical for riding due to safety and courtesy of pedestrians. I think the problem of people biking on the riverwalk during congested times may be rooted in the fact that google maps specifically routes bikers to the riverwalk, which needs to be fixed. There are several east-west streets in the near vicinity that have bike lanes and offer a preferable alternative to biking on the riverwalk.

  • Andrew Ryan

    That’s a reasonable point. Perhaps they can limit the hours biking is prohibited to peak pedestrian times.

  • rohmen

    This is Exhibit 1 on why Alderman have way too much power in relation to how things run in their individual wards. I’d bet that he didn’t even have to get sign-off from the City (or more importantly the law department) to do this, and he probably just used his discretionary funds to put the signs up to skirt any issues with having to get a larger sign-off from the council. That’s ridiculous.

  • Tooscrapps

    I agree with your sentiment about peak times, but disagree with thoughts about other E-W routes being comparable. The Riverwalk is an uninterrupted mile route completely free of vehicles that ties directly into the LFT. It is perfect for casual cyclists, tourists, and children.

    Randolph/Washington are good, not great. Both have oft-timed lights, mixing zones, and frequent spots where vehicles can and do block the lane. A more experienced cyclist can travel these routes quickly and without issues, but neither offer the safety benefits of the Riverwalk. Safety is a big, if not the top, reason many people are afraid to bike in the City.

  • Tooscrapps

    I know Alderman have a duty to their constituents, but seriously, everyone in Chicago owns the Loop.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    FWIW, smoking and vaping is prohibited on all Chicago Park District property (although the riverwalk isn’t owned or managed by the CPD.)

  • rohmen

    Agreed. An individual Alderman has no right, even at the ward level, to simply dictate on his own how the City’s laws will be enforced and interpreted. As noted below, the smoking thing is another troublesome issue. Has the City itself passed something to ban it on the Riverwalk, or is Reilly just doing whatever he wants? I’d bet its another case of the latter.

  • Jeremy

    The city has outsourced management of the Riverwalk to adjacent property owners. They’ll do whatever they want.

  • gage benson

    I just want everyone to know that this new sign on the lakefront path directs cyclists to use the riverwalk.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Boo-Ya! We’re crowd-sourcing our way to bike justice here…

  • bettorworse

    Most of the time, you can’t even RUN on the Riverwalk. I don’t know what some of these bikers are thinking when they try to ride on it.