Guards Will Allow Riverwalk Biking Before 9 AM, ATA Working on Wacker Alternative

This afternoon I made a t-shirt debunking the myth that biking on the riverwalk is illegal, and wore it for a cruise on the path.
This afternoon I made a t-shirt debunking the myth that biking on the riverwalk is illegal, and wore it for a cruise on the path.

Last week I took my first bicycle trip on the new, bike-hostile design of the recently rehabbed eastern section of the Chicago Riverwalk. There, and on the western section, built a few years ago, I was repeatedly flagged down or called after by security guards who told me that I couldn’t ride on the promenade. They cited signs at the entrances to the facility threatening that bike riders will be prosecuted.

Getting ready to ride beneath a sign directing cyclists to the riverwalk -- where guards tell them they can't cycle. Photo: Victor Herrera.
Getting ready to ride beneath a sign directing cyclists to the riverwalk — where guards tell them they can’t cycle. Photo: Victor Herrera.

That’s despite the fact that the riverwalk was originally promoted and funded as a cycling facility, and it appears as an off-street trail on the city’s bike map. And although downtown alderman Brendan Reilly introduced an ordinance last September to ban biking on the promenade, it never became law, so the “No Biking” signs are invalid.

So today, in a bit of IRL trolling, I made a t-shirt stating why the current anti-bike enforcement policy is bogus and wore it while I cycled on the riverfront. “Hi there!” it reads. “Despite what the signs say, Alderman Reilly’s ordinance to ban biking on the riverwalk (O2018-7034) never passed, so it’s still legal. Thank you!”

As it happened, my cruise on the promenade at about 4 p.m. this afternoon, when there was a moderate amount of pedestrian traffic, was fairly uneventful. I passed a few guards, but two of them either didn’t notice me or chose to ignore me, although a third one flagged me down. Here’s how the (reasonably polite) conversation went.

John Greenfield: Hi.

Security guard: You can’t ride your bike here. You have to walk your bike.

JG: Would you please read my t-shirt?

SG: [Reads t-shirt, looking mildly amused.]

JG: So, as you can see, it’s legal to ride a bike on the riverwalk.

SG: You’re only allowed to ride between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.

JG: That’s a new one!

SG: Definitely. They changed the rules.

JG: 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Interesting.  Well, anyway, it was never illegal to ride on the riverwalk. So thanks for the information, and I know you’re just doing your job, but I’m going to keep biking. Have a good day.

SG: You can’t, though…

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke confirmed that he recently spoke with a representative from the Department of Fleet and Facility Management (F2M), which manages the riverwalk, and he was told that the guards would no longer be stopping cyclists from biking on the path before 9 a.m. (The riverwalk is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.)

Active Trans is advocating for a “Walk Bikes When Crowded: Ride Slowly Other Times” policy with no bans. That’s a sensible approach, since there certainly are locations and times when you’re better off walking your bike on the promenade, or at least riding it at walking speed.

But, as Burke noted, the riverwalk, especially the older eastern stretch, has been a useful car-free bike commuting route. Moreover, it sets a terrible precedent for the city to be arbitrarily deciding to ban cycling from riverfront paths, since Active Trans has been advocating for a continuous, 27-mile Chicago River Trail for biking as well as walking. If we allow the city to block cycling on the Chicago Riverwalk, what’s to stop them from banning bikes from the next nice stretch of riverfront path that gets built?

Susan Mudd, an attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center uses the Lakefront Trail and the riverwalk to get to her Loop office, since she doesn’t feel comfortable exiting the Lakefront Trail at Randolph Street to go downtown. The city built bike lanes on Middle Randolph west of the trail last year, but there’s fast car traffic on the street, and their emissions get trapped in the subterranean-like space.

The recently rehabbed eastern riverwalk -- presumably the riot fence will be removed soon. Photo: John Greenfield
The recently rehabbed eastern riverwalk — presumably the riot fence will be removed soon. Photo: John Greenfield

Mudd said she was “frankly shocked” by the reconfiguration of the eastern section of the riverwalk, which included turning a fairly broad, straight asphalt path into a zigzagging route with numerous bottlenecks. “The changes… occurred without notice or apparently an opportunity to give input on the Riverwalk’s redo.” She said on some occasions the riverwalk guards have ignored her, but at other times they’ve scolded her for riding on the promenade.

Recently Active Trans has been brainstorming with Ross Barney Architects and Friends of Downtown on a solution for a low-stress bikeway on Upper Wacker Driver that would provide a safe alternative to the riverwalk. An advisory committee of more than twenty public and private sector entities, including Reilly’s office, is also involved. This summer they’ll be data and input. If you’d like to get involved with the project, contact Steve Simmons, steve@activetrans.org, 312-216-0472.

Burke expressed some sympathy for those who would like to see biking totally banned from the riverwalk. “People understandably crave care-free places to walk and gather and they’d prefer it be bike-free as well. But he noted that the larger issue is that cars occupy most of the public right of way, forcing people on foot and bike to compete for the remaining scraps. “Hopefully some day motorists will be told to walk their cars downtown amidst the far larger numbers of people on foot!”
  • Michael Erickson

    Great article, great background articles!
    Enjoy taking over LSD for a day!
    What a world!
    Kinda why I avoided the lakefront path all those weekends of my youth…too busy.
    My friends use the riverwalk to bike in a safe place in low ped usage times. Basically, the city used transportation funds (federal) to build a park. (get it “a park”?) That is likely the underlying cause of the grumpy guys complaint to city hall. Ride On (anything you can).
    I am sure my buds take appropriate caution when ‘others’ show up!

  • skelter weeks

    It’s commendable that Streetsblog and Active Trans are standing up for the rights of bike riders. But I wish they weren’t so selective in their protests.
    When will they lobby the CTA to change their unjustified bike banning policies? The CTA bans bikes from the rail system on July 4th for no good reason! Years ago a million people would travel to Grant Park for the July 3rd Fireworks, so they had a reason to ban bikes then, but the smaller fireworks displays on July 4th that replaced the Grant Park extravaganza do not have anywhere near the impact on the transportation system, so a ban is pointless and cruel.
    Also, the CTA bans bikes from the whole rail system on the day of the Pride parade, even though there are only a few stations (out of 145) that have crowding issue for a few hours. Why isn’t there a localized ban? Why can’t someone bring a bike on a near empty Green Line train without the attendant threatening to call the cops?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Pointless,” yes, but “cruel” might be going a little overboard. Also keep in mind that you can take bikes on CTA buses during these rail blackouts.

    Active Trans was successful in getting Metra to relax their blackout policies, such as getting bike access on reverse-commute rush-hour trains.

    Streetsblog Chicago also helped win bike access on the South Shore Line: https://chi.streetsblog.org/2015/06/22/the-south-shore-line-expects-you-to-wait-six-years-for-bike-access/

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