Here Are Seven Times the City Said the Chicago Riverwalk Would Accommodate Biking

According to Sasaki Associates, which helped design the riverwalk, the slightly obtuse angles of the path were intended to help accommodate cycling. Photo: John Greenfield
According to Sasaki Associates, which helped design the riverwalk, the slightly obtuse angles of the path were intended to help accommodate cycling. Photo: John Greenfield

I don’t want to go overboard beating the drum against Alderman Brendan Reilly’s proposed biking ban on the Chicago Riverwalk, as well as the current situation, in which signs and security guards are inaccurately telling cyclists that it’s illegal to ride there. But I feel the need to debunk the common misconception that the path was never intended for biking. For example, here’s a tweet from this morning by AARP Illinois state director Bob Gallo.

In reality, city officials and riverwalk planners have stated on many occasions that bicycling would be or is permitted. In some cases they specifically promised that the riverwalk would include bike facilities. Here are some examples.

1. The city’s pitch to the federal government for a $98.66 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan for the westward riverwalk expansion stated that the facility would include “bicycle and pedestrian facilities” and would “enhance safety… with bicycle paths and pedestrian trails along the continuous promenade.” Note that the path was promoted and funded as a transportation amenity, not just a place to stroll aimlessly and sip wine, which raises the question of whether the project would have received the loan if it had not been described as a cycling route.

The description of the riverwalk expansion project on the U.S. Department of Transportation website.
The description of the riverwalk expansion project on the U.S. Department of Transportation website.

2. At a 2013 community meeting prior to construction, CDOT planner Michelle Woods fielded a question on whether the plan incorporated bicycling. “What I anticipate is that early in the morning, commuters that use the Lakefront Trail will probably use [the riverwalk] as a bicycle path, which frankly I am fine with them doing,” Woods said. “What I’m encouraging bikers to do is, once they come to the west side of Michigan [from the Lakefront Trail], is take the driveway from the old ward yard [up to Wacker at Wabash Street]. That’s a nice easy transition area to the street grid.” Unfortunately, the reconfiguration of the older eastern section of the riverwalk earlier this year eliminated that ramp, which many Active Transportation Alliance employees had been using to bike from the riverwalk to their office nearby at 35 East Wacker.

3. Bicycle rental companies were part of the riverwalk’s 2015 vendor lineupWhen the new sections of the riverwalk debuted in 2015, the city announced that vendors would include WanderBikes, offering guided electric bike tours and rentals, and Bike and Roll Chicago, offering bike rentals, guided walking, bike, and Segway tours.

The city of Chicago's bike map has previously depicted the riverwalk as an off-street bike/ped trail, and will continue to do so in the 2019 edition.
The city of Chicago’s bike map has previously depicted the riverwalk as an off-street bike/ped trail, and will continue to do so in the 2019 edition.

4. Gina Ford, a landscape architect at Sasaki Associates, which helped plan the riverwalk, told me in a June 2015 interview that the promenade was designed to facilitate cycling. “As a design response, we did a couple of really subtle things. Rather than making most of the turns exactly ninety degrees, most of them are slightly more obtuse of an angle,” she said. “If you look at the inside corners of the Cove [section], and the inside and outside corners of the Marina [section], both of those have slightly bigger angles than ninety degrees.”

5. CDOT acknowledged the riverwalk is a bike route as late as December 2018, when construction started on the reconfiguration of the eastern portion of the path. The news release announcing the work noted that this section of the promenade would be closed to all users, and it provided a construction detour route specifically for cyclists.

6. The city’s Chicago Bike Map has depicted the riverwalk as an off-street bike/pedestrian trail for years. Despite recent events, CDOT is not planning to delete the riverwalk from the 2019 edition, which will be released at next month’s Bike to Work rally, according to spokesman Mike Claffey.

The tourism webpage encouraging people to ride bikes on the riverwalk.
The tourism webpage encouraging people to ride bikes on the riverwalk.

7. The city’s official Choose Chicago tourism bureau currently has a “Spend a Day on the Chicago Riverwalk” webpage up that encourages visitors to rent a bike and take a cruise on the riverwalk (just about the only downtown location where it’s possible to bike on the riverfront.) “Want to trade walking for wheels? [A rental company] offers way more than just cruisers and mountain bikes… Take your pick, then take off on a ride along the Chicago River.”

  • Mitchell Brown

    Write to your alderman.

    Its easy.

    Sloth is what got us Donald Drumpf.

    Don’t be lazy.

    Write your alderman. Tell them you want them to vote NO on any proposal to ban cycling on this trail.

    This is exactly the kind of aldermanic “privilege” that should be discarded.

  • what_eva

    The specific record is O2019-3869. It’s helpful to put that in when writing your alderman.

  • what_eva

    I would like to specifically know if Ald Reilly has read the contract for the TIFIA loan and the grant. There could easily be terms that state the loan must be paid back immediately (instead of through 2048) or that grant money must be repaid if a facility like the specifically mentioned cycle paths is removed within a certain timeframe. Obviously it wouldn’t be infinite as things change, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the feds required at least some level of the facility staying in place for at least 10-15 years so their money isn’t being wasted.

    Yeah, I know, I reread that and I sound horribly naive…

  • Charlie Short

    I think the terms of the contract are probably how this ordinance gets put down, but Reilly managed to trick people into dismantling the pedicab industry, so who knows.

  • Kevin M

    If Reilly/City-Council actually pass this bike-ban ordinance and anyone from the Trump administration catches wind of it, I would not be surprised if they try to cancel/recoup the federal funding just to stick it to Chicago.
    I sure hope John’s work of sounding the alarm on this affront by Reilly gets the attention of someone in Lightfoot’s office before long.

  • Kevin M

    What /did/ happen to the pedicab industry after City Council created regulation around it? I know the regulation was very restrictive and onerous, but I don’t know much about how things have actually played out.

  • Charlie Short

    It’s been a few years, but I know they capped the number of licences, limited people with criminal records and all but banned pedicabs downtown. It was infuriating. Reilly capitalized on the ignorance of the other council members as I’m sure he will here too.

  • Charlie Short

    And Reilly wasn’t the sponsor, it was Tom Tunney.

  • BinoyK

    I am not able to pull O2019-3869 on the city website. Where can be look at the ordinance?

  • Michael Babcock

    I saw about a dozen divvys on the newly remodeled part of the river walk today- not to mention a cop on a bike. No one was getting stopped today from what I saw.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • what_eva

    http://www.chicityclerk.com/ – click city council and search legislation, takes you to:
    https://chicago.legistar.com/Legislation.aspx
    where you can search the number. I also found it the first time just be searching riverwalk in the text field.

  • what_eva

    I could easily see the city screwing this up, then getting some kinda notice from the feds and being in big trouble, especially given the occupant of 1600 pennsylvania and his affection for our city.

  • Jason Smith

    Well I only just learned about this controversy google mapping a bike route from Hyde Park to Logan Square on my phone just now. Even Google maps thinks it’s open to bicyclists at 5PM on a Monday apparently.

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