E-Scooters Are Banned on The 606, But Nobody Knows That
Chicago’s four-month dockless electric scooter pilot launched last weekend. Tuesday morning local journalist and Soup & Bread cofounder Martha Bayne contacted me on Twitter to say that she encountered lots of scooter riders on the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, the previous day, which made her run on the busy elevated path that much more hectic.
I went for a run on the 606 yesterday and the trail was overrun with scooters. In use, not abandoned, but one more challenge to dodge. https://t.co/dw4NWEX0Hp
— Martha Bayne (@marthabayne) June 18, 2019
As it happened, I’d already asked the city whether electric scooters are allowed on the Bloomingdale, where private motorized vehicles are usually banned. (Although, strangely, sometimes private car drivers are allowed up there.) “[Scooters] cannot be ridden on The 606, per the Chicago Park District’s policy,” said spokesman Mike Claffey from the Chicago Department of Transportation, which built the trail. “However, they can be ridden on other park paths such as Douglas and Humboldt parks, for example.”
Of course, Claffey was referring only to parks within the West and Northwest Side pilot area, roughly bounded by Irving Park Road, the Kennedy Expressway and the Stevenson Expressway. Geofencing is used, so that when scooters are ridden outside of the test zone, they quickly slow down and come to a stop, so don’t worry about seeing them in large numbers on the Lakefront Trail anytime soon.
But when I took a bike ride on the Bloomingdale shortly before sunset last night, probably not the busiest time for trail use, I saw dozens of people riding scooters. In fairness, if people are going to ride motor vehicles up there, scooters are probably among the least problematic ones. They’re relatively quiet, they don’t pollute, and the headlights make them easy to spot from a distance.
On the other hand, residents have long complained about the challenges of pedestrians and cyclists sharing space on the relatively narrow trail, including plenty of young children who aren’t yet experts in staying in the designated bike or pedestrian zones. Scooter riders can hit 15 mph, a relatively fast biking speed and a bit too speedy for The 606, with zero effort. That’s certainly not going to help with Bloomingdale safety issues.
(Right now some of you are probably thinking that I’m a hypocrite for arguing that scooters don’t belong on The 606, when I’ve been pushing back hard against downtown alderman Brendan Reilly’s proposed ban on biking on the Chicago Riverwalk. However, there’s a big difference between the two issues. While both the Bloomingdale and the riverwalk were conceived and funded as shared bike/ped facilities, electric scooters riders were not intended users of either path.)
However, it’s natural that people should want to ride these gizmos on a lovely, verdent trail, away from the dangers and stresses of car traffic. Moreover, there’s basically no way for them to know it’s illegal to scoot on the Bloomingdale. A Google search on the topic turned up nothing. The rules and etiquette cards attached to every scooter don’t mention the subject. The new edition of CDOT’s bike map (pick up your copy at the Bike to Work Rally in Daley Plaza Friday morning) states that scooters may be ridden in bike lanes but doesn’t address trails. And I didn’t notice any signs on The 606 specifically banning scooters, although there’s probably some general language posted prohibiting motor vehicles.
It seems like the solution is for the park district to put up signs along the trail explicitly stating that electric scooters and other battery-powered gizmos like skateboards and those single-wheel thingamabobs aren’t allowed, in addition to posting info about the ban online. However, using police officers to enforce the rule would be a waste of resources, and could easily escalate into dangerous conflicts. A park district spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to my inquiry about their plans to address the issue.
In the meantime, if you’re a scooter enthusiast reading this, please be a pal and don’t scoot on the Bloomingdale. After all, if the trail becomes overrun with hundreds of these gadgets being ridden at high speed, The 606 could start feeling more like The 666.