E-Scooters Are Banned on The 606, But Nobody Knows That

A group of scooter riders on the Bloomingdale Trail, unwittingly breaking the little-known rule against scooting on The 606. Image: John Greenfield
A group of scooter riders on the Bloomingdale Trail, unwittingly breaking the little-known rule against scooting on The 606. Image: John Greenfield

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.

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.

Scooters left on a plaza of the Bloomingdale Trail at Damen Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield
Scooters left on a plaza of the Bloomingdale Trail at Damen Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

(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.)

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

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.

IMG_7097
Photo: John Greenfield

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.

  • rwy

    Are non-powered scooters and skateboards allowed on the trail?

    It’s unfortunate that there isn’t room for electric scooters on the trail.

  • JacobEPeters

    manually powered vehicles are allowed, hence bicycles, but throttled devices (like those gyro boards, or that a-hole with the diesel powered mountain bike) are not, since they can reach high speeds without any exertion.

  • TonyAB

    Maybe allowing them to go 15 mph is the issue? If they were capped at a lower speed, say, 10 would it be as big of (potential) deal to be sharing an admittedly crowded space? 10 is still much faster than walking, and faster than my average Divvy speed for what that’s worth. Any idea why 15 mph is the magic number?

  • FlamingoFresh

    Making them go 10 mph would be too slow and less usable on the roadway. Just keep them off the 606 and you don’t have to worry about them going 15 mph.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    For what it’s worth, I see motorized skateboards on the 606 fairly often …

  • ChicagoCyclist

    The average (fairly) fast cyclist in the more urban parts of Chicago (i.e. most of the city) probably averages 8-11 mph — what with all the automobile traffic, pedestrians, other cyclists, signals, stop signs (even though we treat them as yield signs), etc. etc. I average around 11-12 mph and I am very regularly passed by electric skateboards. When space is constrained — in a separated bike lane or on a sidewalk — speed differential can be very dangerous. More thought needs to be given to safety when different devices/people are traveling at different speeds in a constrained space — we not only need good, separated (barrier-protected) micro-mobility lanes, we need slow and fast lanes within these lanes! The only way to do this is to dedicate a network of Chicago’s streets (within the larger, total network of streets) solely to micro-mobility devices == bikes, e-bikes, skateboards, e-skateboards, scooters, e-scooters, segways, e-sit-scooters, etc. Good luck fighting for this against all the automobilists!

  • what_eva

    A single car up there on a weekday midday working is worse than scooters at all hours?

    I’ve seen park district trucks driving on the LFT during afternoon rush hour.

  • JacobEPeters

    yeah, technically those have been illegally operated on the trail since it opened

  • Carter O’Brien

    I walked on it from Western to Sacramento during the tail end of rush hour, there were definitely quite a few scooters, but they really didn’t seem out of place. This one being left up there was indicative of the only real potential issue IMO, as I could see these cluttering a pretty tight path pretty easily during the https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b9608163c4cf6d443038ef53bfd167901e7c2f227710169f468da3d6648769a8.jpg summer.

  • R. C. Munson

    John– Thanks for staying on this topic.
    The scooter story is not going to end well.
    Taking a one company prototype and then letting 10 companies into the same confined spaces creates an explosion of growth that has already shown a lot of unpleasant side-effects.

    The 606 scooter-invasion is a microcosm of a badly planned policy that should almost immediately be amended.
    The purpose of the 606, bike lanes and street updates is to create a more active transportation; healthful, non-motorized, non-polluting transportation modes.

    Scooters are quite contrary to how street policy was evolving and we need to act on this immediately.

    From this discussion, I pickup two changes that might work: change scooter speed to about what bikes are (10mph); and fines for bad behavior, which include traveling on the 606, traveling in groups (more than two) and otherwise abusing public space.

    Give the City a financial incentive to enforce better rules and they will because they are broke.

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