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Friday’s Chicago Critical Mass Route Highlighted Dickens Greenway, Riverwalk Issues

Critical Mass riders on Michigan Avenue during the “Safety Mass.” The pool noodle is a reminder to drivers to give cyclists three feet of clearance when passing. Photo: Jerome Hughes

Two of the hottest topics in Chicago bike advocacy right now are the Dickens Avenue neighborhood greenway proposal and efforts to keep the Chicago Riverwalk open for biking.

The city has proposed building a traffic-calmed, family-friendly bike route on Dickens in Lincoln Park, which would allow for eastbound cycling on a street that's already a great westbound route. But some neighbors are opposed to having more cycling on the street, and a faceless NIMBY group called Friends of Dickens sent slick political-style mailers to local residents and launched a fear-mongering website in an effort to kill the plan. However, local bike advocates, including lots of adorable children, showed up in force to a community meeting on the plan last month, clearly outnumbering the opponents, and the future of the project currently looks bright.

Meanwhile, downtown alderman Brendan Reilly has threatened to pass an ordinance to ban cycling on the riverwalk, which was originally promoted and funded as a bike and pedestrian facility, by the end of this summer. This spring, at the request of the alderman, the city department that manages the promenade instructed security guards to inaccurately tell cyclists that it was already illegal to bike on the promenade and order them to dismount. But after Streetsblog drew attention to why this enforcement policy was bogus, the de facto ban was lifted this summer. However, we need to keep up the pressure to make sure that Reilly isn't able to follow through with his threat of a de jure ban, which would eliminate an important car-free bike commuting route.

The Critical Mass route map.
The Critical Mass route map visited the proposed Dickens greenway route and the riverwalk.
The Critical Mass route map.

Don't blame me, because I was out of town, but last Friday's Chicago Critical Mass ride, dubbed the "Safety Mass," highlighted both of these issues. As always, it began in Daly Plaza, then headed north to Lincoln Park, where it proceeded west for the entire length of the Dickens Greenway route. Riders told me that a woman stood on Dickens holding a sign that said something like "Support our #DickensGreenway." "The Dickens portion was lovely," said longtime Masser Andrew Bedno on Facebook.

The ride then rolled west to Wicker Park and headed back towards downtown, making a brief incursion onto the Kennedy Expressway via the Augusta Avenue on-ramp, exiting at the Ohio Avenue Feeder. (Note that Streetsblog Chicago does not endorse biking on expressways, which is illegal.)

Kids, don't try this at home. The Mass rolls onto the Kennedy Expressway at Augusta Avenue. Photo: Milos Otic
Kids, don't try this at home. The Mass rolls onto the Kennedy Expressway at Augusta Avenue. Image via Milos Otic
Kids, don't try this at home. The Mass rolls onto the Kennedy Expressway at Augusta Avenue. Photo: Milos Otic

Finally the ride rolled east through River North to the Lakefront Trail, headed south on the path to the east entrance of the riverwalk, ending somewhere around the riverside Island Party Hut bar, a few blocks east of Michigan, as planned on the map, without incident. "It was impressive how easily the businesses there absorbed several hundred cyclists, who then bought drinks and hung out," Bedno said. "So maybe that's the story, that unlike individuals, a flock of cyclist was just kind of an interesting city sight that everyone (tourists and partying locals) enjoyed."

It's also likely that riding the entire length of the Dickens Greenway route and doing a bicycle flash mob appearance at the riverwalk sparked quite a few conversations about these bike access issues. Gotta love a party with a purpose.

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