Citizens, including noted author Greg Borzo, urge the city to keep the riverwalk open to bikes

"Where to Bike Chicago" author Greg Brozo wrote to the city to advocate for maintaining bike access on the riverwalk.
"Where to Bike Chicago" author Greg Brozo wrote to the city to advocate for maintaining bike access on the riverwalk.

As Streetsblog readers know, the Chicago Riverwalk was promoted and funded as a bike and pedestrian facility, but a year ago downtown alderman Brendan Reilly introduced an ordinance to ban cycling on the facility. That posed a practical problem for bike commuters, because the riverwalk is just about the only low-stress connection between the Lakefront Trail and the Loop.

This spring, at the alderman’s request, the city department that manages the riverwalk instructed security guards to tell cyclists biking anywhere on the path that it was illegal to ride there and order them to dismount. After I took a ride on the promenade wearing a t-shirt pointing out that this enforcement was invalid, because Reilly’s legislation still hadn’t become law, he vowed to get it passed by the end of this summer.

After several Streetsblog posts on the issue, the city ended the bogus enforcement, but Reilly’s proposal for a de jure bike ban is still in play.

Time is running out for the alderman to make good on his threat by the end of summer on September 23, and city emails show that residents, including Chicago’s foremost writing of bicycling books, have been pushing back hard against the unjust ordinance.

A recent Freedom of Information Act request I sent to the Chicago Department of Transportation (which previously stated in an internal memo that Reilly’s proposal for a 24/7/365 bike ban was “too extreme”) resulted in the department sending me multiple messages citizens sent to the Chicago Riverwalk’s contact email urging the city to maintain bike access on the esplanade. You can contact the city hear to make your voice heard.

“As a taxpayer in the city of Chicago, I am against the bike ban on the riverwalk,” wrote Bucktown resident Greg Heppes.

Photo: Barry Kafka
Photo: Barry Kafka

“I am against an outright ban of biking on the riverwalk,” wrote IT professional and River West resident Wesley Rizal. Just as I’ve stated in the past, he noted that it would be reasonable to have restrictions on cycling during busy seasons and times of day, or to simply post signs telling cyclists to walk their bikes when the riverwalk is crowded.

J. Alex Sanger, a clinical social worker, therapist, Active Transportation Alliance board member, and West Town property owner, forwarded to the city an email that she sent to bike-friendly Near Northwest Side alderman Daniel LaSpata, who sits on the City Council committee that would vote on Reilly’s ordinance. “The expanded riverwalk was pitched to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the public as a bike and pedestrian route that would ‘enhance safety…with bicycle paths and pedestrian trails along the continuous promenade’ to secure a $99 million Transportation Innovation and Finance Act loan,” she noted. “Banning bicycles amounts to a ‘bait and switch.'”

Sanger added that she relies on the riverwalk as a car-free biking route and believes that mosts bicyclists currently use common sense on the promenade and walk their bikes in crowded areas. She also recommended straightening the new zigzagging path that debuted this spring east of Michigan Avenue, which would make is easier for cyclists and pedestrians to safely share the promenade. Finally, she urged LaSpata to vote against ordinance, “seeing how integral safe bicycle [routes] are for Chicagoans and visitors.”

The most famous Chicagoan to advocate via email for keeping the riverwalk open for cycling was local writer and historian Greg Borzo, author of books like “Where to Bike Chicago: Best Biking in City and Suburbs,” “Ragbrai: America’s Favorite Bicycle Ride,” “The Chicago ‘L,’” and “Chicago Cable Cars.” “Please don’t ban biking on the riverwalk,” Borzo implored. “Chicago was promised a pedestrian/bike path when this project was announced… and then repeatedly as it was brought to fruition.”

“Let’s live and work together,” Borzo proposed, adding that he supports limiting the riverwalk bike ban to peak hours. “This is how bikes are handled on the ‘L’ — and it works perfectly well. An even better solution would be to install a protected bike lane along Upper… Wacker Drive so that cyclists can get safely from the lakefront to the Loop.”

Rendering of the proposed protected bike lane on Upper Wacker Drive.
Rendering of the proposed protected bike lane on Upper Wacker Drive.

The Wacker bike lane idea — swapping a lane or two of mixed-traffic lanes for protected bike lanes — is exactly what Active Trans has proposed, although it’s not clear how a safe and comfortable route from the shoreline path to Upper Wacker would be created. To his credit, Reilly has expressed support for this idea, and riverwalk designer Ross Barney Architects and several downtown organizations have participated in the discussions. If you’d like to get involved with the project, contact Active Trans’ Steve Simmons, steve@activetrans.org, 312-216-0472.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Perhaps, you mean “middle Wacker”? East Upper Wacker “dies in the sky,” so to speak. See here: https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8878701,-87.6169096,3a,90y,230.51h,96.55t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1smRV1Vu85DQltV9R9m1P3Jw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656. And see here: https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8875692,-87.6178017,3a,40.9y,81.72h,94.2t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s8GymA5ODvFM0LkZ2OiFELA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 Maybe you are thinking of a bridge across from the end of Upper Wacker, but then it would somehow have to drop down to Middle Wacker, which would not be easy to engineer and very very expensive. And even if this were done, then the two-way protected bike lane get through this nasty intersection to reach the Lakefront Path — see here: https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8873507,-87.6144103,3a,75y,67.62h,81.85t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sSk83xvstSTsseEvByIaDVg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

  • Not a fan of two ways bike routes. Someone is always going to be going into incoming traffic. In an ideal world where bike lanes aren’t used for everything and always drain perfectly maybe but let’s realize bikes need to leave the bike lane at times and not force them to ride into oncoming traffic.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Gotta love Greg Borzo, we sure miss him here at the Field Museum, he was instrumental in getting some of our bike initiatives off the ground.

  • Gary Chicago

    Interesting article would be asking the lessee of the restaurants and bars if they want bikers riding on the river walk and their views

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Let’s assume they all say no. Who cares? After all venues like Tiny Tapp have already been guilty of obstructing the walking and biking right of way with their tables, so it’s obviously in their interest to have as few people using the right of way as possible.

  • what_eva

    I think he means Upper Wacker as in the main part of the street further west (ie the 2-level section). In general, how do you get from a proposed bike lane at Upper Wacker and Michigan to the LFT. I doubt that would involve going up to Upper Wacker in the 3-level section. To the contrary, it has to get down to LFT level somehow, though the flyover complicates that as well.

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