You can’t bike to work on the LFT, but the Trib suggests illegally cruising LSD for fun

Image: Google Maps
Image: Google Maps

Update 4/14/20, 5:15 PM: After I notified the Tribune’s Blair Kamin that taking pleasure drives violates the rules of Illinois’ Stay at Home order, the headline was changed from “Revive the Sunday Drive — suddenly it’s once again a great way to escape home and see your city” to “Revive the Sunday Drive — once Stay at Home restrictions ease, it could be a great way to escape home and see your city,”  and the “column has been recast to reflect the current state of the law,” according to Kamin. I appreciate the corrections.

Update 4/15/20, 4:30 PM: This post notes that Kamin wrote a column about architectural walks after I suggested the idea (on Twitter.) This post originally stated, “Granted, *I was the one who* [emphasis added] suggested he write such a column before he did so.” Today Kamin contacted me to say that, while he previously acknowledged on Twitter that “maybe [my idea for the walking column] got planted in [Kamin’s] subconscious,” he ultimately wrote the column at the behest of his editor. I’ve edited this post to reflect Kamin’s new statement that I wasn’t the only person who suggested he write the walking column.

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin is one of my favorite local newspaper folks. I loved his recent piece about places where you can go on a walk to check out interesting architecture during the pandemic. (Granted, I suggested that he write such as column before he did so. Kamin says he forgot about my tweeted suggestion and wrote the piece after his editor proposed the idea again.)

So this post certainly isn’t meant as a vicious call-out. I’ll save that kind of piece for people like Kamin’s colleague, Limbaugh-esque right-wing bloviator and former anti-bike troll John Kass.

But, sorry, I gotta play Sir Thomas Bringdown III here and point out that Kamin’s new column “Revive the Sunday Drive — suddenly it’s once again a great way to escape home and see your city,” was ill-advised. We should not be encouraging people to take non-essential car trips during the COVID-19 crisis, because it’s counterproductive to public health, and illegal under Illinois’ Stay at Home order.

Kamin rightly notes that many Chicagoland residents are bored out of their gourds right now and are desperate to take a break from hunkering down in their homes. His solution? “Revive the drive — the Sunday Drive.”

Today, with roads of all sorts practically empty, the Sunday Drive beckons anew. After all, it’s easy to maintain social distancing when you’re in a pod of steel. Also, you don’t need to wear a mask. And so, instead of going out for a stroll or binge-watching shows on Netflix (or maybe in addition to those things), some people are taking to the road.

He’s correct that when you’re in a private metal-and-glass box with the windows rolled up, you don’t have to worry about stray respiratory droplets. However, please take that scary, widely circulated Belgian “study” that claimed you need to stay at least 32 feet away from a runner and 65 feet away from a bike rider in front of you during the pandemic with a grain of salt — it wasn’t an actual scientific study. According to the Centers for Disease Control, six feet of social distancing space is sufficient.

“Why not head down (or up) Lake Shore Drive, taking in Chicago’s skyline cliffs on one side and the blue expanse of Lake Michigan on the other?” Kamin writes. “Preferably, you’ll have Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah’s 1971 song ‘Lake Shore Drive‘ (‘And there ain’t no road just like it / Anywhere I found’) blasting in the background.

OK, that song does rock.

But Kamin is recommending that you cruise up and down Lake Shore Drive for fun, at a time when you can literally get arrested for trying to bicycle to your essential job on the adjacent Lakefront Trail. A petition to reopen the drive for bikes only currently has more than 825 signees, including healthcare workers who normally use the trail as a safe, car-free commuting route.

While Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed the entire lakefront on March 26 after some park users failed to follow social-distancing rules, if we reopened the the trail strictly for cycling, there should be more than enough capacity to avoid crowding, since bike riders could use both the bike-only and pedestrian-only paths. No additional police resources would be needed to enforce the bikes-only rule. The dozens of officers who are currently parked by the trail 24/7 nowadays would simply have to start doing some actual patrol work, instead of merely chatting and enjoying the lake views.

Photo: John Greenfield
If the Lakefront Trail was reopened to cyclists only, there would be plenty of room on the two parallel paths for proper social distancing. Photo: John Greenfield

But I digress. Kamin assures us that pleasure drives are #CoronaKosher. “Such trips, it appears, are permitted under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Stay at Home order, which allows people to drive on both local roads and interstate highways.”

But a glance at the order shows that he’s wrong about that. “All travel, including, but not limited to, travel by automobile… except Essential Travel and Essential Activities as defined herein, is prohibited,” the document states. Nowhere in the order is cruising around in your Chrysler listening to AM radio hits defined as an essential activity.

But you know what is classified as essential? “Walking, hiking, running, or biking… [in] public parks and open outdoor recreation areas.” It’s also OK to drive somewhere to do those essential activities. Granted, with the entire lakefront closed, and the police kicking residents out of many local parks, there aren’t that many open spaces left for activity that promotes physical as well as mental health. (Opening side streets for safe pedestrian activity and biking, like Oakland, California, is currently doing on 74 miles of “Slow Streets,” would help address that problem.)

But Kamin notes that it appears “the authorities aren’t cracking down on pleasure driving,” so unnecessarily polluting the air during a respiratory pandemic seems to be no big deal. Therefore, you’re probably not going to get ticketed for non-essential driving unless you’re street racing or doing doughnuts in the parking lot of an abandoned JOANN Fabrics store.

But, unless you’re a person with mobility challenges, you still shouldn’t go out cruising in your car for recreation right now. More driving means more crashes, and it’s in everyone’s interest for you to stay out of the ER during the COVID-19 crisis. (In fairness, for this reason I also wouldn’t recommend high-speed or riskier styles of biking, skateboarding, skating etc. at this time.)

Again, I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer about this issue, but unless car-free outdoor recreation isn’t a viable option for you, it’s irresponsible to go out driving for fun during the COVID-19 crisis. And if your local sidewalks and trails are too crowded to safely go for a walk, run, or bike ride during the pandemic, let elected officials know that you support reopening the Lakefront Trail to bikes, and opening streets to make more room for safe, socially-distanced transportation and recreation.

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