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LFT is partly closed, Divvy is still partially functioning through the deep-freeze

3:22 PM CST on December 23, 2022

Divvy in winter. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

The blizzard conditions, high winds, and subzero temperatures of the past 24 hours in Chicago have been character-building, to say the least. But, hey, we're Chicagoans, and we believe in the old saying that "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." (Within reason, of course – if you're out walking or biking in the current windy deep-freeze and things get too real, there's no shame in bailing to catch a bus or train.)

The Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, was one of the safest ways to get across town during yesterday's evening rush. And as you can see from the photo by Michael Burton, cofounder of Chicago's Critical Mass bike ride, it was certainly one of the most beautiful routes.

The Bloomingdale Trail yesterday evening. Photo: Michael Burton
The Bloomingdale Trail yesterday evening. Photo: Michael Burton

However, as of this writing, the Lakefront Trail still isn't completely passable. The Chicago Park District announced on Twitter yesterday at 1:30 p.m. that the shoreline path was closed between Oak and Ohio streets in River North, and the Chicago Avenue underpass was barricaded, due to the extreme weather. That's a reasonable short-term approach, since there have been plenty of scary incidents in the past where bike riders and pedestrians nearly got nearly swept into the lake by high waves.

Completely clear DuSable Lake Shore Drive, and the completely impassible Lakefront Trail, this morning at 7 AM. Photo by a reader.
Completely clear DuSable Lake Shore Drive, and the completely impassible Lakefront Trail, this morning at 7 AM. Photo by a reader.

On the other hand, it's sort of annoying that the inner and outer driver were completely spotless by 7 a.m. this morning, while the trail, one of the city's most important car-free transportation corridors, was untouched. Granted, it's not like there would have been tons of bike and foot traffic on the path in -3F weather anyway. But the LFT is often barricaded during windy weather that is otherwise relatively hospitable for walking, jogging, and biking by the lake due to the path's low-lying location, while the highway is high and dry.

DANGEROUS WAVES: Don't let this happen to you. Strong winds are causing high waves to pound the shoreline along Lake Michigan. Stay off the the lakefront trail.

— ABC 7 Chicago (@ABC7Chicago) November 30, 2020

The last time the drive was completely closed to drivers for an extended period due to a weather event, the great Chicago blizzard of 2011, there was major political fallout. (True, drivers were especially upset because many of them were stuck in their vehicles on highway for hours, or else abandoned them.) Why do pedestrians and bike riders regularly tolerate the Lakefront Trail being shut down? We should demand that it be raised and protected with seawalls so as to be less prone to flooding, something that could easily be done in the not-too-distant future as part of the North DuSable Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project.

Vehicles abandoned on the drive after the February 2011 blizzard. Photo: John Greenfield
Vehicles abandoned on the drive after the February 2011 blizzard. Photo: John Greenfield

On a positive note, impressively, plenty of people were out and about on bicycles yesterday. Jordan Levine, a spokesperson for Divvy bike-share concessionaire Lyft, told the Chicago Tribune that by 2 p.m., there were 2,140 Divvy trips taken citywide. "We love Divvy riders who never stop riding no matter the weather."

However, a reader told us that as of 10 a.m. today, "Divvy has disabled all e-bikes without any notice (no app push or tweet). If the system goes all electric, isn't this a glaring issue? Strangely enough, the scooters are available."

Levine provided this update: "As with all things battery-powered, the extreme cold may impact battery functions, including temporarily impacting e-bike and e-scooter availability. Divvy is committed to maintaining a diverse fleet of classic bikes, e-bikes and scooters to keep Chicago riders moving."

In addition, a source at Lyft added, "The system is still up and running today and we have not disabled any vehicles. Divvy's classic [non-electric, blue] pedal bikes continue to see strong ridership, and there is no plan to phase them out."  Notably, Divvy has previously stated that as older blue bikes become unrepairable, they will be replaced with e-bikes. However, the non-electric cycles are very durable, so it could be several years until the fleet is all-electric.

Interestingly, the Lyft source added, "A spike in pedal bike theft in the downtown area over the summer resulted in a temporary decrease in the classic fleet size. We are working closely with the Chicago Department of Transportation [which oversees the bike-share program] to address this problem and restore the lost bikes."

Chicagoans are hardy, but we're generally not foolhardy. After the temperatures dipped into the negative digits last night, the source said, "[While] we have a significant number of classic bikes on the street at this moment, [we] have seen just 82 rides so far today given the harsh conditions. We've been averaging about 8,000 rides a day this December."

Biking in frigid temperatures calls for getting out "the big guns." Photo: John Greenfield
Biking in frigid temperatures calls for getting out "the big guns." Photo: John Greenfield

That said, after I tweet out this post, I'm planning to jump on my personal bike to go run a few errands, but I've got years of experience with cold-weather biking and good gear, so I should be fine. For tips on how to have a safe and fun experience biking in the winter, check out this guide from the Active Transportation Alliance.

Stay safe and cozy, and enjoy the holidays everyone!

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