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Alderman introduces measure making it illegal to bike on the Chicago Riverwalk

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Aimed at improving safety on the crowded waterfront promenade, the proposal has its share of opponents

A group of Chicago Police Officers cruise the Riverwalk on bike.
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Seemingly a victim of its own success, the popular Chicago Riverwalk may soon come under new rules requiring cyclists to walk—not ride—their bikes on the 1.25-mile-long linear park connecting downtown and the Chicago Lakefront Trail.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Chicago City Council, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly introduced an ordinance calling for just that. The measure arrives a few weeks after the appearance of new waterfront signs that urged—but not legally required—cyclists to dismount.

On Twitter, Alderman Reilly credited a story by Streetsblog Chicago that told cyclists to ignore those signs (since they were not supported by a city ordinance) for prompting his introduction of the proposed legislation.

The elected official also said that enforcement would be “driven by common sense” and appeared to suggest that fines—which range between $50 and $200 per offense—would only be issued in the presence of “tons of pedestrians.”

Local bike, pedestrian, and mass transit advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance spoke out against Reilly’s proposed ban on Riverwalk cycling. It argues that pedestrians and cyclists can safely share the Chicago Riverwalk during less crowded times.

The organization also points to the fact that project was conceived from the start as a multi-use path for both bicycling and walking. The Chicago Riverwalk’s original pitch for federal DOT funding describes both “bicycle and pedestrian facilities” that would “enhance safety for pedestrians with bicycle paths and pedestrian trails along the continuous promenade.”

Active Transportation Alliance says the ordinance highlights the need for an alternative bike connection between downtown and the lakefront. The groups suggests new protected bike lanes on Upper Wacker Drive—most likely at the expense of vehicular lanes—as an “obvious choice.”

Stretching along the south bank of the main branch of the Chicago River from lakefront to Lake Street, the Chicago Riverwalk has become one of the city’s most active open spaces since its completion in 2016. Part attraction, part transportation infrastructure, it regularly draws large crowds of tourists, office workers, and restaurant patrons to its outdoor pathways, seating, and patios.

Alderman Reilly’s ordinance will head to Chicago City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety for further review. It will require a vote of approval by the full Council before taking effect.