Keep Chicago’s Trails Open for Essential Workers

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On Thursday, March 26th, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the decision to close Chicago’s Lakefront Trail and the 606 due to large numbers of people ignoring calls to practice social distancing in light of of COVID-19. While the crowding along these trails was incredibly reckless and necessitated action from the city, the decision from the Mayor was far too sweeping and has ignored the reality that workers deemed essential still need to be able to commute to work everyday — many of whom do so by bike via the Lakefront Trail and the 606.

We are asking for the Mayor to reopen these trails to cyclists who depend on them to safely commute to work. Additionally, we are asking the city to close a select number of streets to car traffic to allow people to go outside while practicing social distancing, as the narrow width of the city’s sidewalks makes this task difficult.

Why are we making these requests?

There is substantial evidence that commuting by bike is incredibly safe in the midst of this pandemic — it practically has social distancing built-in! Chicago’s essential workers often don’t own cars and are facing reduced hours, making paying for transit increasingly expensive. Additionally, for the many essential workers who have no health insurance and/or have underlying health conditions, taking public transit is a risky option at this time. The city is currently pointing those who usually rely on the lakefront path and 606 to alternative bicycle routes; unfortunately, there are truly no other safe routes available due to the city’s continued failure to provide them.

These trails offer bike riders what the city’s alternative bicycle routes don’t: a safe place to bike completely protected from automobiles. Forcing cyclists to share the road with cars puts them in harm’s way —  a collision could result in serious injury or death for the cyclist, not to mention it would pull much needed resources away from our hospitals in a time when they must be focused on caring for patients with COVID-19.  Additionally, cars take up an immense amount of space on the road — forcing the people outside of them closer together and making social distancing impossible. We need more space for people in this city, and we need it now.

Our requests are simple:

1) Keep the lakefront and 606 open to people who NEED to commute to work by bike.

2) Close a few streets to car traffic to provide more space for people to be outside without worry of absurdly narrow sidewalks.

3) Ensure this car-free access is available city-wide so that no matter where you live, you are able to get some much needed fresh air without worry.

Thankfully, this is not difficult, time-consuming or costly to execute. Cities around the globe are leading the way with spaces dedicated to people, and Philadelphia, Mexico City, Bogotá, New York City, and others are expanding this effort because of the current pandemic. Chicago must follow suit with immediacy.