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Ald. Brendan Reilly wants to force Riverwalk cyclists to walk their bikes

Signs on the Riverwalk encourage cyclists to walk their bikes. | Chris Fusco/Sun-Times

Cyclists riding along Chicago’s downtown Riverwalk, endangering pedestrians and moms pushing strollers, may soon be forced to get off their bikes and walk them.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) proposed the “walk-your-bike” requirement at Thursday’s City Council meeting to avert what he views as a disaster waiting to happen.

The Riverwalk has become a victim of its own success — so much so that a “tremendous number” of cyclists are flocking to the riverfront, riding with impunity and ignoring new signs that urge them to “Share the Riverwalk: Walk your bike.”

“What we’ve had is dozens upon dozens of complaints about pedestrian and bicycle conflicts down there. It’s one of the most popular tourism destinations in the city. It’s drawing some of the largest pedestrian volumes of any sidewalk in the city. For the same reasons why we don’t allow people to ride bicycles on the sidewalks, that applies here,” Reilly said Thursday.

“Common sense would dictate you don’t ride a bicycle through a big crowd of pedestrians. Unfortunately, common sense it not prevailing on the Riverwalk. I’m a big fan of keeping Chicago bicycle friendly. But we can’t have pedestrians and people with strollers or in wheelchairs being forced off a pedestrian path that close to the water.”

Reilly said he has received a slew of emails and phone calls from people, “especially families with strollers, having to dodge these guys.”

“Signs were installed on the Riverwalk already telling folks to walk their bikes. And some folks in the bicycle community argued, ‘There’s no city law that says that.’ This is to make sure people understand, ‘No. this is a code violation,'” he said.

“We’re not looking to write tickets to people. We want to allow the security personnel on the Riverwalk to tell folks, ‘It’s a law. Please walk your bicycle.’ I don’t see us assessing fines for this.”

The Active Transportation Alliance agreed that bikes should be walked when the Riverwalk is crowded. But the alliance argued that a walk-the-bike mandate was legislative overkill.

“There are many hours and times of the year when it’s safe for people biking and walking to share the path,” spokesman Kyle Whitehead wrote in an emailed statement.

Unlike a typical sidewalk, the River Walk was “conceived from the beginning as a multi-use path for both bicycling and walking,” and remains an important job connector, Whitehead said.

Reilly attempted to bring some sanity to the Riverwalk conflicts during the first City Council meeting to follow Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to choose political retirement over the uphill battle for a third-term.

The mayor’s lame-duck status is certain to embolden aldermen. Still, Emanuel had no trouble convincing aldermen to approve “pop-up licenses” to allow restaurants and retailers to test their concepts in vacant storefronts and nearly double the city tax on e-cigarettes while mandating that all tobacco, vaping products and accessories be placed behind the counter.

Reilly argued, as he has in the past, that e-cigarettes help people quit the habit. He also argued that the ordinance was being rushed through in record time when the Emanuel administration has not done all it can to enforce the city’s 21-year-old smoking age.

Still, the mayor got his way.

“The tobacco companies … have lied knowing full well what the products are. They sell products that actually kill you and harm you and they knowingly do it. And then, they try this other trick because there’s been such regulation around regular tobacco products, to introduce new products and lure teens into a lifetime of addiction and a lifetime of health risk,” Emanuel said.

“This will make it harder for kids going into pharmacies and other places to buy these products.”

Also during Thursday’s meeting:

• Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, proposed a pair of tax increases that could be used to embark on a cost-sharing plan to replace lead service lines threatening Chicago with a drinking water crisis akin to the one in Flint, Michigan.

The first would increase the real property transfer tax to defray the cost of replacing lead service lines. The other would impose a “lead abatement transfer tax” at the flat rate of $50-per-title transfer.

“I’m trying to find a funding mechanism that would allow for a 50-50 program to be implemented to give citizens the ability to change out the lead lines from the main to the house,” Villegas said.

• Emanuel proposed relaxing the rigid riverfront sign restriction imposed to prevent a repeat of the giant “TRUMP” sign to allow a higher sign aimed at securing a Wolf Point expansion by software giant Salesforce.

• Aldermen granted final zoning approval of a hotly contested Jefferson Park apartment development plan that includes affordable housing supported by Ald. John Arena (45th).

• Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) joined six colleagues in introduced an ordinance that would make it a crime for teachers at any public or private school in Chicago to communicate with students through personal cell phones, texts, emails or social media accounts. The Chicago Public Schools recently imposed such a ban in response to the school sex abuse scandal. But Burke argued that a mere rule violation is not enough.

• In the wake of the Little Village fire that claimed the lives of ten children, Burke joined forces with Ald. George Cardenas (12th) on an ordinance that would reduce the time building owners have to resolve building code violations, including missing or malfunctioning smoke detectors.

Instead of allowing violations to linger for months, their ordinance would require building owners to appear before an administrative hearing officer within seven days.