WICKER PARK — At around 5 p.m. Monday, Bucktown resident Natalie Gubman cranked up Taylor Swift on headphones and set out for her routine jog with her labradoodle, Betty.
As usual, they entered the The Bloomingdale Trail from Walsh Park on Ashland Avenue — the trail’s easternmost entrance — and planned to run as far west as Western Avenue.
But .2 miles into their run, a surprising object swerved in front of Betty.
“A scooter nearly hit my dog,” Gubman said.
Gubman and Betty exited the trail at the Wood Street ramp. The rider did not apologize — nor were they wearing a helmet.
“In the .2 miles I ran on the trail I saw around 12 scooters. I would say they were going 15 miles per hour or so,” Gubman said. “Bringing scooters into the mix on the trail is a recipe for disaster.”
Scooters are not allowed on the Bloomingdale Trail. Neither are cars, mopeds or any other motorized vehicles.
But that didn’t stop scooter riders from taking to the elevated trail this week after Chicago launched its scooter pilot program.
The program allowed companies to place a total of 2,500 scooters in the West Side of the city. About 11,000 riders made use of the program last weekend. But it appears riders are already breaking the rules — many aren’t wearing helmets and are riding in undesignated areas — such as sidewalks and the elevated Bloomingdale Trail.
Wicker Park and Bucktown neighbors interviewed by Block Club Chicago are split on the issue of whether or not to allow scooters on the trail.
Many argued that if bikes are allowed, why not scooters?
“[They are] better than all the Lance Armstrong-esque bikers in aerodynamic helmets and spandex flying down the path without a worry for children or dogs being walked,” Jason Waldron said.
Ben Helphand of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail said the outlawing of motorized vehicles was part of the promise and policy “well before” the trail opened in 2015.
“However enforcing this rule is a challenge,” he said. “We’ve heard reports of the occasional electric vehicle up there for years. But this last weekend the number of electric scooters skyrocketed with the new pilot program.”
Helphand said he hopes that if and when the program is fine-tuned, the Bloomingdale Trail will be excluded from scooters’ range.
“Which is to say, they won’t work on the Bloomingdale Trail,” he said. “We’re also looking into adding no electric vehicles to the rules signage.”
Until then, several neighbors say — let them ride.
“Even though it felt like there was more traffic due to the scooter usage, I think it is hard to argue they are different from any other two-wheel transport,” Mary Higgins said.
“Cyclists who speed through the 606 like they are participants in the Tour De France cause more concern. I vote they can use the 606.”
Doug Michal said he believes scooters should be allowed on any shared-use path where bikes are allowed.
“The more people using these paths, the more attention — and money — they’ll attract,” he said.
Emily Elizabeth and Craig Boyd both used scooters on the Bloomingdale Trail last weekend. If bikes are allowed, scooters should be, too, they said.
“I felt safer than riding on the streets,” Elizabeth said. “There’s several bikers with the child attachments that take up the majority of the trails. The scooters are tiny and don’t disrupt the walkers [and] runners as much as bicycles.”
Boyd said he even rode past two Chicago Police officers while on the trail, and they “said nothing” about his scooter use breaking the law.
“To me, it’s just fun,” he said. “I felt like a kid. I don’t understand all the scorn.”
Other neighbors disagreed, citing safety concerns as a big reason why they believe scooter riders should follow the rules.
Eric Small’s Uber was trying to turn onto Western Avenue when someone flung a scooter off the elevated trail and onto the ground in front of the car.
“It was quite surprising seeing a scooter fall from the sky,” Small said. “It took a second to figure out what it was and where it came from with it being dark.”
The Uber driver called the police, Small said.
When Stephanie Perez uses the trail, she said she notices nursery school workers walking strollers with babies and people with limited mobility using the trail for physical therapy.
“The 606 is not a highway,” she said. “The scooters are a mess and some serious injuries waiting to happen. I’d like to see mandatory helmets, low speed limits — 10 miles per hour? — and strict prohibitions from sidewalks in any permanent plan.”
“There’s no place for motorized vehicles of any kind on the 606 unless it’s an authorized vehicle like the landscapers,” said Greg Morrison, another neighbor. “Scooters are driven by inexperienced people, creating an unsafe environment on a trail that is already crowded with people, bikes, rollerblades, skateboards and pets.”
Doug Neff said the city and scooter contractors have “work to do” if this summer’s scooter trial is to be deemed successful.
“The rollout lacked a reasonable amount of public education,” he said. “It would be nice if users had to take a relatively quick training session [or] test on the app reviewing safety and Chicago rules — including the age requirements — before they could check out a scooter.”
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