As winter slowly melts into spring, you'll see them around Chicago with greater frequency. Hanging around after Bulls games and theater performances, armed with heated blankets and bicycle bells. More than a few showed up outside Wrigley Field at the Cubs home opener on Monday. With warm weather on the way, not to mention baseball games and endless music festivals, Chicago’s pedicabs are ready to take over the streets again.
The giant tricycles with room for two in the back, have become a fixture in Chicago over the last few summers. It’s not just the flat terrain and lazy tourists. Unlike other major metropolises, Chicago has yet to pass any ordinance regulating pedicabs. That means there are no rules on the books about where they can go, what they can charge, or how to make them safe.
Those non-existent rules are a mixed bag according to the pedicabbers themselves. Some worry it could lead to lax safety standards and inconsistent fare pricing, which only hurts their reputation. Yet that same freedom from regulation, others argue, is why the industry is doing so well in Chicago.
To learn what this means for pedicabs and passengers alike, I decided to go for a ride. Darren Hilton, who has been a bike messenger and pedicab driver for fifteen years, picked me up one recent afternoon in his yellow pedicab at Navy Pier. Except, he couldn’t actually pick me up on the pier where WBEZ is located. Apparently, pedicabs aren’t allowed there according to the Chicago Parks District. It’s one of the few hard and fast rules for pedicabs in Chicago.
Darren, who has long dreads, and wore a black silk shirt with a red dragon on the back, knows those rules (or lack thereof) better than most. He also has a keen appreciation for his pedicabs’ origins.
“I like rickshaw, because of the ethnic connotation, ” Darren told me, “Rickshaw is Japanese from jinrikisha which means human power. So a ballpoint pen is a jinrikisha. A hairbrush is a jinrikisha. Human powered.”
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Book (Lonely Planet Publications)
What are some of your most memorable tour and foraging experiences in Central Park?
Getting arrested. Meeting my wife on a tour. Not being able to lead a large group out of the park during an unpredicted torrential rainstorm when too much water was running down my glasses for me to see. Finding 60 lbs. of gourmet wine-cap stropharia mushrooms. Finding a chokecherry tree for the first time south of the Adirondacks in the Northern Woods just this year.