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Chicago River Traffic Is Becoming A Clusterf*ck

By Margaret Paulson in News on Jul 24, 2015 7:00PM

Chicago River Boats_7_24_15.jpg
Photo via Yooperann

The Chicago River is a multi-use waterway, long populated with commercial barges, water taxis, sightseeing boats and private yachts. But as small watercraft and kayak rentals vie for space, there’sa growing concern that the Chicago River is becoming too crowded.

Michael Borgstrom, president of Wendella Boats, told ABC7 that he is now concerned about the possibility of an accident and that a process needs to be instituted for controlling river traffic.

Others agree that safety measures must be in place as the city's revamped Riverwalk encourages more people to enjoy the river. Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, which is working on new initiatives to clean up the river and build up recreation activities along many miles of the Chicago River (not just downtown), said she's seen big changes already.

"The number of (rental companies) has gone from basically zero to probably 30 in the last 10 years," she told the Tribune. "The dynamics are changing."

Still, there is much concern that inexperienced, inattentive or drunk watercraft operators will cause accidents. After 10-year-old Tony Borcia was hit and killed by a drunk boat operator while tubing on Petite Lake, laws were passed in 2013 and 2014 to crack down on drunk boat drivers and make tubers and others in the water more visible. But many think the laws are not doing enough to keep people safe.

Don Campbell, a rep for Kindra Lake Towing, told the Tribune that weekend renters often don’t know how his barges work and that more information needs to be provided.

Wendella Boats keeps track of its near-misses with other watercraft, which Borgstrom said have increased recently. He also recently started the Chicago Harbor Safety Committee to improve river safety oversight.

Other actions are being taken to improve Chicago River safety. Next year, boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, will be required to take a three-hour online boater safety course. And both AllState and the City of Chicago offer tips for safety on the Chicago River, whether kayaking or renting an electric boat.