A Sneak Peek at How Trail Separation Will Work on the North Lakefront

Under the plan, the existing mixed-use path between North and Fullerton will be designated for pedestrian use only, and a new paved bike-only route will be built in the grassy area to the right of this photo, close to Lake Shore Drive. Image: Google Street View
Under the plan, the existing mixed-use path between North and Fullerton will be designated for pedestrian use only, and a new paved bike-only route will be built in the grassy area to the right of this photo, close to Lake Shore Drive. Image: Google Street View

Sam Kling, a history PhD student at Northwestern, specializing in Chicago history, wrote a nice post about designs for the Lakefront Trail separation project just released on a new Chicago Park District web page. I encourage you to check out Sam’s post on his blog Chicago Bike Report, but here are a few of my own thoughts on the renderings.

Last December the mayor’s office announced that hedge fund billionaire and Bruce Rauner supporter Kenneth Griffith was donating $12 million to the city to separate pedestrian and bike traffic on the shoreline path, something residents have long been calling for. A few days later, when Mayor Emanuel made thousands of messages from his private email account public following a settlement with the Better Government Association, it was revealed that Griffith previously complained to Emanuel that the path was a “disaster” and asked if he could contribute private funds to fix it.

Fast-forward four months, and separation work on the trail from 35th to 41st is almost done. (The project broke ground last August.) We should have an “Eyes on the Street” post with photos of the new layout soon. The section from 41st to 56th is in design and should be completed in the fall.

The section from Ohio to Oak won't get many physical changes, but pavement markings will separate pedestrian and bike traffic.
The section from Ohio to Oak won’t get many physical changes, but pavement markings will separate pedestrian and bike traffic.

The contract for the stretches from Ohio to Oak and North to Fullerton is currently being bid out, and work is slated to begin later this spring and be completed this summer. The park district has released renderings of the two sections.

From Ohio to Oak, the exisiting path is basically just a wide, gently sloping concrete surface, so there’s plenty of room to stripe separate paths side by side for people on foot and folks on wheels.

The segment from North to Fullerton. Existing paths that will be designated for pedestrians are shown as dashed red lines. Existing paths that will be reserved for cyclists are shown as dashed blue lines. The new bike path is shown as a solid blue line.
The segment from Fullerton to North. Existing paths that will be designated for pedestrians are shown as dashed red lines. Existing paths that will be reserved for cyclists are shown as dashed blue lines. The new bike path is shown as a solid blue line. Click to enlarge.

Things get more complicated as the trail approaches the boat-shaped North Avenue beach house (see rendering above). Here the existing Lakefront Trail splits in two, with one path going west of the beach parking lot, close to Lake Shore Drive, and another going east of it, skirting the south side of the Titanic-like structure.

Under the new plan, the western path will be designated for bike use while the eastern route will be for people strolling and jogging. (It’s not clear where roller skaters are supposed to go, but I’m guessing they’ll probably tend to opt for the pedestrian path.) There’s a complex intersection, point “A” on the map, near the North Avenue chess pavilion and underpass, where the north-south bike route crosses an east-west pedestrian access trail.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 12.36.03 AM
At this location north of the North Avenue boat house, two different paths currently converge. Under the new plan, pedestrian traffic will use the existing beachside path. A new trail for bike will be constructed closer to the drive, passing under the passarelle bridge to the left. Image: Google Street View.

North of the boat house, just before the passarelle bridge over Lake Shore Drive, the two existing spurs of the path merge. North of here, a new bike path (solid blue) will be built close to Lake Shore Drive, while the existing, beachside trail will be reserved for pedestrians. This means cyclists will have a less scenic, noisier, and smoggier ride for this portion.

Last year the expansion of the shoreline at Fullerton via landfill was completed, adding several acres of new parkland. As part of the project, about 600 feet of soft-surface pedestrian trail was built closer to the drive as an alternative to the paved bike path.

Right now at Fullerton, the soft-surface pedestrian path is closer to Lake Shore Drive than the paved bike path. Those roles will reverse under the new plan. The new bike-only path, shown as a solid blue line in this rendering, will be closer to LSD.
Right now at Fullerton, the soft-surface pedestrian path is closer to Lake Shore Drive than the paved bike path. Those roles will reverse under the new plan. The new bike-only path, shown as a solid blue line in this rendering, will be closer to LSD.

Ironically, under the new plan, those roles are reversed. Cyclists will take over the western route, which will be paved, and pedestrians will stay closer to the lake. Around the Theater on the Lake, which is currently being rehabbed, the bike and ped routes will be side by side again. As Kling pointed out, this short stretch, marked “D” on the map will have a total width of 36 feet. That’s huge when you consider that the Bloomingdale Trail is only 14 feet wide, including the concrete bike lanes and the adjacent running paths.

By the Theater on the Lake, the total width of the Lakefront Trail will be a whopping 36 feet.
By the Theater on the Lake, the total width of the Lakefront Trail will be a whopping 36 feet.

While I’m not thrilled at the prospect of having to bike right next to an eight-lane highway on the stretch between Fullerton and North, otherwise this seems like a sensible plan for trail separation. The tough part is going to be getting pedestrians and cyclists to stick to their designated paths. In my experience, such as on Venice Beach, when separate paths exist people often disregard the designations if the other route takes them where they want to go more directly, or just has a nicer view.

  • what_eva

    Between North and Fullerton, the gap between the existing trail and LSD isn’t big to begin with, so it’s not like the bike path will be all that much closer to LSD. There’s already a bit of separated path from Fullerton down until it ends in the middle of the first beach section. I’ve often walked on that bit of “upper” path because it’s lower traffic, it didn’t seem like a big difference being a few feet closer to LSD. If that’s how the rest is designed and it’s properly marked/separated, it should work out okay. Lake breezes usually help with exhaust as well.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Pretty sure the split at North Avenue was always designed to be bikes to the west and pedestrian traffic to the right, as the project was funded with federal alternative commuting/transportation dollars. As with so much of the LFT, the missing component was always the educational signage. I really do not understand the reluctance to post more common sense path etiquette signage.

  • Pat

    Agreed, however would like to see an actual wall there. I don’t have much interest in biking headfirst into a sea of headlights.

  • Jeff H

    Unless the slope is removed from Ohio to Oak, I would not use the pedestrian section for my runs. It is terrible to run on such a surface with one foot landing higher than the other. People will just do what they do now, use the section that is right by the lake.

  • Pat

    Nothing is changing there. Path there is to remain as is.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • Pat

    I meant as far as path positioning goes. I assume the pedestrian path will still be on the flat part of the wall.

  • Joe C

    I just hope they actually tear up and repave some sections of the path. There are so many cracks and bumps now that I have to be constantly looking down instead of looking out for other people/bikes on the path, or enjoying the scenery.

    The “resurfacing” they did last year was a farce. All they did was put down new black sealant and painted new lines. Like painting over water damage on a wall, it didn’t solve the underlying issues.

  • What signage design do you have in mind?
    And how well do you think existing signage here in Chicago, or anywhere else, affects how people use things?

    There are a million and one signs in Chicago and we seem to do something different than what the sign says.

  • Carter O’Brien
  • Do you expect people to stop moving and read that?
    There are faster and equally clear ways to communicate preferred behavior.

    I recommend Singapore for a look at how to be cute and friendly about nudging people to do what the state wants ;) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bf83efbfac49707153d03a011f1b4e0e142f6d6c9f7bd8f04047b53525dbafae.png

  • Jeremy
  • what_eva

    It appears that generally the ped path will be on the lake side and the bike path on the LSD side. Presuming that’s the case on the Oak to Ohio section, the graphic is Australian (south is up).

  • Carter O’Brien

    The signage is primarily needed by pedestrians, many of whom are tourists and relatively new arrivals to Chicago. Singapore? Really. How about before throwing our hands in the air that signage doesn’t work, we actually implement it correctly. Not rocket science.

  • what_eva

    I guess I’m usually there summer afternoons before dark. A wall more like is down south of Oak would be better, but unlikely the money is there for it.

  • Pat

    It’s been the same cracks and puddles for years. Notable ones I encounter on a regular basis:
    – The 3-4 large puddles on the bike section by the North Ave lot.
    – That tire eating ramp to cross the entrance at the North Ave lot (finally somewhat fixed).
    – Terrible crossing ramps at Belmont Harbor and Recreation Drive at two places.
    – The huge puddle/broken sidewalk on the Lincoln Park side of the pedestrian bridge. (Speaking of, why did they do a full refurbishment of the span and do ZERO work on the ramps/stairs?)

    I wonder if anyone from the Park District or CDOT actually ever rides any of the bike paths/lanes they are in charge of maintaining. Guess you don’t notice these things when you drive your pickup down the Lake Path.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ah, the image didn’t display on my phone, that actually is good and very much in the spirit of the signage that CPD puts along the beach that say “there is no poop fairy, pick up after your pet.”

    Regarding how well signage works, I work at an institution that sees between 1.5 – 2 million visitors a year, and we also have wayfinding challenges that come with the 4 million people that visit the larger Campus, not to mention the millions downtown and along the lakefront.

    In our industry (and for theme parks and other areas that see massive crowds) there are of course best practices and a science to good signage.

    But there’s an even more important underlying issue IMO, which is to clarify that the LFT does in fact have rules & etiquette, period. You’d be amazed how many people assume that the lack of posted rules mean that there aren’t any.

    This was one of the most important things about the early bike lane “adopter” streets like Elston, the stripes obviously provided no physical protection, but they did send a message loud and clear that bikes were welcome in that space and needed to be respected. Of course, we’re supposed to be welcome and respected on every street, but they had to start somewhere before cycling could become more mainstream.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ah, the image didn’t display on my phone, that actually is good and very much in the spirit of the signage that CPD puts along the beach that say “there is no poop fairy.”

    Regarding how well signage works, I work at an institution that sees between 1.5 – 2 million visitors a year, and we also have wayfinding challenges that come with the 4 million people that visit the larger Campus, not to mention the millions downtown and along the lakefront.

    In our industry (and for theme parks and other areas that see massive crowds) there are of course best practices and a science to good signage.

    But there’s an even more important underlying issue IMO, which is to clarify that the LFT does in fact have rules & etiquette, period. You’d be amazed how many people assume that the lack of posted rules mean that there aren’t any.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d8b59d9c84baf351f563baedf4d1378e3686ba64dccdc40a768ed8764a4edb39.jpg

  • steph5000

    Existing signage is NOT clear at all, because cars frequently end up on the path north of Montrose! I can’t count how many times some idiot gets lost trying to find LSD or a parking lot and winds up gunning it onto the trail and almost killing runners. Why can’t there be posts at each trail/road intersection to block cars from getting on the trail?

  • Carter O’Brien

    LOL. Let me clarify – the image I shared of one, lonely “Welcome to the Lakefront Trail! Trail Etiquette” sign is fantastic.

    But it was placed off of the main LFT, adjacent to what we used to call the Fullerton Rocks and facing away from the trail. It wouldn’t be very difficult to place this sign at every entrance to the lakefront. And a slam dunk would be placing one where people coming down from the North Avenue bridge had it in their field of vision.

    It is erroneous to assume people are aware there is ANY trail etiquette whatsoever. Those of us who use the LFT to commute on a regular basis are not the problem – it’s the 99% that clog it up on the weekends, during special events, etc. People need education, and consistent messaging/reinforcement.

    As to the issue with cars, that is an entirely different messaging need, I don’t enter the LFT north of Montrose terribly often, but some more physical barriers could certainly be necessary if that’sa recurring problem.

    On a positive note, and knocking on wood, but at least the once wretched plague of rollerbladers has died of natural causes.

  • Christopher Wyatt

    While I applaud the initiative to separate bike & pedestrian traffic along this trail, I can assure you that paint is not an effective method of segregating different travel modes along the same roadway. Bikes and pedestrians will generally ride/walk anywhere they please within a given alignment, regardless of lane markings.

  • skyrefuge

    Ok, so they’re picking the lowest-possible fruit, and ignoring the consequences, that in the end will probably leave the tree worse off than it was.

    I mean, except for paving the remaining section of the LSD-side path between Fullerton and North (paving what users have already made visible in aerial photos as a dirt path), this plan is basically nothing but paint and signage (if that), right?

    Meanwhile, it completely glosses over the difficult stuff: the inevitable merging at the endpoints. Heading north from Theater on the Lake, the two separated paths become one again. How? Where is that diagram? Do northbound bikers have to cross the path of southbound runners as the runners switch from the LSD-side of the unified path to the lakeside pedestrian path?

    Same thing heading south from North Avenue. At least that merging already happens (though not terribly smoothly) since two merging paths already exist there, but putting the concept of “separated paths” into people’s heads will only make them less-accommodating to their fellow users when they reach non-separated points.

    And then of course heading south of Ohio, there’s the $60 million Flyover, whose FAQ still says “The Flyover path is 16 feet wide, adding capacity to the existing path”. Oops, turns out the bridge is already out-of-date before it’s even finished, and is in fact a capacity-bottleneck, not an expansion.

    You can’t just encourage people to use a 36-foot wide mode-separated path without considering how you are going to collapse those people back down into a shape to get them across a 16-foot wide bridge.

  • eric299

    This is a stupid misuse of funds. I jog along the lakefront all the time. If you take responsibility for being aware of your surroundings there is not a problem. They should take the money being wasted on this and put it toward something that really matters, like Cancer research.

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