Eyes on the Street: Lakefront Trail Separation From 31st to 41st

A new stretch of trail for cyclists, just south of the 35th Street bridge. Photo: John Greenfield
A new stretch of trail for cyclists, just south of the 35th Street bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

Recently on this blog I discussed plans for Lakefront Trail separation between Ohio and Fullerton, work that’s slated to begin later this spring and be completed this summer. This afternoon I took a spin to the South Side to check out the in-progress trail separation project between 31st and 41st, which broke ground last August and is almost done. Another section from 41st to 56th is in design and should be completed in the fall.

An under-construction section near 31st Street Beach. Photo: John Greenfield
An under-construction section near 31st Street Beach. Photo: John Greenfield

In December, the city announced a $12 million donation from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffith for Lakefront Trail separation. However, separating bike and pedestrian traffic on the stretch from 31st to 41st is a $1.8 million project that was already paid for by Chicago Park District capital funds.

A new, parallel path has been build around the hump of land at Oakwood. Photo: John Greenfield
A new, parallel path has been build around the hump of land at Oakwood. Photo: John Greenfield

The southern half of the Lakefront Trail is generally much less congested during the summer than the path on the North Side, but the area around 31st Street Beach sees plenty of conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists during nice weather. Trail traffic on the stretch south of 31st will likely increase a bit this year, thanks to the beautiful new bike/ped bridge over Lake Shore Drive that opened at 35th last fall. Other planned bridges at 41st and 43rd will likely draw more path users as well.

A new stretch of trail for cyclists, just south of the 35th Street bridge. Photo: John Greenfield
A new stretch of trail just south of the new 35th Street bridge. Photo: John Greenfield


In general the project is creating pedestrian paths that will have 7-foot-wide paved lanes in each direction, plus 3-foot soft-surface shoulders, and will be located closer to the lake. The bike path will be located closer to the drive (and its noise and pollution) and will feature 6-foot-wide paved lanes but no soft shoulders, which will discourage use by joggers who prefer a lower-impact experience.

Two roads diverge in a (non-yellow) wood. Photo: John Greenfield
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood. Photo: John Greenfield

As you can see from these photos, the new sections of trail are coming along nicely. The big question is whether cyclists and pedestrians will stick to their designated lanes. The park district hopes that good signage will ensure that everyone gets the memo about which trail they should be using.

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  • I’ve seen people pedesting all over the “bike” portion, but that could be because the whole network remains unfinished.

    And FYI, that asphalt sealant that’s been applied is really, really slippery when wet.

  • Fred

    I noticed the same thing. The path needs to be marked more often than just where it splits, it needs to be marked every 50-100ft. I hope this still happens.

  • **

    I’m hoping the next phase of the project will use crushed limestone for the full width of the walking path rather than re-using the old asphalt/soft-shoulders design. A great example of what I mean is the half mile next to the shore between Lawrence & Foster, where you often see families walking, sometimes with little kids on bikes or in strollers.

    A full-width of some alternate, safer surface could:
    • ensure permeable, non-toxic surface for sensitive coastal areas with many child users,
    • better distinguish between “new” walking path and “old” bike/running path
    • help people to learn new system without a lot of costly signage
    • allow/invite people to walk alongside one another
    • be more “park-like” than street-like” to help ensure cyclists won’t ride both and that walkers will be drawn to the walking path.

    Not sure what sealants the Park District is using but usually they are quite good on environmental side and are aware of things like these studies: http://invw.org/2012/02/17/toxic-asphalt-sealants-threaten-kids-cause-air-pollution-four-new-studies-find/.

  • Jeremy

    All good points, but after rain, anything other than a hard surface for the walking path will have puddles. That will discourage people from walking on that path and likely walking on the bike path.

  • Jeremy

    I hate to be that guy, but it is “Ken Griffin”, not “Griffith”. While i like the idea of a hedge fund billionaire not getting the respect of having his name spelled correctly, you probably prefer accuracy.

  • **

    That really hasn’t been my experience on the crushed stone paths along the water north of Belmont or in Lincoln Park. They drain much more quickly than many of the asphalt surfaces in Chicago, which tend to be poorly graded. There are also many permeable options that are good for wheelchairs and for walking that aren’t asphalt.

  • Pat

    Check out the gravel path by Diversey Harbor.

    Gravel is fine, IF they maintain it. If history is any judge, don’t expect them too.

  • Bruce

    Geez. That’s not good.. I haven’t had that problem yet, fortunately. Been on it in all kinds of weather. Fingers crossed.

  • Bruce

    I hate to say it, but I’m gonna keep riding on the “ped” path, and I expect peds will continue to use the new “bike” path. I prefer to be farther from the pollution and closer to the lake. I think that the increased capacity is going to matter more than the “separation.”

  • **

    Ideally private donors would create an endowment for maintenance alongside their gift. In this case the Park District will be responsible for maintaining miles of a new asphalt path that’s even wider than what we already have (plus the two new running paths on either side). That’ll definitely be costly. I hope that the Parks Foundation can help steward larger gifts like this in the future to create maintenance funding.

  • **

    People seem to use the wider crushed paths in Lincoln Park (both by Diversey and from Lawrence to Foster) even when it doesn’t drain fully because it’s wide enough that there’s dry space. I think it would have helped if the design for the pedestrian path didn’t have a stripe down the middle. As someone who has bike commuted for decades, I think it’s pretty likely bikes will end up on the pedestrian path too.


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