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Posts tagged "Lakefront Trail"

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#1 North Lake Shore Drive Request: Separate Bike, Pedestrian Trails

Chicago's Lakefront Trail and Lake Shore Drive

The current configuration of the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton rings a narrow path with dangerously low bollards, right next to a popular trail entrance and major attractions like Theater on the Lake and volleyball courts. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

This week, the Redefine the Drive study team listed the most requested improvements (PDF) that Chicagoans want to see as part of the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive. By far the most popular is also among the easiest and least expensive ways to improve safety: creating separate paths for bicyclists and pedestrians on the overcrowded Lakefront Trail.

Creating two paths would allow families to enjoy the scenery at a meandering child’s pace. It would result in fewer close calls and fewer “blame game” articles. Runners, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, wouldn’t have to be startled by “on your left” anymore.

Theater on the Lake project

A park improvement will add new park space at Fullerton. The current shoreline is shown in red. Image: CDOT

One small step towards having more lakefront trail options advanced on Monday, when Emanuel and transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld broke ground on a rebuilt shoreline revetment at Fullerton Avenue. By 2016, the $31.5 million project will create nearly six new acres of park space south of Theater on the Lake, along with two through paths.

A new shoreline path for wanderers will hug the shoreline, while a path for through travel will run further from shore. People entering the park from the end of Fullerton Avenue will have several paths to choose from, replacing the current “big mixing bowl” setup that routes trail travelers through crowds of people entering or leaving the park.

The Chicago Park District made similar changes two years ago at 31st Street Beach, by moving the Lakefront Trail underneath the main path that visitors use to walk into the beach and park area. Between there and the 43rd Street beach, the Park District also added new paths that better accommodate users moving at different speeds and reduce congestion along the main trail.

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Streeterville Residents Redefine Their Own Bit of Lake Shore Drive

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A plan view shows a green shoreline between Navy Pier and North Avenue, in place of the current concrete. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

John Krause isn’t the only north lakefront resident who realizes that the Illinois Department of Transportation’s “Redefine The Drive” reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive is a chance to reinvent how the city meets the shore and the street.

In a bid to add more green space in Streeterville, a high-rise downtown neighborhood with with just a few parks, residents commissioned local architecture firm VOA Associates to redesign the area’s lakefront. The proposal has been in the works since 2006, according to DNAinfo, and was revealed at a public meeting last month.

The proposal substantially widens the shoreline park, expands Oak Street and Ohio Street Beaches, and submerges Lake Shore Drive below parkland at both Chicago Avenue and Oak Street. VOA’s plan is backed by the Lakefront Improvement Committee, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, and Friends of the Parks.

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation are currently studying North Lake Shore Drive and adjacent areas from Navy Pier north to Hollywood Avenue. The study has since issued a purpose & need statement, listing the goals of the project, and has now proceeded to solicit solutions from residents to fix those issues.

The proposal from Krause, an independent architect, covers the entire north lakefront and proposes to add substantially more park space and improved mobility for transit, bicycling, and walking. VOA’s design, however, considers the stretch of lakeshore alongside the Streeterville neighborhood, and changes little about how the corridor serves bicycles, buses, or automobiles.

Streeterville residents, though, seem more excited to have the Drive redefined than IDOT. Howard Melton, an attorney and Streeterville resident, facilitated the May meeting where VOA presented their design to residents. As reported by Lizzie Schiffman in DNAinfo, he said the whole project could be completed in four or five years:

[Melton] said if approved, the three-phase plan would renovate Lake Shore Park in the next two to three years, complete the lakeshore buildout around 2016 or 2017, and complete the entire project in four or five years.

While it could be possible to do it in that time if the project were approved today and independent of the North Lake Shore Drive study, CDOT and IDOT have a rather different timetable. They expect to select a preferred alternative in 2016, then receive environmental and design approval four years from now, and start construction afterwards.

VOA’s plan proposes to soften the lake’s waves by constructing a barrier island — like those called for in Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which resulted only in the near south side’s Northerly Island. VOA’s overall design, however, focuses more on building green space than on rebuilding the multi-modal transportation corridor that runs through the park. Both VOA and Krause propose to build several acres of new park space atop a buried Drive near Oak Street Beach.

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A sketch shows how Lake Shore Drive would be buried near Oak and Michigan. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

South of Oak Street, VOA’s proposal widens the angled, paved-over shoreline south of Oak into a swath of green space and a broad access point at Chicago Avenue, flowing over another tunnel and meeting the existing Lake Shore Park tucked behind the Museum of Contemporary Art.

One detail that VOA’s proposal doesn’t address is where and how the Lakefront Trail would be routed around Oak Street. This part of the path is unusable for several days in the winter, because waves crash and freeze on the pavement.

VOA’s pro bono work for Streeterville community groups is one example of what could result from Krause’s suggestion of a design competition that could bring big new ideas to the table. Krause also wants Redefine the Drive to engage design professionals, which could raise new possibilities during what will likely be a once-in-75-years chance to redesign of one of the city’s signature parks and transportation corridors.

VOA did not respond to our requests for more proposal details.

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Architect Urges Big-Picture, Design Thinking For North Lake Shore Drive

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Krause suggests dipping Lake Shore Drive below ground at interchanges, with the Inner Drive and a new light rail line staying at street level. Image: John Krause

Local architect John Krause sees the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago’s most scenic locations, as a chance to think big — not just about the road, but also about parks, transit, trails, the shoreline, and the future of the city alongside it. The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t used to thinking like that, though, and so Krause sees its “Redefine the Drive” project as a process “that looks and feels suboptimal.”

IDOT is currently in the study phase of a decade-long project that will recreate both the boulevard and access to Lincoln Park. It will be years until IDOT has a refined design, so as a first step IDOT must identify what, exactly, they want to do — what they call a Purpose and Needs Statement for the project. Krause is on one of the project task forces, and helped bring to light that IDOT’s original objectives focused on personal vehicle congestion and traffic issues, and was blind to the road’s effects upon parks, the Lakefront Trail, and citywide mobility.

Krause has crafted an alternative vision – one of two, the other by VOA Associates – to redesign the Drive [PDF]. He created it to start a broader conversation about not just how to rebuild a road, but instead to create a legacy project for Chicago that could reimagine both how people move along the lakefront, as well as the lakefront itself.

The way the system is set up, the design team can’t discuss the project with the public, engineering firms are afraid to get involved for fear of being conflicted out of the future project, and the amateur general public is invited to give our unqualified opinions [at public meetings].

“It’s a shame,” he says, “that there isn’t more public engagement of talented designers in this important process.” He adds that a competition, similar to one hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation to solicit designs for Central Loop BRT stations, “might be a way to get Chicago’s professional designers involved.”

IDOT’s study approach started off by lamenting the delays and congestion drivers experienced, Krause says, and so was “propagating a [highway] status quo…that has been discredited for a long time. Great design often emerges through collaboration among people with complementary skills and viewpoints. In this case, maybe civil engineers, transit planners, urbanists, park designers,” and others could work together, rather than letting IDOT’s highway engineers run the show.

A recent example of how IDOT has not looked outside its professional silo occurred at a recent task force meeting. As Krause describes it, “lots of people are pushing for a dedicated transit lane, but no one from the CTA is allowed to offer any guidance or encouragement. To be fair, I know that CTA and CDOT are struggling with IDOT behind closed doors, but whatever is said there has no impact on either the general public or the city’s design professionals.”

Krause says Redefine the Drive needs to redefine the entire lakefront as well. It “needs some real headline attractions… new features that would show up on a tourist brochure of things to do in Chicago.” Or, more importantly, he says, “things that would get the mayor and Friends of the Parks to stand up to IDOT” and get them to do something other than “business as usual” highway-paving.

As an example of what broader thinking could bring to the Redefine the Drive process, Krause has illustrated his own conceptual idea of what the North Lake Shore Drive study area could become. His proposal divides the area, which reaches from Grand Avenue at Navy Pier on the south up to Hollywood Avenue on the north, into four sections.

One principal component of Krause’s scheme is a light rail transit route down the center of the Drive, which would help meet the mobility needs of nearly 70,000 people each weekday. Stops would be spaced every 1/4 to 1/2 mile, including stops at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Edgewater Sports Campus. Throughout his scheme, Krause suggests dipping the Drive below each interchange, removing the elevated bridges that block views towards the lake. The rail line would continue at grade, so that trains will align with bus stops and sidewalks at ground level.

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Small Steps for IDOT Add Up to Giant Leap for North Lake Shore Drive

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Move over, cars: There’s a new top priority along North Lake Shore Drive. Photo: Roman Boed, via Flickr

IDOT’s revisions to the newly updated North Lake Shore Drive “Purpose and Needs Statement,” an opening salvo that sets the tone for the long process of rebuilding the Drive, might not quite be on the same scale as landing on the moon. However, a few seemingly minor text edits signal a huge shift in how the agency will treat active transportation in the upcoming reconstruction. A comparison between the April draft statement [PDF] and the May draft [PDF] reveals substantial changes to what IDOT lists as the project’s priorities.

The first major change is in the opening “Project Purpose” section. In the original document, “improve mobility for automobiles” was the first priority listed, with “buses and non-motorized modes of travel” lumped together afterwards. Looking over the new P&N, “improve safety” has moved to the top of the list, followed by “improve mobility for non-motorized modes of travel,” and then finally “buses and automobiles.” While this may look like a small difference, the statement illustrates the proper road user hierarchy — the safety of pedestrians and bicycles should come first, trailed by the need to move many buses and cars quickly. Similar changes have been made in other sections of the document.

In the original draft, the “Improve Safety for All Users” section had named vehicular safety first, with a small section afterwards about improving safety for “Non-Motorized Modes of Travel.” This time around, the two have been switched. Sadly, no new data or examples of major problem areas were added, whereas the vehicular section did see additional detail added.

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The Lakefront Trail Really Is Open All Day, All Night

Fog at Fullerton

Bicyclists can and should feel free to enjoy the Lakefront Trail’s beauty 24 hours a day. Photo: Jennifer Davis

Have you ever been hassled by Chicago police officers while bicycling on the Lakefront Trail after parks officially close at 11 PM? You’re not alone. Sebastian Huydts, who bicycles for most of his transportation needs, has been stopped twice this year — most recently on May 13, at about 11:15 p.m. “They actually told me to stop with a bright light and asked why I was there,” Huydts recently told Streetsblog. The police insisted that the park is closed after 11 p.m., telling Huydts “that you cannot use the path after that time, and that it wasn’t safe anyways.”

The Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile path used by tens of thousands of bicyclists on warmer days, and by many as a key commuting route throughout the year.

Huydts said that the officers weren’t unfriendly, and that he wasn’t mistreated. He countered the police, saying that riding home among drunk drivers on Kinzie Street would be far less safe. The officers asked for his destination (Montrose Avenue), and after talking amongst themselves, they “told me I was good to go — but should exit as soon as I could.”

The police officer on duty when I called the news affairs office said that he would look into what the rule is, and also how many bicyclists the department has warned, issued citations to, or given a contact card to.

The Chicago Park District, which owns and maintains the Lakefront Trail, said that the path is open at all times. Spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said flatly that “the trail is open for ingress/egress after regular hours.” The Chicago Department of Transportation deferred to the Park District for a response.

Maxey-Faulkner’s answer that the path is open is in keeping with Park District code [PDF], which states that nobody can be in a park between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., “except that persons and vehicles may pass through such parks without stopping, on the more direct walk or driveway leading from their point of entrance to the exit nearest to their point of destination.” This code appears to extend to trails through other large parks throughout the city.

Others have previously reported instances where a police vehicle parked squarely across the path, with the attending police officer ordering bicyclists to immediately exit the trail. Active Transportation Alliance said in 2010 that they would like to see better awareness of the overnight trail use policy. This policy should be conspicuously posted along the path, and communicated to the police units who patrol the trail.

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Tell IDOT to Rehab LSD as a Complete Street, Not a Speedway

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This bus stop on Inner Lake Shore Drive at Addison is an unwelcoming space for riders. Image: Google Street View

On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Transportation kicked off the feedback process for the the North Lake Shore Drive rehabilitation’s future alternatives analysis, at the third meeting of the project’s task forces. During the previous two meetings, it seemed like IDOT would insist upon just another highway project, with minimal benefits for pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists. Yet as the process of determining the lakefront highway’s future has evolved, some hope that the project can be steered in a more positive direction.

When the city of Chicago began building LSD in the late 1800s, the road was designed to be a place where one could take a leisurely ride to enjoy views of Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. Today, an average of 161,000 cars use the drive on a daily basis, few of them leisurely partaking in the view. IDOT estimates that 78 to 95 percent of drivers break the posted 45 mph (40 mph in winter) speed limit. In the highest-speed section, nine percent of drivers were doing more than 70 mph.

Several of the CTA’s busiest bus routes also use Lake Shore Drive. Around 69,000 passengers ride on the 970 local and express buses that ply the Drive every day, many of them residents of high-density lakefront neighborhoods. That’s almost as many passengers as the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch carries daily, and more than twice as many riders as dedicated busways in other cities, like Cleveland’s HealthLine and Los Angeles’ Orange Line.

Yet unlike those passengers, those riding LSD buses frequently get bogged down by car traffic. Northbound bus commuters who use stops along Inner Lake Shore Drive have to wait for the bus on narrow sidewalks, with only a thin fence and guardrail separating them from high-speed traffic on the main road. At intersections were buses get on and off the drive, there are complex interchanges with tight turns.

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City Breaks Ground on the Long-Awaited Navy Pier Flyover

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Rendering of the flyover, looking north from near its highest point.

After more than a decade of planning, the Chicago Department of Transportation finally kicked off work on the Navy Pier Flyover, a $60 million project that will solve the problem of the dangerous bottleneck at the center of the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. “We at the city have discussed this, we have debated it, we have deferred it for decades, and now it’s time to build it,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a groundbreaking this afternoon.

The 16-foot-wide flyover will take pedestrians and bicyclists from south of the Chicago River, up to the level of Lake Shore Drive and around Lake Point Tower, then back down to Jane Addams Park. It will provide much more elbow room for trail users, as well as grade separation from the hazardous Illinois and Grand intersections. The most expensive single bike project in Illinois history, it will cost more than twice the pricetag of the $27.5 million, 3,000-vehicle Divvy bike-share system.

Back in 2012, when the flyover was estimated to cost only $45 million, Streetsblog’s Steven Vance proposed a much cheaper alternative solution, which would have involved converting a lane of Lower Lake Shore Drive into a two-way protected bike lane. He estimates the cost at $3-5 million, including metal bollards, street markings, signal improvements and other upgrades.

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Rendering of Steven’s alternative proposal by Erich Stenzel.

At the groundbreaking, I asked new CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld if she was familiar with Steven’s proposal. She wasn’t, but argued that the $60 million expense, which will largely be paid for via federal dollars, is justified. The first phase of construction, between Addams Park and the Ogden Slip, will cost about $26 million, funded by $18 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement money and other federal funds, plus $8 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“Millions of people use this section of the lakefront and the whole lakefront trail every year,” Scheinfeld told me. “It’s really important to continue to invest in the safety and the quality of the lakefront trail, which is a jewel of Chicago… This is everyman’s park, and this is where everyone should be able to come and recreate safety and enjoy what the lakefront has to offer, whether they’re walking or biking.”

Setting aside the question of whether this was the most cost-effective solution to the central trail’s safety problem, it’s certainly a great thing for Chicago cycling that the issue is being addressed. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said as much at the press event. “I’ve tried to ride my bike down this trail, and when you reach this point it is some combination of bumper cars, whack-a-mole, I can’t even describe it to you, but you take your life into your hands trying to move from this spot to the other side,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the completion, and the safe navigation of my bicycle through this path.”

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Tonight: Defend the Marshall Boulevard Redesign

Marshall Boulevard bike lane

The road diet has calmed traffic at the curve from Marshall to 24th Boulevard.

Tonight the future of the Marshall Boulevard bike lane could be at stake at a community meeting hosted by 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas.

The Marshall Boulevard bike lane was installed last fall and runs from Sacramento Drive in Douglas Park half a mile to 24th Boulevard in Little Village. It consists of a buffered lane on one side of the street and a parking-protected lane on the other side. The redesign has noticeably calmed traffic, according to resident Dan Korn. “The sharp curve at the corner of 24th and Marshall used to be good for at least one bad crash a month; it seems to be better now, so far,” he posted on The Chainlink.

When the redesign was implemented, curbside parking was removed on one side of the street, and residents were reportedly confused about where they could park. According to a post on The Chainlink, tempers flared because cars were ticketed en masse before the parking signs had been updated to reflect the new rules. This spring, the proper signs were put up.

Korn reports that compliance with the new parking rules has improved recently, but some local residents remain opposed to the redesign because “[t]hey think that there are not enough cyclists using the bike lanes to justify the parking that was removed.”

If you’d like to speak up for a redesign that has calmed traffic and created safer biking conditions, the meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at the Saucedo Academy School auditorium, 2850 W. 24th Blvd.

Also this week are two meetings that are part of ThinkBike, in which the Dutch consulate sends over transportation planners from the Netherlands to work with local planners on designing solutions. These meetings will deal with two specific projects. CDOT wants to connect the Lakefront Trail with the Loop via Monroe Street, currently four to six lanes wide without provisions for cycling. The second project is figuring out how to provide for cycling on Milwaukee between Division and North Avenue through Wicker Park. The workshops are invite-only, but the public can get in on the Dutch at two events, starting tomorrow.

There’s a reception with Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Gabe Klein and Dutch Ambassador Rudolf Bekink Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m. at Collaboraction, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave, Room 300 Theater, and a recap at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at the Cultural Center’s Millennium Park room. Both of these events are open to the public but you’re encouraged to RSVP.

ThinkBike first occurred in Chicago in fall 2010, when the initiatives under consideration were Lincoln Park (building a neighborhood-level bike plan and addressing Clark Street issues) and the Washington/Madison corridor downtown that is now part of the Central Loop BRT project.

Visit our calendar page for information on these and other events.

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Thinking Big: The Lake Shore Drive Bike-and-Bus Highway

Adding bus-only and bike-only lanes on Lake Shore Drive would clear the way for efficient transportation and send fewer cars onto Chicago's streets. Graphic: Chicago Magazine

Back in August, longtime bicycling activist Randy Neufeld – currently the director of the SRAM Cycling Fund and formerly the Active Transportation Alliance’s first paid staffer – outlined an intriguing proposal in Chicago Magazine: building a bike-and-bus highway into the north Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project.

…the city could create two specialized lanes at minimal cost. One should be for a bus rapid transit system, which is essentially a train system without rails. Rapid transit buses—already operating in places like Bogotá, Colombia—move rapidly. They don’t bog down in traffic like express buses do. And riders pay at stations instead of as they board, which is more efficient. The bus lane would be closest to the median strip. Then there would be a lane for bikes and for light electric vehicles, such as electric assist cargo bikes and solar-charged scooters. Two traditional car lanes would be on the right, where drivers could use the off ramps easily.

Just imagine: Chicago could be the first city in the world with an express lane—on our signature road!—dedicated to emerging green urban mobility. There are big economic benefits to a Lake Shore Drive that attracts tourists, that serves residents who choose not to drive, and that is 100 percent reliable, regardless of events and weather. And all this could be done within five years.

I ran into Neufeld on Monday at the Active Transportation Alliance’s Transit Summit and asked him how the high-capacity buses would enter and exit the highway. If the buses had to merge with regular automobile traffic, it would slow the buses down or make it difficult for drivers to enter or exit Lake Shore Drive.

He said the buses wouldn’t leave the route: They would work like a rail system, with stations at the major streets. Express routes like 151-Sheridan would exit at major streets and take surface roads. There could be some direct access ramps for buses only, like on I-15 in Escondido, California (satellite view):

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