Hedge Fund Billionaire Ken Griffin Donates $12M for Lakefront Trail Separation

Residents have repeatedly asked for separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists

During the lakefront expansion project at Fullerton, a temporary paved path was built next to Lake Shore Drive. Trail separation might look something like this, but with pedestrians on one of the paths and cyclists on the other. Photo: Michelle Stenzel, Bike Walk Lincoln Park
During the lakefront expansion project at Fullerton, a temporary paved path was built next to Lake Shore Drive. Trail separation might look something like this, but with pedestrians on one of the paths and cyclists on the other. Photo: Michelle Stenzel, Bike Walk Lincoln Park

Chicagoans got an early holiday gift today as the city announced a $12 million donation for Lakefront Trail separation from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, the biggest single donor to both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois governor Bruce Rauner. Residents have previously identified the creation of separate paths for pedestrians and bike riders on the 18.5-mile trail as a top priority for improving the lakefront, since conflicts between different modes can make the path downright chaotic during peak use periods.

In March Emanuel announced plans to separate the Lakefront Trail from Fullerton to Ohio streets and 31st to 51st streets as part of “Building on Burnham,” a roadmap for Chicago’s parks and open spaces. This latest cash infusion will allow the city to build separate paths on the entire length of the trail, presumably with some exceptions at locations without sufficient right-of-way for two paths. The work is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

“This is an important step in making the Lakefront Trail safer, more accessible and more enjoyable for the thousands of Chicagoans and visitors that travel the path each day,” Mayor Emanuel said in a statement. “It would not have been possible without Ken’s philanthropy to the city of Chicago, with this gift being the most recent [example].”

Emanuel and Griffin (right) announced the donation at a press event this morning at Ellis Park. Photo: Mayor's Office
Emanuel and Griffin (right) announced the donation at a press event this morning at Ellis Park. Photo: Mayor’s Office

The trail intended for bike riders will be made of asphalt and measure 12 feet, and will be located next to Lake Shore Drive. The pedestrian path will measure a total of 20 feet in width, with 14 feet of asphalt and three feet of soft-surface running trail on either side. This begs the question of why pedestrians are getting seven-foot-wide asphalt lanes, plus the soft-surface paths, while cyclists are only getting six-foot-wide lanes.

“Chicago is one of the world’s most vibrant cities, and our lakefront is unparalleled,” said Griffin in a statement. “On a beautiful day, the Lakefront Trail should be a place where cyclists, runners and walkers can enjoy their activities without having to navigate around one another.”

According to the city, work to create a separate pedestrian path from 31st to 35th, where a new pedestrian and bike bridge recently opened, is largely completed. Currently work is being completed on the stretch from 35th to 41st.

Construction to create a separate pedestrian path between 31st and 35th was underway last month. Photo: John Greenfield
Construction to create a separate pedestrian path between 31st and 35th was underway last month. Photo: John Greenfield

Unsurprisingly, the Active Transportation Alliance, which has lobbied hard for trail separation, applauded the announcement. “The new trail will ease congestion and conflicts on the lake front, especially on summer weekends when more than 100,000 people bike and walk the trail daily,” said executive Ron Burke. “I often hear from people who avoid the lakefront because it’s too crowded, and this will dramatically address that problem and enable more people to comfortably bike and hike along Chicago’s beautiful lakefront.”

Even Friends of the Parks, which successfully fought to kill Emanuel’s proposal for replacing a lakefront parking lot with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts, is endorsing the Lakefront Trail separation plan. “There have been many safety concerns as pedestrians, runners and cyclists get in each other’s way on a very crowded lakefront, executive director Juanita Irizarry told the Sun-Times. “Improving and expanding those trails and separating the different uses from each other is a good thing.”

“The mayor finds money for the things he cares about,” Irizarry added. “We care about the same thing in this case.”

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