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.

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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.

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