Ardmore-Montrose Plan Will Add a Half-Mile to Bike Route

Cyclists (blue route) will be required to circumnavigate Cricket Hill (right side of map) while pedestrians (red route) will use the existing Lakefront Trail. Image: Chicago Park District
Cyclists (blue route) will be required to circumnavigate Cricket Hill (right side of map) while pedestrians (red route) will use the existing Lakefront Trail. Image: Chicago Park District

Plans for Lakefront Trail separation between the northern terminus of the path and Montrose Avenue will add an extra half-mile to shoreline bicycle commutes, but cyclists will be rewarded some nice lake views south of Foster Avenue. Both bike riders and pedestrians will be required to detour east from the trail’s current Montrose crossing — which will be eliminated — to an underpass, making it easier for motorists to drive to the beach.

At last Wednesday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, Chicago Park District project manager Michael Lange provided an update on the initiative to separate pedestrian and bike traffic along virtually the entire length of the 18.5-mile trail. This ambitious project was made possible by a $12 million gift from billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffith, who is also the largest outside contributor to Illinois governor Bruce Rauner’s campaign fund.

The park district plans to complete the work next year. The stretch between 31st and 41st streets was recently completed, and segments between Fullerton and North avenues, and Oak and Ohio streets, are nearly finished, Lange said.

The new bike (blue) and pedestrian (red) routes between Ardmore and Foster. Image: Chicago Park District
The new bike (blue) and pedestrian (red) routes between Ardmore and Foster. Image: Chicago Park District

In general, the new pedestrian-only route will be located closer to Lake Michigan, while the new bike-only route will run closer to Lake Shore Drive and its noise and exhaust. An exception to the rule will be a section of the upcoming project section between Ardmore and Montrose, which will begin construction this fall, likely wrapping up next spring.

Between Ardmore Avenue (the north end of the trail) and Foster, cyclists will use the existing Lakefront Trail, while a new route will be created for pedestrians that will run close to Osterman and Foster beaches. However, at Foster Avenue the routes will switch places, with pedestrians taking over the existing trail.

Bike riders will be routed east, past the Foster beach house and around a large parking lot. After that, the bike route crosses Simonds Drive, a coastal road, and runs south of the drive, using an existing underpass to cross Wilson Avenue. Next, the bike route detours east to circumnavigate Cricket Hill, the popular kite-flying and sledding spot.

The bike detour (approximated on this Google map since some new segments need to be built) will add roughly a half-mile to the route. Image: Google Maps
The bike detour (approximated on this Google map since some new segments need to be built) will add roughly a half-mile to the route. Image: Google Maps

Lange explained that the decision was made to have cyclists take the longer lakeside route south of Foster because it would have been an “excessive detour” for pedestrians. Referring to the fact that the lakefront between Foster and Montrose also features several soccer fields and baseball diamonds, a running track and a skate park, he added, “This is also a huge recreation corridor, so we wanted to make sure people who are walking have the ability to access these facilities quickly.”

East of Cricket Hill, the pedestrian and bike routes will meet up again to go through an underpass beneath Montrose Avenue, located about a block east of the current, at-grade intersection of the Lakefront Trail intersection with the avenue. This junction is a hot spot for crashes, probably partly due to confusing, illogical signage. While drivers on Montrose have a stop sign, path users have a yield sign, making it unclear who’s supposed to cede the right-of-way to whom.

The Lakefront Trail segment that currently crosses Montrose will be depaved and sodded over, so path users won’t have the option of making an at-grade crossing. Pedestrians and cyclists traveling on Montrose will be able to access the new trail via existing paths that parallel the avenue.

Currently motorists on east-west streets in Uptown have stop signs at Lakefront Trail intersections while path users have yield signs, which makes no sense. Photo: Hui Hwa Nam
Currently motorists on east-west streets in Uptown have stop signs at Lakefront Trail intersections while path users have yield signs, which makes no sense. Photo: Hui Hwa Nam

“One of the nice thing about pushing the bike trail eastward is that we force bicyclists to use the underpasses at Wilson and Montrose,” Lange said. “The really great benefit is that we’re taking bicycle and pedestrian crossings off of Montrose, so we’re removing a high conflict area.” This remark was met with applause and cheers from MBAC meeting attendees.

Of course, another reason to force pedestrians and cyclists to take this less direct viaduct route is to facilitate driving on Montrose, since motorists will no longer have to stop for trail users. As with the rest of the Lakefront Trail separation project, the redesign of the Ardmore-to-Montrose stretch was done with input from the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which helps make decisions about traffic routing, as well as the Active Transportation Alliance and the Chicago Area Runner’s Association. A public hearing on the project was held on August 1 at Margate Park.

So where do pedestrians and cyclists go after crossing Montrose via the same underpass? For the time being, both groups will head southeast on an existing path to the current Lakefront Trail, but the future of the trail segment between Montrose and Fullerton hasn’t been determined yet. The park district is still designing this section, where the presence of the Sidney R. Marovitz Golf Course, softball fields, tennis courts, and Belmont Harbor pose logistical challenges. As such, no public meetings are scheduled about this stretch yet.

A possible solution for trail separation south of Montrose would be to route cyclists to the shoreline next to Montrose Harbor (blue route).
A possible solution for trail separation south of Montrose would be for pedestrians to use the existing path (green) and route cyclists to the shoreline next to Montrose Harbor (blue).

One possible solution that springs to mind would be to have pedestrians use the existing trail and route cyclists east from the viaduct to the shoreline next to Montrose Harbor, currently occupied by a rough gravel road, which is already great place to ride fat bikes or cross-country ski during the winter. Yes, this change would again make the bike route a bit less direct. But the awesome views of the lake and skyline would be worth the extra pedaling.

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  • Tooscrapps

    How will the new Wilson bike lanes link up with the moved path?

    I wish they would just close Wilson in the park already.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    For the record, Streetsblog Chicago is not endorsing the sidewalk bike lane projects at Wilson and Lawrence, since it appears that the city’s chief motivation for installing them is to keep the recently displaced homeless encampments from returning to the viaducts after they are reconstructed: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2017/08/11/dont-use-sidewalk-bike-lanes-as-defensive-architecture/

    If you look closely at the top rendering, you’ll see that access paths will be built to connect Wilson (the center east-west street) with the new trail.

  • Brian Howald

    Ooh, underpasses. How 1960s!

  • Tooscrapps

    I am in agreement with your stance on the path.

    So we’re looking at some sort of bike lane on Wilson until the viaduct? Any information on what level of bike lanes?

  • Those underpasses flood and have been fairly nasty at least for the 17 years I’ve been visiting Montrose. BTW, it’s Simonds, after OC Simonds who designed the Lincoln Park extension (which Montrose beach is a part of), as well as Graceland Cemetary, Morton Arboretum, Fort Sheridan, University of Michigan’s campus, etc.

  • Tooscrapps

    They should close the parking lot access from Lawrence and route all of that traffic though the Wilson entrance to further reduce bike/car conflicts.

  • Jeremy

    Are there underpasses in Chicago that don’t flood?

  • planetshwoop

    This path routes cyclists along the route I follow most mornings. I find it’s much more pleasant to actually be close to the lake (not LSD) and thus head over by Foster Ave beach towards the lake. It’s so much quieter, and there are rarely any cars on any of the streets, much less the paths.

    The service road behind the golf course is particularly pleasant. There’s a delightful view of Montrose harbor and a nice path between prairie plants and shoreline. For a city, it’s pretty idyllic.

    And since a car almost hit me at Montrose today, I’d say this can’t happen soon enough, even if the viaducts are sometimes yucky. I think for much of the year, the road is an option too in that area.

  • Because of the underpass between Montrose and Irving and Irving itself the near LSD route needs to be for both bikers and walkers. Because the lake route is so beautiful and calm it needs to be for both as well. The best solution is to make the LSD route more for walkers and the lake route more for bikers. It may be a design challenge and it may require taking slices off of the sacred cow golf course but so be it.

  • Guy Ross

    I pains me to read about concerned citizens having to consider the placement and design of walking and bike pathways through a globally prominent public park on a waterfront while this space is cut to pieces by 60 (!) foot wide roads.

    I get the practical aspects about the above conversation but it shows just messed up our priorities have been for so long in our drive for ‘modernity’

  • Tanager21

    As a walker and occasional slow bicyclist, I don’t think the path east of the golf course should be the bike path. Bike commuters don’t seem to stop to enjoy the views while walkers, runners, parents with strollers, and dog walkers do. It’s a quiet area that should remain unpaved, not asphalted so folks on their way to work can zoom through. Even if you think of it as a sacred cow, the golf course is not likely to give up land too easily.

  • Exactly. Sacred cows stand in the way of needed changes.

    Another sacred cow is Lake Shore Drive itself. Imagine a lanes worth of space (half a lane in each direction) taken away for protected bike commuting.

    Then there is the sacred cow of Belmont Harbor, another choke point. Perhaps another flyover is needed there.

    I wonder how Friends of the Park is feeling about all this new asphalt being laid down on existing actual green space. In that sense the park itself is a sacred cow.

    So yes let’s put up a new chain link fence and slice off some of the golf course.

    Any golfers here want to speak up? Now is your chance here at Streetsblog.

  • **

    I wonder if they’ll be able to plough the underpasses without digging them deeper. Actually, Ernst Schroeder designed the section of Lincoln Park from Montrose to Foster (originally to Devon but that was not completed). See the National Register nomination for Lincoln Park, especially Section 8, page 86: https://archive.org/stream/NationalRegisterNominationsForChicago/LincolnPkNrNom#page/n79/mode/2up

  • **

    Has anyone said who will be responsible for clearing the snow there once the sidewalk bike lane is finished?

  • **

    Community members advocated with the Army Corps of Engineers to restore that dirt road and naturalistic embankment during the revetment. I hope there is no real thought to pave it now—especially since it freezes badly some winters and would be quite dangerous to ride. Plus it’s basically invisible to passing cars, hard to get to in emergencies, and lighting there would not be good for the two bird sanctuaries.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Snow doesn’t really fall inside viaducts.

  • **

    I like ideas such as fixing and lighting the underpasses for all users—they’ve been hazardous for years. But I’m really concerned about the plans. The contract for this section is on the Park District Board’s agenda for their meeting this Wednesday, 12/13. I hope they aren’t going with what it is up on the website as the final plan because key issues haven’t been resolved. Chicago is so lucky to offer biking and walking along 20% of the nation’s freshwater—why not slow down and think carefully about how to truly leverage the opportunity of such a donation? Some issues:

    1. Asphalt
    18 new miles of asphalt trail at 14 foot width is over 30 acres of asphalt! Reducing asphalt has been something that the Park District has championed and the mayor spoke to in the Lucas Museum proposal, so what happened? Chicago’s unparalleled freshwater coast would have been an excellent opportunity to choose less toxic alternatives than asphalt or to test a variety of treatments under real conditions. Asphalt is a very bad environmental choice—that is not new information. See, for example, the Environmental Contaminants Encyclopedia Asphalt Entry from 1997 (National Park Service): https://www.nature.nps.gov/hazardssafety/toxic/asphalt.pdf.

    2. Maintenance costs
    Since there’s no maintenance endowment, taxpayers will have to pay for upkeep of all this new infrastructure despite the fact that it’s made from materials that don’t match the great sustainable message of making biking and walking safer.

    3. Safety—accidents and crime
    The Trail has historically been open 24 hours a day, year-round. Cyclists entering the stretch from Montrose to Foster will now be directed to go behind the area closed by gates at 11 PM. How will that be managed and made safe? In emergencies, cyclists will be further from the Drive and in some cases—particular if the path is put behind the golf course—very much out of earshot and behind barriers. That area behind the golf course is seriously iced in winter, too.

    4. Commuting mixed message
    The lakefront bike commuters from Montrose north have the longest cycling distances to downtown (if that’s where they are headed). They will now have to go even further. When the decals wear off or its 10 degrees out, cyclist will ride on the fastest route—the pedestrian route. Elsewhere that is right by the Drive. People used to race thru the parking lot by the clock tower south of Irving Park because the path was on the eastern side of the playing fields and it was “too far” to loop towards the lake—that’s why the path was moved to where it is today—a seriously hazardous stretch that will hopefully get sorted out with this project.

    5. Lack of natural areas reps in regular meeting group
    CARA and ATA are great but there are many more stakeholders for this area whose input is invaluable. Adding lighting to previously dark places along the water’s edge will impact bird habitat at the two sanctuaries, for example, but that’s not the kind of info ATA or CARA might have in their usual purview.

  • Allan Marshall

    And haha, I doubt a single golfer will read this comment section. :)

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