Who Has Priority at Lakefront Trail Path Intersections — Pedestrians or Cyclists?

Cyclists will get yield signs and shark teeth to warn them to cede right-of-way to pedestrians, who will get "LOOK" markings to remind them to watch for bikes. Image: Chicago Park District
Cyclists will get yield signs and shark teeth to warn them to cede right-of-way to pedestrians, who will get "LOOK" markings to remind them to watch for bikes. Image: Chicago Park District


The Chicago Park District is moving along with their project to create separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists along almost the entire 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail and, as to be expected, the new set-up is raising some questions from path users. Recently Streetsblog Chicago reader Anna Weaver asked us who has the right of way at locations where the bike-only and pedestrian-only trails cross, and what’s being done to help prevent people on foot from being struck by folks on wheels.

As it happened, park district project manager Michael Lange addressed those questions at last week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting. “The first priority in terms of our users are pedestrians, so we wanted to ensure that pedestrians basically have the right of way in areas where the bike path crosses the pedestrian path,” he said. “We’re asking the bicyclists to yield instead of putting a stop sign there. We know that nobody’s going to stop — it’s not going to happen.”

Image: Chicago Park District
Image: Chicago Park District

Instead, yield signs will be installed for cyclists, along with green boxes with bike symbols and arrows, plus white triangular “shark’s teeth,” which indicate that people on bikes are supposed to yield to people walking. The pedestrian paths will be marked with the word “LOOK” with arrows in each direction at intersections to warn folks on foot to check for bike traffic before crossing, just as is the case at locations where sidewalks intersect with two-way protected bike lanes on streets. The green bike boxes will also help make it obvious which trails are for cyclists.

“From the feedback we got from the bicycle community it was clear that there’s a really good understanding of biking on city streets,” Lange said. “Everybody clearly understands the striping that’s associated with that. So we wanted to bring that same language, in terms of striping and signage into the park system as well.” He added that after the full trail separation project is completed next year, the park district will go back and reevaluate all the signage to make sure it’s working and trail users aren’t being endangered or getting confused.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

  • Thomas H. Jobe, MD

    Anna Weaver has raised a critical question that touches on the consequences of separating cyclists from pedestrians in the first place. While considerable efforts, and I am sure expenses, have gone forward to separate cyclists from pedestrians in this plan, it paradoxically creates two concentrated streams that can suddenly clash in perilous opposition like exposed electrical wires. The plan simply kicks the proverbial football down the road: to these very INTERSECTIONS. The only safe solution is to build bridged overpasses for the cyclists. Whoever planned this operation and funded it, will have to poney up the resources to pay for the overpasses, once the law suits and injuries begin to mount up.

  • Tooscrapps

    Same principle as cars and crosswalks without a traffic device. So overpass all those places for peds too?

  • Tooscrapps

    Not a huge fan of this set up. Any feeder routes to the two paths, whether it be a bike or ped, should have to yield to the main paths. In situations where the main ped and bike path intersect, then bikes should yield.

  • rwy

    Bridges would have the advantage of making it harder for users to turn onto the wrong path. Unfortunately $12M doesn’t buy you many bridges.

    I think one thing these crossing have going for them is the predictability. You slow down when approaching the intersection and then speed up after crossing the intersection.

    One thing I’m wondering is why a pedestrian path would have a centerline.

  • rwy

    In many ways a bike path is closer to an expressway than a street. It’s supposed to limit conflicts with other modes.

  • I’m pleasantly humored by seeing the “shark’s teeth” finally show up in road design here in Chitown. I grew up with them in the Netherlands in the 1970s and they existed probably before. For whatever reason, they’re a remarkably attention-grabbing yield sign.

  • Tooscrapps

    Simple marking for runners and walkers to know where they are on the path.

  • Tooscrapps

    And it does. But this is an urban bike path, not some rails to trails.

  • rohmen

    Interactions with pedestrians is one area where cyclists simply need to do better. It’s frustrating when a pedestrian is distracted and does something dangerous, but too often during my commute I see instances where cyclists don’t stop for pedestrians who have the legitimate right of way in intersections, etc.

    Sure, the infrastructure is what it is on the path and definitely creates the conflict, but hopefully a little civility (and abiding by the rules of the road and yielding) from cyclists will go a long way to minimizing the danger.

  • Tooscrapps

    It’s frustrating to stop your bike for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, only to have a driver (or three) zoom by you on your left. Then you’re just standing there because the pedestrian is understandably wary of trying to take the crosswalk.

    We all need to better and I wish pedestrians were a bit more assertive of crosswalks, but with the way some people drive, I don’t blame them for waiting for a large break in traffic.

  • rohmen

    Agreed, but it’s tough to be aggressive as a pedestrian here when traffic quite simply does not stop. I am actually pretty aggressive when walking, and I’ve had times where it’s clear that the car was not going to yield. That’s somewhat unique to Chicago, as some other bigger cities I’ve been in (while not prefect) are nowhere near as aggressive.

    My concern with some cyclist’s behavior, though, occurs more at four way stops or other clear yield points when vehicles have stopped. I ride through the west loop daily, and I see a lot of cyclists that roll a stop and cut in front of a pedestrian crossing while other vehicles are stopped and waiting. That’s not cool IMHO.

    From the cyclist’s perspective, I think they feel like they’re in enough control of the bike that they pose no danger to the pedestrian, even if they pass with less than 2 or 3 feet of room (I’ve even been guilty myself at times). From the pedestrian’s perspective, though, it can feel like you’re getting buzzed by the cyclist. It’s happened to me as a pedestrian, and even though I knew I wasn’t going to get hit, it’s often been a closer call than I’ve liked and frustrated the hell out of me.

  • rwy

    Sidewalks and hallways don’t usually have centerlines. Solid black pavement would be a visual indicator to a cyclist that they are on the wrong path.

  • Tooscrapps

    There are plenty of solid black paths in city parks where it is legal to ride a bike on. The key for these paths are signage and pavement markings when you enter the paths

    The center line is just an indicator to people who may like to walk 2-3 abreast about where they are on the path and so they can be cognizant of people who may be running in the opposite direction.

  • JB

    I think the separate paths are great. However, I am a heavy user of the Lakefront path and tend to get on at Oak Street.

    Most bicyclists are sensible.I get so aggravated by those speedsters who think their workout is the most important thing and that they are badasses and they just needle their way through the Oak Street intersection. I have seen so many “almost” accidents.

    A perfect world would be a place where people use common sense and realize it is a shared space so be aware of other people and slow down at intersections. However, it isn’t.

    1) There need to be slow biking signs and even potentially ticketing for people who don’t slow down on their bikes at highly congested areas like Oak Street that have a high concentration of clueless pedestrians. You will always have clueless pedestrians of all ages and nationalities at that intersection, I have seen them. I have seen little toddlers right on the edge of the path, potentially running into the lane at any moment. It is just too bad for the speedsters, if they want to race go cycliing in a different place.

    2) Bike lanes do not mean run over people. I have seen this time and again, commuter bikers in particular can be very proprietary over their bike lanes and feel like it is their right to almost run over pedestrians if they are in the bike lane. You will always have pedestrians and cars infringing on the bike lane, it is a fact of life. Cyclists still need to slow down.

    I just think cycling for the most part is a healthy way to get rid of stress and aggression but it does not mean ride aggressively on the bike in crowded intersections. Races and open training spaces are for aggressive riding, not crowded pedestrian areas or I will say intersections on streets, the truck and car will always win and sometimes kills.

    The split lanes are a fantastic first step, they have them in Europe and work great.But I think Europeans have more common sense than Americans. The biggest thing is to discourage speed in the bike lanes and on the Lake Front path. Somehow to get the message across that we are all in this together, share this beautiful path and need to be aware of others. I realize this is a tall order but one can hope!!!

  • Carter O’Brien

    Agreed. I still have to get on the new lanes, but one thing that always struck me as ridiculous and completely preventable was having benches and worse, the vending kiosks, right off of the LFT. You don’t need to be a transportation expert to realize that this inherently creates user conflict, because someone with kids trying to order lemonade, hot dogs, etc. is in no way aware of the bike traffic. Was this addressed in this new design?

  • what_eva

    ?? This is exactly what you described. This is showing an intersection of ped and bike paths with bikes yielding. What part are you not a huge fan of?

  • Tooscrapps

    The ped path you are referring to in the rendering above is actually a multi-use entrance/exit path to the two main paths. I do not think cyclists should have to yield to those users.