Montrose-Fullerton Trail Separation Will Require Cyclists to Cross a Parking Lot — Twice

The North-Oak plan includes a new concrete walking path by the Oak Street underpass

Near the Waveland clock tower, cyclists (blue line) will be directed back and and forth across the long, narrow parking lot, near a third street crossing at Belmont Harbor Drive. Image: Chicago Park District
Near the Waveland clock tower, cyclists (blue line) will be directed back and and forth across the long, narrow parking lot, near a third street crossing at Belmont Harbor Drive. Image: Chicago Park District

Plans for Chicago Lakefront Trail separation between North and Oak, and from Montrose to Fullerton, don’t include any radical changes. But there are a few curve balls for pedestrians and cyclists, including a new concrete pedestrian route at the Oak Street underpass, and a section where bike riders will be asked to make three street crossings within two blocks.

The ambitious project to separate bike and foot traffic along most of the 18.5-mile shoreline path was made possible by a $12 million donation to the Chicago Park District from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, an ally of Republican Illinois governor Bruce Rauner. Several miles of new bike and pedestrian trails have already been built and the project is slated to wrap up this year. You can view a full progress report on the park district’s website.

At an open house this evening at Gill Park in Lakeview, representatives of the park district, as well as the Chicago Area Runner’s Association and the Active Transportation Alliance, which have been meeting with the CPD regularly to weigh in on path design choices, discussed the latest plans with residents. For the most part the North-Oak section simply involves resurfacing and restriping the existing path with separate lanes for people biking and those walking or jogging. The biggest change is that at the Oak Street bike-ped underpass, a new concrete revetment wall, 14 feet wide, rising a foot or two above the beach, will detour pedestrians around the east side of the underpass.

Pedestrian traffic (red route) would be detoured east around the Oak Street underpass via a new concrete revetment above the beach. Image: Chicago Park District.
Pedestrian traffic (red route) would be detoured east around the Oak Street underpass via a new concrete revetment above the beach. Image: Chicago Park District.

Last fall the park district announced the route for the stretch from Ardmore to Montrose, which adds an additional half-mile detour for cyclists. It links up to the Montrose-Fullerton segment via an existing underpass located east of the current at-grade trail crossing. At the time, I predicted that south of the underpass bike traffic might be rerouted to an existing gravel path that runs along Lake Michigan, with terrific skyline views.

However, that would have required cyclists approaching the lakefront from Irving Park Road or Berteau Street to cross the Sidney R. Marovitz Golf Course, which would be a non-starter, according to CPD officials. Instead, both bike and foot traffic will be routed west again to the existing trail, which will be widened to allow for separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians.

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The stretch south of Montrose will involve widening the existing trail to make room for separate bike and pedestrian lanes, rather than rerouting bike traffic east along the shoreline. Image: Chicago Park District

Shortly before the tennis courts and ball fields by the Waveland clock tower, the routes will split. Cyclists will be required to cross the long, narrow parking lot west of these facilities to a new trail, and then cross back east again at the south end of the lot, near Addison.

At Belmont Harbor bike traffic will use the existing Lakefront Trail, while pedestrians will be detoured to an existing path that hugs the harbor. Between Belmont Harbor and the Diversey bridge, the Lakefront Trail will be widened to make room for separate lanes.

The existing Lakefront Trail will be widened between Belmont Harbor and Diversey Harbor. Image: Chicago Park District
The existing Lakefront Trail will be widened between Belmont Harbor and Diversey Harbor. Image: Chicago Park District

At the open house, Chicago Area Runner’s Association director Greg Hipp told me he’s especially glad that Lakefront Trail users won’t be directed to cross Montrose at street level anymore. “That’s always been a real danger spot for pedestrians and cyclists,” he said.

CARA board member Tom Klimmeck added that compromises had to be made during the trail design process so as to minimize the removal of green space and trees, so not everybody is going to be 100-percent pleased with the plan. He added that the sections of the lakefront where trail separation was completed last year seem to be working out fairly well, although there’s a bit of a learning curve as people get used to the new routes. “I think this coming summer is going to be the real test.”

Residents review the plans at Gill Park. Photo: John Greenfield
Residents review the plans at Gill Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Unlike CARA’s Greg Hipp, Uptown resident Melanie Eckner said she’s not thrilled about trail traffic being diverted to the underpass at Montrose out of personal security concerns. On the other hand, she’s opposed to lighting the new bike route north of Montrose for environmental reasons, and because she believes it could negatively impact birds traveling to the Magic Hedge nature sanctuary at Montrose Harbor.

Jacob Peters, an architect who lives in Logan Square (and wrote about proposals for redesigning the Logan traffic circle for Streetsblog last month), said he’s skeptical that the plan for bike traffic near Waveland will work out. “I don’t think any cyclists are going to do a detour that requires them to cross the street three times within a quarter mile.” Park district lakefront project manager Michael Lang said that motorist will have stop signs at the two Waveland parking lot crossings, and there will be crosswalks for cyclists.

Streeterville resident Dave Kostelansky, president of the Lakeshore Park advisory council, said he was generally pleased with the trail designs presented today. “There’s a lot of good things happening with this project.”

However, Kostelansky added that he was disappointed that the trail separation effort completed last summer between Oak and Ohio merely consisted of striping separate lanes and some new blacktop, and some of the fresh pavement has already been torn up by wave action this winter. In particular, he was bummed that the Chicago Avenue underpass, which currently requires cyclists to carry their bikes up and down stairs or employ not-particularly-useful asphalt wheel ramps, wasn’t overhauled to make it more cycle-friendly. “Right now taking a bike up and down those stairs is probably more work than riding the entire Lakefront Trail.”

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

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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. […]