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.”

  • Dennis McClendon

    Unless separate but equal facilities are virtually side-by-side, there will still be conflicts. Both cyclists and pedestrians will use whatever path looks more interesting to them, or takes them closer to their destination. Even side-by-side paths weren’t enough at Navy Pier, where visitors assume that anything without cars on it must be a walkway.

  • JacobEPeters

    In this area north of Addison it could even be argued that trail separation is not warranted due to the lower levels of trail use creating far fewer conflicts between cyclists, joggers, & strollers. These detours seem to introduce as many conflicts as they may rectify, & it might not be worth the expenditure. The more dangerous conflicts in this section are the vehicular crossings due to the traffic that the lakefront parking lots generate.

  • Tooscrapps

    I 100% agree.

    While trial separation is nice they either need to do it correctly or not at all. I’m wary that down the road they City will neglect to make necessary upgrades/improvements and they’ll point to this separation project as the reason. “Look what we did already!”

    A lot of this smacks of the pavement “resurfacing” they did 2 years ago that really was just adding some tar and didn’t actually fix any of the cracks, puddles, etc.

  • sensibleone

    I still find the detour around Cricket Hill for bicyclists to be too cumbersome for bicyclists using the trail for commuting to work. Why not just pave a trail across between the soccer fields and Cricket Hill to shorten the route for everyone?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    This is the plan for the Cricket Hill area. Bike route is the dashed blue line, pedestrian route is the dashed red line. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/157e204d4639ac50786c1d75e79daf98954ce2e14e0b0d41bda4403ce2fc37c2.png

  • **

    They could just keep the existing configuration with pedestrians on the loop to the east where they are now (it is already a wide pedestrian path) and bikes on the current Lakefront Trail. It works great as is and wouldn’t set up that weird diversion behind Foster Beach House. The existing Trail was highly rated in the 2013 study.

  • Bruce

    I agree with these three posts. They are doing some absolutely TERRIBLE designs in some places and may cyclists, myself included, will likely refuse to use the new trails supposedly designed for us.

    The perfect example is the trail going in to Hyde Park where it has been INVADED by crashing vehicles from Lake Shore Drive TWICE already this winter. One was the crash just north of Promontory Point which was really bad, and the car wrapped around the pole and ended up all over the pavement forming the trail. There is NO WAY I am going to ride on that section of trail.

    The other crass was further north, just north of the 47th street rise. A car went off LSD and traveled a long distance NE along the grass, coming to rest right at the edge of the path. This one wasn’t so bad, and at that location the path is much farther from the superhighway known as Lake Shore Drive, so that section worries me much less.

    To the other point, joggers and other non-cyclists already use the new “cycle” path at many different spots, and I don’t see that changing one iota. I really agree with Tooscrapps that they are just looking to say they did this so they can spend the money that was given for the project.

    Both cyclists and pedestrians will look for a route that is convenient and enjoyable to the greatest extent. Both will use whatever route they prefer. That includes me, as I both run and ride on the Lakefront.

  • kastigar

    “Both cyclists and pedestrians will use whatever path looks more interesting to them…”

    I’ll agree with this – that’s what I do and will continue to do. I’m not a regular commuter and don’t ride the route very often.

  • rohmen

    The “I’ll do what I want to do” attitude is common human nature, but it’s also the very thing that causes a driver to not stop for pedestrians trying to cross at a marked cross walk, or a driver cutting into a designated bus or bike land to get ahead in gridlocked traffic. You want that change, culture needs to change period. Cyclists can’t ignore convention and just do what they want simply because they feel like it. …cue cheesy Michael Jackson song…

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Thanks for the reminder rohmen. Truly, no message could have been any clearer.

  • rwy

    Right. The part near Oak Street Beach, where conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists are more likely to happen isn’t getting true separation.

  • JacobEPeters

    The separation of the pedestrian path to the east of the tunnel entrance is actual separation, and I feel that it actually will reduce a large amount of the conflicts around Oak Street beach, by establishing at the entry to the park that the east portion is for walking & the west is for biking. It’s not complete separation, but it will do a lot more than the pavement markings elsewhere.

  • planetshwoop

    Total shame about the path near the golf course. This is the route I take and it is absolutely my favorite piece of the whole lakefront path, hands down. My current route does involve going through a parking lot but it’s not busy and, really, there’s space if it needed to be routed around the parking lot.

    It’s just frustrating that the new route is like a parallel route to the road–much of it seems to try and get as close as possible to LSD. Which meets the goal of separation, but makes the overall experience much less pleasant. (Just like it’s totally miserable to wait on the Kennedy for an el train among 8 lanes of traffic.)

  • Carter O’Brien

    Indeed. That doesn’t work in the City, and it sure doesn’t work in one of the most congested parts of it.

    I understand that when it comes to enforcement and planning, we work along assumptions stemming from the hierarchy of harm flowing with mode, so it’s address issues with drivers>cyclists>pedestrians. But the me-first attitude doesn’t stay silo-ed into the pedestrian mode that way, in my opinion. Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians
    aren’t different species.

    For example, significant reckless “pedestrian” behavior on
    the street is exhibited by people who have either just exited or are getting
    to their cars, and the same is true of those who drive to the Lakefront, or take public transit or bike there. They may ditch the cars, but they are still me-first people at heart.

    What we can all celebrate is that Chicago does seem to have successfully passed peak rollerblading-with-one’s-dog-whilst-wearing-headphones.

  • Don Gordon

    Just goes to show you how fuckin’ stupid are the people in charge of this project. I seriously doubt that those in charge of this project even cycle! …

    “…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…”

    Anyone who rides this path regularly as I do know that there’s any easy way to split the path at this point. Simply direct cyclists eastward along the now current and seldom used sidewalk beginning just south of the Mages Playlot. Continue following this path south and east of the Waveland ball fields until encountering the bird sanctuary and head west back to the trail along the harbor. It would need to be repaved and widened but there’s plenty of room along this route to do that.

    Really, this isn’t rocket science but then again it may be for the morons running this project!

  • **

    I agree it would be worthwhile trying that again. It might help if it could be straightened out on the south end so cyclists are willing to go east. That sidewalk was the bike path throughout the 90s but unfortunately many cyclists refused it, riding instead through the parking lot or on the sidewalk east of the tennis courts.

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