Separation Anxiety: Uptowners Fear Ardmore-Montrose Bike Path Will Cause a Bloodbath

A partially completed new section of bike trail near Foster Beach. Photo: John Greenfield
A partially completed new section of bike trail near Foster Beach. Photo: John Greenfield

Back in September I noted that the new bike route planned between Ardmore and Montrose as part of the Chicago Park District’s Lakefront Trail separation project would require cyclists to pedal an extra half mile, which could be annoying for commuters who are in a rush. But yesterday the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski reported on an argument against the trail redesign I hadn’t heard before. Some Uptown residents are worried that the path reconfiguration, intended to reduce conflicts between bike riders and pedestrians, will create new hazards near Foster Beach.

On Monday city officials held a ground-breaking ceremony for the Ardmore-Montrose section, which should be completed later this spring. While the new pedestrian-only routes along the 18.5-mile trail will generally be located closer to Lake Michigan, while the bike-only paths will run closer to Lake Shore Drive, the section between Foster and Montrose is an exception.

On this stretch, new segments of paved bike path are being built east of the existing trail, which, combined with existing park paths, will route cyclists 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 along the west side of Simonds, 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, before meeting back up with pedestrian traffic to cross Montrose via another underpass. (The crash-prone existing path/street crossing at Montrose will be eliminated.)

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 aren’t completed) will add roughly a half-mile to the route. Image: Google Maps

While the new route may irritate some cyclists, a couple of Uptown residents told Wisniewski they’re concerned that the route could lead to other lakefront users being struck by them. One of the new bike path segments being built just south of Foster Beach runs along a wide, grassy lakeside expanse that’s perfect for picnicking. Margo McFarland said she’s worried about small children wandering across the trail and being hit by high-speed bike riders.

“I just don’t see how people who are serious commuters are going to take this diversion at a normal low speed,” McFarland told Wisniewski. “When you’re [picnicking] here or there, which they have every right to do… what’s to keep [kids] from running to the other side?”

Marianne Lalonde said she’s worried about folks with disabilities having to cross the bike path on their way from the large parking lot to the beach. She also complained that she hadn’t heard about the community meetings the park district held on the project.

Uptown residents are worries that cyclists on the new bike path (blue) will endanger families picnicking on the grassy area north of the path, and people heading from the parking lot to the beach. Image: Chicago Park District
Uptown residents are worries that cyclists on the new bike path (blue) will endanger families picnicking on the grassy area north of the path, and people heading from the parking lot to the beach. Image: Chicago Park District

While McFarland and Lalonde’s concerns are understandable, it’s important to remember that similar situations exist in other parts of the Lake Front Trail, particularly near 31st Street Beach, where cyclists are riding by families picnicking and barbecuing, and everyone needs to use a little extra caution. My sense is that bike riders and other park users will get used to the new configuration near Foster Beach and adjust their behavior accordingly. It’s also likely that many cyclists will ignore the new detour and stick to the more direct existing path, so there may not be a constant flow of bike traffic, even at busier times.

The park district plans to wrap up the rest of the Lakefront Trail separation project, largely funded by a $12 million grant from Republican hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, by the end of the year. A recent study by Chicago Area Runners Association and the Active Transportation Alliance found that the trail garners some 100,000 users a day on summer weekends. The trail separation sections from 31st Street to 41st Street, Oak Street to Ohio Street and Fullerton Avenue to North Avenue are complete.

City officials held a ground-breaking ceremony for the new trail segment on Monday. Photo: Chicago Park District
City officials held a ground-breaking ceremony for the new trail segment on Monday. Photo: Chicago Park District

One major fly in the ointment with the improvement of the shoreline path is the long-delayed Navy Pier Flyover. Last week WBEZ’s Monica Eng reported that the bike-ped bridge, which was originally supposed to open this spring, likely won’t open until 2020. The Chicago Department of Transportation has blamed the latest delay on complications with Lake Shore Drive’s Depression-era bridge over the Chicago River.

On the bright side, the Illinois Department of Transportation recently purchased guardrails to protect new bike-only Lakefront Trail paths on the South Side that run perilously close to LSD traffic. A series of recent car crashes in which vehicles wound up on the trail made it clear that the guardrails are sorely needed.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    “Republican hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin”. WTF?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I didn’t go into a whole discussion of the politics of the matter, but it’s an interesting situation because Griffin is Governor Rauner’s largest donor (other than Rauner). So Griffin donating $12 million to a Rahm Emanuel project is a case of strange bedfellows. But then again, I suppose Emanuel and Rauner being in a wine club together was as well.

  • Cameron Puetz

    If anything the conflicts near 31st Street Beach shows that the Uptown fears are justified. Also with the path under passing Montrose, Wilson, and Lawrence are there plans for bike friendly ramps to street level?

  • hakuna matata

    As a cyclist and user of the park in the area this is a bad plan IMO. The planners did not ask for input from one of the main weekend users of the fields in area. For about 20 Saturdays from 8 am – 4 pm the fields between Lawrence and Foster are used by kids playing AYSO soccer. That’s about 20% of the weekend days of the year. Kids are constantly crossing the path, frequently running to and from their games. Yet nobody from the city thought to get their input. There will be plenty of conflict between people and bikes. And when possible, I imagine many cyclists will just take Simonds to avoid the crazy bike path route.

  • rwy

    Can you elaborate on conflicts near 31st Street Beach? Traffic to the beach goes on a bridge over the LFT.

  • Cameron Puetz

    This area north of the bridge where the parking lots are close to the path gets pretty crazy, it’s also similar to the situation being created in Uptown where the path is running between a parking lot and a grassy area near the beach where families like to set up for the day.

    https://goo.gl/maps/ULhikk9PPzC2

  • Bruce

    People hanging out on the path drinking alcohol and accosting passersby; groups of pedestrians completely blocking the path from edge to edge, holding hands or arms embraced; those might be the types of conflicts the person is referring to.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    So, besides the sensationalist headline, we’re also doubling down with a healthy helping of snark, are we? And why is a city/Park District project a “Rahm Emanuel” project? Doesn’t Griffin live here as well?

  • Kevin Wang

    Why would bicycle commuters at M-F 6-7am conflict with park use? I never see anyone out picnicking at those times. I commute on several shared use paths and the vast majority of folks bike under the 15mph speed limit. You learn to slow down even more when you are passing dogs and small children. It’s the responsible thing to do

  • srboisvert

    Rahm and Griffin are buddies and he contributes to Rahm as well. There were stories a few years back about an incredible number of phone calls between Rahm and Griffin.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Not sure how this could be even remotely as bad as the kids/teens/grown ass adults who routinely dart, waddle or loiter in and across the LFT between Fullerton and Oak Street. Not helped by having vending kiosks and hot dog stands literally on the LFT.

    What we have always needed is an actual educational campaign, similar to what they’ve done on the CTA. This is really not rocket science – a few of those basic etiquette signs at every entrance to the Lakefront would go a long way. Better yet, teach it in CPS as well.

  • Guy Ross

    I know this is just sour grapes but it bears to again refresh the fact that the stakeholders here feel there is not enough paved surfaces within the park and pedestrians and cyclists are again fighting over scraps.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d1e85c7c9b852ed7c65a31362a00a6157ac169e8a54031056f6b45aa43351c15.gif

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here’s some background on how this deal went down: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-rahm-emanuel-emails-examples-met-20161222-story.html

    “Lake front bike path is a disaster,” Griffin vented in an email to Emanuel.

    This is a Chicago Park District project, and Emanuel controls the park district.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I’ve also heard some local preservationists / historians complain that the new bike path alignment destroys / paves over the historic bridal path (i.e. horse trail) that has played a pretty important role in the history of this part of the lakefront …

    With the new alignment how many total at-grade road crossings will there be? Three? Wilson and Montrose utilize underpasses. At-grade road crossings will be: 1) the road between Montrose dog beach and big parking lot (near skatepark), 2) west leg of Lawrence-Symonds intersection, and 3) Foster/Symonds (at east end of Foster Beach parking lot — i.e. on a curve). As is (today), we have at-grade road crossing at 1) Foster, 2) Lawrence, 3) Wilson, and 4) Montrose.

    The impetus of this whole project / enterprise was to separate pedestrians (especially joggers) from cyclists. The solution (at least in this neck of the woods) may result in fewer conflicts with ped/runners, but more conflicts with ped/picnic-ers, who to me seem more ‘vulnerable.’

    The fact that they are paving so much more of the park does rankle me. I guess I prefer as little asphalt as possible in this park.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Whoa, a guy complained, and then actually used his own cash to pay for what he complained about? It’s not like Rahm dug into city coffers to pay for the complaint of a Republican bazillion-are, now is it? If that was the case, then it would be a “Rahm project”. Yeesh.

  • kastigar

    They’re not going to wall off Montrose to prevent continuing following the regular route,l are they?

  • Cameron Puetz

    Most conflicts with commuters occur during the evening commute.

  • planetshwoop

    That happens today, it’s not different. There are soccer + baseball games right next to the path.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The project is partially funded by the park district.

  • Thomas Lesh

    Couldn’t agree more. I really don’t see much benefit to this portion of the project. The running trail now diverges from the main lakefront bile trail just south of Montrose and runs alongside Cricket Hill, then largely unpaved up to Foster where it rejoins the main trail. If the point is to separate pedestrians from cyclists, then this is already the case.

  • planetshwoop

    In the morning, if the drive is crowded, a lot of people will use this as a cut-around and FLY down this road. (If it isn’t eliminated, a road diet would be nice.)

  • planetshwoop

    I am a huge believer that adding color would make a massive difference. Green for bikes, red for peds (or whatever). But coloring things, or adding wayfinding would make a big difference.

  • hakuna matata

    There isn’t much new pavement being added to the park. The main issue is that
    bikes are being forced to the largely existing East paved path that is between parking and fields. There’s going to be a lot of new conflict added despite other conflicts removed.

    As depicted in your picture there are 2 lanes of road and 2 lanes of perpendicular parking. All of which are used extensively on many weekends. Some weekends it can take about 20 minutes to drive from Lawrence to Foster as so many people are waiting for parking. On Saturdays for about 20 weeks of the year there is kids soccer from 8 am to 4 pm.

    So, it’s not too much capacity for a peak, but it is not highly utilized during the week.

    I predict bicyclists will use Simonds when possible instead of the new path. It’s straighter with easier navigation.

  • contyg

    Anyone know why they picked the eastern route as the bike route and the western route as the pedestrian one? With all its turns and kinks, the eastern route looks like the better option for pedestrians, not bicyclists.

    I like the idea of having separate ped/bike paths, but if separate paths are built and labeled as such but bicyclists still use the “ped only” path, that is less safe than the current mixed use path.

  • hakuna matata

    One does not have to currently cross the bike path (other than at roads and an underpass or so) to get to the fields. The new configuration gives 1/2 mile of continuous crossing. Think of 31st street beach which is a total conflict zone of clueless pedestrians and clueless bikers.

  • hakuna matata

    Yes, from the article: “The crash-prone existing path/street crossing at Montrose will be eliminated.”

    Looks like you’ll need to practice your bunny hopping skills to get past it.

  • contyg

    Totally agree. If we go to “ped only” / “bike only” paths, people on each path will adjust their behavior accordingly (bicyclists will go faster, runners won’t check over shoulder before moving left to pass a walker / another runner). If people aren’t actually respecting the segregated paths, that makes for a more dangerous situation than a path that is known / assumed to be mixed use. Colors might be too unnatural for the environment, but significant signage / wayfinding is a must.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Park district project manager Michael 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.”

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Say, a quick google search shows Active Trans has been asking for this since at least 2014, so perhaps it’s been contemplated for years, and not just a Ken Griffin ask?

  • contyg

    Thanks (for this and all the reporting on this)! That all makes sense. Still seems like the bicyclist detour is a little curvier than it could be. I’m sure that’s an effort to avoid adding new pavement where possible, but if it ends up feeling like too much of a pain for bicyclists that they don’t use it, then no one’s better off.

  • hakuna matata

    And the man has no sense about how large portions of the people use or get to the fields. As in fact, the city didn’t even ask at least one of the major users, youth soccer. Where people park and have kids crossing the Eastern path constantly running back and forth between fields and cars.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yep, no secret there, trail users and advocates have been asking for this for decades. But relatively little was going on with it until a super-rich dude got a bee in his bonnet about the issue. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, although it would be nice if we didn’t have to rely on the whims of the wealthy to fund public infrastructure.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Yeah, I mean this is pretty counter-intuitive & not what I recall from my days playing soccer. People there for organized sports are often bringing equipment, coolers, etc., and would be driving, and even removing the equipment factor, after running around on a soccer field for a few hours your kids are likely to be exhausted so chances are good as a parent you found a ride, carpooled or drove yourself.

  • rohmen

    I agree. My first reaction was what’s the big deal, people will adapt. But then I thought of all the times I’ve been riding at a moderate pace on the south section of the path near 31st, and had someone clearly not paying attention just walk out in front of me. It’s happened more than I’d like to think about, and I’m no where near the most aggressive cyclist that I’ve seen on the path.

  • rohmen

    My recollection is that in the not so distant past there were an incredible number of calls between Rahm and Rauner. They were pretty chummy until they weren’t.

  • rohmen

    Honestly not trying to kick a hornet’s nest, and I’m a liberal Democrat, but I’m always somewhat surprised when people seem shocked that someone like Griffin donated to this. I mean, Republicans are into cycling (the Ricketts family owns a bike shop). Many just don’t believe government money should be spent on cycling infrastructure, etc. I very strongly disagree with that, but at least give Griffin credit for walking the walk and coughing up $12 million to help privately fund cycling infrastructure.

    I’d give the Koch Brothers similar credit if they’d take the millions upon millions they spend trying to convince us that public money shouldn’t be spent on certain things, and actually prove their point to greater effect by actually privately funding those things.

  • Cameron Puetz

    That logic seems flawed. Most pedestrians on the LFP are recreational users drawn to the most pleasant route. Since their goal is to enjoy the trip, not reach a specific destination quickly, the distance matters less. Cyclists on the other hand are a mix of recreational and transportation users drawn to the most direct route with the fewest conflict zones. Putting pedestrians on the straight path near LSD and cyclists on the winding path through the lakefront picnic grounds and sports fields seems backwards.

  • BlueFairlane

    What’s funny to me about this is that on previous discussions about other segments of this project, there were people complaining that the bicyclists were getting shafted by always being shuffled away from the lake and closer to the drive.

  • No, it doesn’t. As soon as the overpass was built, a huge desire line was carved right into the hillside, bypassing the overpass entirely.

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