Eyes on the Street: Lakefront Trail Separation between Montrose and Ardmore

The new bike trail (with an access lane for pedestrians) crosses Simonds Drive south of Foster. Photo: John Greenfield
The new bike trail (with an access lane for pedestrians) crosses Simonds Drive south of Foster. Photo: John Greenfield

Uptown has become a hotbed for bikeway controversies. The Chicago Department of Transportation recently completed sidewalk bike lanes inside the Lawrence and Wilson viaducts under Lake Shore Drive, a project that has been widely decried as a strategy to prevent homeless people from seeking shelter in the underpasses. And in May some Uptown residents voiced concerns that the planned creation of separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians on the Lakefront Trail in the neighborhood would raise the risk of crashes due to the proximity of the new bikes-only path to picnicking grounds, soccer fields, and a playground.

The new bike route (blue) and the pedestrian route (red), between Montrose and Ardmore. Image: Google Maps
The new bike route (blue) and the pedestrian route (red), between Montrose and Ardmore. Image: Google Maps

The trail separation project is nearly completed between Montrose and Ardmore, so I recently dropped by to snap some photos of the new configuration. Cyclists are detoured from the existing Lakefront Trail to a new route east of Cricket Hill, which adds a half mile to the trip, but the tradeoff is more distance from LSD noise and exhaust, and some nice views of Lake Michigan.

The Montrose underpass. Photo: John Greenfield
The Montrose underpass. Photo: John Greenfield

To facilitate driving to Montrose Beach, at Montrose Avenue both cyclists and pedestrians are diverted from the old at-grade street crossing to an existing underpass about a block east. The section of path that previously crossed the avenue has been torn out, but I observed several trail users ignoring the “Sidewalk Closed” sign to make the direct crossing, and north of Montrose there’s a “desire line,” a path worn in the grass where people are traveling to avoid the detour to the underpass.

Many people are still choosing to take the direct at-grade route across Montrose, rather than detouring about a block east to the underpass. Photo: John Greenfield
Many people are still choosing to take the direct at-grade route across Montrose, rather than detouring about a block east to the underpass. Photo: John Greenfield

Once you pass through the Montrose underpass, north of the avenue there’s a split in the trail, with one path heading to the left for trail users who want to continue west on Montrose, as well as for northbound pedestrians — this access path meets up with the old section of Lakefront Trail near Lake Shore Drive. Northbound cyclists take the path on the right, which takes them east of Cricket Hill.

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The Wilson underpass. Photo: John Greenfield

As cyclists approach Wilson Avenue, they have the option of taking an existing park path that heads west, connecting with the controversial LSD viaduct bike lanes. Northbound riders continue through another existing underpass below Wilson.

Crossing Lawrence on the new trail. Photo: John Greenfield
Crossing Lawrence on the new trail. Photo: John Greenfield

Two blocks north, the new path crosses Lawrence at street level, and westbound riders are supposed take the street and the Lawrence viaduct bike lanes to head towards the Uptown entertainment district, which includes landmarks like the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera Theater, and the Green Mill jazz club.

The new trail section runs by a playground north of Lawrence. Does anyone know why these runners are tethered together? Photo: John Greenfield
The new trail section runs by a playground north of Lawrence. Does anyone know why these runners are tethered together? Photo: John Greenfield

Next is the contested area of the trail, where residents argue that bike traffic poses a hazard to children and adults who need to cross from parking areas to recreation spots. However, they’re also required to cross Simonds Drive and/or a large parking lot to get to their destinations, which is arguably a more hazardous endeavor.

The pedestrian path by Foster Beach. Photo: John Greenfield
The pedestrian path by Foster Beach. Photo: John Greenfield

The new bike path curves west at Foster Avenue, crossing the pedestrian route, and then cyclists proceed north to the end of the trail at Ardmore via the existing path. At Foster Beach people on foot use a concrete beachside walkway, and originally the trail separation proposal called for creating a new pedestrian path close to Osterman Beach. However, that plan has been scrapped, possibly in response to public input and/or a desire to save green space and trees, and instead the existing trail north of Foster Beach is being widened to 20 feet to allow for separate-but-side-by-side bike and pedestrian routes.

Have you traveled the new sections between Montrose and Ardmore yet? If so, let us know what you think in the comments section.

  • Jeremy

    I rode the path Sunday morning (7/8/18). Some thoughts:

    1. The park district is going to need to do a better job of trimming trees. Branches were hanging over the path in several spots. In the past, the park district hasn’t done a good job of removing sand near Foster Beach. There was a lot of sand today in several places, but I will attribute that to the construction.

    2. There are a couple of sharp turns. They are visible in the Google Maps image above. Bad planning.

    3. I hope there will be some directional signs added when the trail is complete. That should help people traveling west. I assume there will be some block markers painted on the path. I see them south of Fullerton (2400N, 2200N, etc).

  • rwy

    I passed through this section on my way to the starting point for the Mellowest Ride. Definitely liked being closer to the lake. (But not close enough that the path could flood from waves.)

  • Mark Twain

    The runner is likely visually impaired.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    That would make sense, thanks.

  • Tooscrapps

    I’ve seen some Dare2tri trailers up there over the last 2 weeks as well.

  • Luis Uresti

    I think some maps on the trail to detail the change would be usefull. I had no idea any of this was out there till I read this article.

  • srboisvert

    “The new trail section runs by a playground north of Lawrence. Does anyone know why these runners are tethered together? Photo: John Greenfield”
    Visually impaired runners are sometimes tethered to their guides.

  • Courtney

    I rode this path on Saturday. I am sure at some point I wasn’t on the new path and on an older path. I was really close to the water and on a dirt + gravel path.
    I hope some new signage is put up. I found myself a bit frustrated with not knowing where to go and with the presence of pedestrians on the bike path despite there being painted bicycles on the path. *eye roll*

  • planetshwoop

    You were on the good part, IMHO. I prefer the limestone part near the water and dog beach as it’s close to the water and the dog beach always brings a smile.

  • planetshwoop

    They closed Ardmore to Foster this morning.

    I have never taken the new path. I hate riding next to the road. I take the “inner” LFT by the beach from Foster down Montrose and then cut behind the golf course on the access road by the harbor. 1000x better than riding next to a chainlink fence and a highway.

  • Thomas Lesh

    I have been running and biking along the lakefront trails for more than 30 years. I have been avoiding the sections north of Montrose lately because of the consrtuction, but I gave it a try a couple of days ago. This is a nightmare, especially for runners and pedestrians. Usually stick to the unpaved portions when running which, in reality, means you have to cross the bike trail numerous times to continue the course and contend with high speed bike traffic in the process. The worst parts are the underpasses. At Montrose, there are two divided paved lanes. Cyclists coming over from the old trail bear down at speed. No markings so the bikes just take whatever portion they fancy. Once through the tunnel, you need to cross two portions of paved bike trail to continue. At Wilson, one needs to cross the trail again. This is the most likely part to result in serious accidents, two way bike traffic at speed, etc. where the two forks of the new trail intersect with the old running trail. Then comes the narrow unpaved trail that links up to the wider trail that runs to Foster Beach. This is in complete disrepair. Finally, the wider unpaved segment running from Lawrence to Foster suddenly ends in a paved intersection that again requires crossing the bike lanes at a point where cyclists are negotiating a dangerous curve. The running portion continues as the obligatory unpaved ditch alongside the main trail that seems to fascinate our intrepid designers. The worst part is the east-west stretch leading to Foster Beach. This is totally congested with pedestrians, strollers , picnickers, children, etc., which even before the “improvements” was a mess. My impression is that the whole smorgasboard was put together by people who had little or know experience actually using the trail on a daily basis and that people on foot, whether running or walking, had no input whatsoever. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that there is vitually no signage and that cyclists seem, as a rule, to ride wherever they choose.

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