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Guardrails Installed on South Lakefront; 2nd Crash in 2 Weeks Reported Near Diversey

The June 10 crash near the Diversey bridge. Photo: Jeff Linder via Twitter

It's not uncommon for reckless drivers to veer off Lake Shore Drive and onto the Lakefront Trail, with the potential for tragic consequences. In recent memory, the only people injured in these cases have been drivers, but it seems like it's only a matter of time until a pedestrian or bike rider on the path is seriously injured or killed by a driver unless action is taken to better protect trail users.

This issue became more pressing during the recent Lakefront Trail separation project, in which separate paths for cyclists were built closer to the highway, particularly on the South Side. After some frightening collisions on the South Lakefront, in fall 2017 the Active Transportation and the Chicago Area Runners Association lobbied the Chicago Park District and the Illinois Department of Transportation to get guardrails installed wherever a path lies within 30 feet of the drive, and the agencies began to work on identifying funding.

In November 2018 there were two more cases of motorists veering off the drive within at few blocks of each other near Belmont Avenue. And on June 10 of this year, a driver left the the highway just south of the Diversey Avenue bridge, crossed the trail, and slammed into a tree just short of the lake, sustaining critical injuries.

In the wake of the June crash, in a location where there are no railings between the drive and the path, I asked the park district what's going on with the guardrail project. "Engineering of the Lakefront Trail Separation project between 41st Street and Promontory Point included analysis on where new guard rail may have been needed due to proximity of the trail," said spokesperson Michelle Lemons. "The project engineers applied the IDOT regulations and produced a set of drawings and analysis to Chicago Department of Transportation for their review and final determination as to whether new guardrail was necessary. Upon review of these materials, CDOT concluded that these were necessary and issued a permit for installation to occur. Guardrails were then installed in select locations along that stretch in May 2018." Lemons didn't say whether there are any plans for additional guard rails on the North Side.

Recently Streetsblog reader Brian Schaeflein told me that on Friday, June 28th, at about 10:45 p.m., he was biking on the trail when he came across another car crash just south of Diversey bridge -- the second one in that location in two weeks. "The sedan did not make it to the trail, but it was somehow facing the wrong direction in the grass," Schaeflein said. "This seems like yet another example of why a real physical barrier needs to be erected along the entire length of LSD, to keep all the vehicles on the road and away from unsuspecting and unprotected pedestrians and cyclists."

Police News Affairs was not able to immediately immediately confirm the incident.

Active Trans spokesman Kyle Whitehead agrees that more attention needs to be paid to protecting the northern section of the trail in addition to the southern portion. "As you know, most of the guardrail discussion has centered on the South Side, where the new bike path is closer to the drive than the original mixed use path," he said. "Along with CARA, we’ve encouraged them to look beyond just the new stretches of path and do a full inventory of the Lakefront Trail to determine where guardrail exists and doesn’t exist today, and where it’s needed. As far as we know this hasn’t happened yet. It requires collaboration among the park district, CDOT, and IDOT."

Whitehead added that the underlying issue is reckless driving, so we should be focusing on prevention as well as protection. "The city should be doing more to make the drive and all streets safer for everyone and slow down cars."

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