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What the heck is going on with the Lakefront Trail?

Concrete barriers blocking the trail near North Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

Update 3/11/20, 3:15 PM: In response to this report of a cyclist injured after he rode into one of the concrete slabs shared by Bike Lane Uprising, the Chicago Park District tweeted that it has made safety and info improvements to the path closure between Fullerton and North.

We have taken steps to further inform trail users.- Paint warnings on cement blocks to make them more visible & put up more barricades;- Put up signs explaining trail at North Ave. & Fullerton is unstable;- Inspect closed area hourly to ensure barricades are still in place.

— Chicago ParkDistrict (@ChicagoParks) March 11, 2020

The weather was glorious this weekend, so many Chicagoans pulled their bikes out of their basements or checked out a Divvy to take a spin by Lake Michigan. But those who approached the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton of North Avenues, the boundaries of one of the busiest stretches, encountered police barriers and concrete slabs blocking access to both the pedestrian-only path, closer to the shoreline, and the bike path, next to Lake Shore Drive.

The pulverized pedestrian path between Fullerton and North. Photo: John Greenfield
The pulverized pedestrian path between Fullerton and North. Photo: John Greenfield
The pulverized pedestrian path between Fullerton and North. Photo: John Greenfield

Barring access to the walking trail made sense, because the pavement had been badly torn up by winter storm wave action. But the bike trail, built in recent years as part of the Lakefront Trail separation project and located on higher ground, appeared to be in fine shape. Therefore many, if not most, cyclists on the trail were going around the barriers and carrying their bikes over the slabs, which led to this crazy scene.

The bike portion of the Lakefront Trail #chiLFT from North to Fullerton is just fine, @ChicagoParks Why the concrete blocking bicyclists? Time to re-open it. #bikeCHI pic.twitter.com/ZldYpzkWkS

— Michelle K Stenzel (@MichelleStenzel) March 8, 2020

So what gives? According to the Chicago Park district, all of the Lakefront Trail is currently closed between Fullerton and North, as well as between Oak and Ohio streets, and the pedestrian path is closed between from 47th and 51st streets. "Recent historic high lake levels and severe storms have impacted areas along the lakefront resulting in sections that need to be closed and others where caution is advised," the park district's website states.

The park district Lakefront Map. Pins indicate closures, red is closed areas, and yellow is caution areas.
The park district Lakefront Map. Pins indicate closures, red is closed areas, and yellow is caution areas.
The park district Lakefront Map. Pins indicate closures, red is closed areas, and yellow is caution areas.

Almost all of the rest of the lakefront is designated on the park district's Lakefront Map in yellow as "caution areas" that have water washing up on the pavement. "Please exercise caution in these spaces as the pavement may become slippery when wet," the website states. Signs have been posted on either side of the wet pavement areas, warning of the possibility of slippery conditions.

Cue the Bon Jovi. Photo: Chicago Park District
Cue the Bon Jovi. Photo: Chicago Park District
Cue the Bon Jovi. Photo: Chicago Park District

According to park district spokesperson Irene Tostado, although the bike path between Fullerton and North looks safe to ride on, the waves have eroded some of the land under the asphalt, so there's a potential for a collapse, and therefore it's not safe to bike on it. That makes sense, but the park district would have gotten much better compliance with the path closure if it simply posted signs explaining that, while the bike path looks perfectly safe to ride on, it's not. Tostado indicated that the park district will be doing this in the future.

Erosion under the Lakefront Trail between Fullerton and North. Photo: Chicago Park District.
Erosion under the Lakefront Trail between Fullerton and North. Photo: Chicago Park District.
Erosion under the Lakefront Trail between Fullerton and North. Photo: Chicago Park District.

Tostado said that the paths won't be repaired until late spring, when asphalt companies reopen. In the meantime, the park district recommends using the paved park path between Cannon Drive and the Lincoln Park Lagoon as a detour between Fullerton and North.

The recommended detour between Fullerton and North.
The recommended detour between Fullerton and North.
The recommended detour between Fullerton and North.

However, the park district has not provided any detours for the stretch between Oak and Ohio. (Between 47th and 51st, pedestrians can using the cycling path.) Here's a possible alternative between Oak and Ohio that will work for moderately confident riders.  Southbound (red): Oak Street / Inner LSD / Huron Street / McClurg Court / Ohio Street. Northbound (blue): Grand Avenue / McClurg Court / Erie Street / Inner LSD / Oak Street. (Park district, you're welcome.)

Image: Google Maps
Image: Google Maps
Image: Google Maps

While dealing with the growing threat of climate change to the lakefront is a daunting challenge, the Park District says it's developing a long-term plan "to help guide investment in lakefront repair, maintenance and increased resiliency." Learn more about the plan, and view related drone footage of the lakefront here.

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