Lightfoot: Nope, I’m not reopening the Lakefront Trail for bike commuting anytime soon

Lightfoot at today's press conference.
Lightfoot at today's press conference.

It’s time to fire up the Photoshop and create the next #WheresLightfoot meme, showing Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot sternly guarding the city’s Lakefront Trail against essential workers seeking a safe route to bike commute to their jobs. In response to a question from Streetsblog Chicago at a press conference this morning, the mayor indicated that the idea of reopening the shoreline path solely to bike commuters during the pandemic is a nonstarter, and she didn’t even address the topic of opening streets for car-free biking and pedestrian activity.

Streetsblog Chicago submitted the following (admittedly long) question for Lightfoot:

Chicago has closed its entire shoreline, including the Lakefront Trail bike commuting route, as well as other trails and parks, which may be contributing to crowded conditions on sidewalks and the remaining trails and parks. A petition launched by Kyle Lucas, an essential worker, who is immunocompromised and can’t ride transit, to reopen the Lakefront Trail for biking only, and/or create a network of car-free streets for biking and pedestrian activity, has 700+ signatures.

Meanwhile, cities all over North America, including New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Denver, and Portland are doing “open streets” programs to create car-free or car-restricted space for socially distanced transportation and recreation. Most recently, Oakland, California, announced that 74 miles of residential streets will be opened for walking and biking, with a 10 mph speed limit for drivers, and little or no additional policing.

Obviously such a program would require community input, including from the parts of Chicago hit hardest by COVID-19. But would you consider reopening the Lakefront Trail to bikes only and/or doing an open streets program?

Understandably, the mayor’s press aide who asked the question condensed it to, “Cities all over North America are doing open streets programs to create car-free or car-restricted space for socially-distanced transportation and recreation. Would you consider reopening the Lakefront Trail to bikes only and/or doing an open streets program in Chicago?”

Here’s the mayor’s response, “The lakefront’s not reopening anytime soon. As people are aware, there’s lots of bike lanes and bike trails throughout the city. When we closed off the lakefront, we coordinated with a lot of advocacy groups to encourage people to use one of these alternative means of transportation, and that’s what folks should do.”

Lightfoot also closed the Chicago Riverwalk and The 606, which were used by bike commuters, so that doesn’t leave that many remaining off-street trails within the city. I’ve since heard reports of crowding on some of Chicago’s few remaining options for car-free bike commuting and recreation, such as the North Shore Channel Trail and the North Branch Trail.

And some essential workers, like healthcare provider Bridget Fowler, don’t feel comfortable biking long distances on city streets, especially since many motorists are taking advantage of the lack of traffic congestion during the pandemic to speed. Instead, they’re driving to work or, if they don’t have access to a car or affordable downtown parking, riding transit, which increases their viral exposure.

Next week Streetsblog Chicago will be checking in with community groups and individuals across the city, including African-American neighborhoods with the highest coronavirus rates, to get theirs opinions on reopening the Lakefront Trail to bikes and piloting an open streets program.

 

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#1 North Lake Shore Drive Request: Separate Bike, Pedestrian Trails

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This week, the Redefine the Drive study team listed the most requested improvements (PDF) that Chicagoans want to see as part of the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive. By far the most popular is also among the easiest and least expensive ways to improve safety: creating separate paths for bicyclists and pedestrians on the overcrowded Lakefront Trail. […]