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We are all that wave-tossed Lakefront Trail cyclist

2:50 PM CST on December 1, 2020

Image: ABC Chicago

Yesterday morning when big waves crashed into the curved portion of the shoreline at Oak Street, knocking a person off their bike on the Lakefront Trail and nearly dragging them into Lake Michigan, it was a symbol of many things. The existential threat posed to humanity by climate change. How rising lake levels linked to global warming are destroying the coast of Chicago. And the level of disrespect shown to biking as a transportation mode in the U.S., including crappy infrastructure.

The frightening incident was captured in an aerial video by ABC Chicago (see the clip embedded in tweets below) and picked up by the national press. Luckily the bike rider was OK. But getting submerged in 48-degree Fahrenheit waves, being nearly washed out into the second-largest of the Great Lakes, and then chilled by 30-degree north winds, has got to be the very definition of a Monday morning.

You can steer clear of this problematic stretch of the lakefront by using Streetsblog Chicago's downtown inland detour routes.

The Oak Street curve has long been a trouble spot for path users. And rising lake levels have been causing problems for all Chicagoans, including the total elimination of some sandy beaches due to erosion.

Not long after the completion of separate pedestrian and bike paths on the Lakefront Trail, last winter storms ravaged the greenway, wrecking large sections of asphalt. Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who previously chipped in $12 million for path separation, gave another $4.75 million last June to repair the trail. (To put those donations in perspective, this year Griffin also spent $53.75 million to help defeat Illinois' Fair Tax ballot referendum, which would have raised the income tax rate for affluent Illinoisans like himself.)

The Oak Street curve of the Lakefront Trail, caked with ice during winter. Photo: John Greenfield
The Oak Street curve of the Lakefront Trail, caked with ice during winter. Photo: John Greenfield

Various other projects are in the works to mitigate the harm from rising lake levels, such as a $3 million initiative slated for next year to better protect the area surrounding Jackson Park Outer Harbor, located next to the Lakefront Trail at Marquette Drive and Lakefront Drive.

Multiple Chicago bike community members and other Twitter users pointed out that Monday's video is evidence that American infrastructure isn't ready for global warming. They also noted that the relatively narrow, low-lying, frequently swamped Lakefront Trail, juxtaposed with eight-lane Lake Shore Drive several feet above it, is a metaphor for our national transportation priorities.

Some commentators suggested that a couple of lanes be reallocated from the drive to create a safe, spacious, above-water, two-way protected bikeway.

While that's probably not happening anytime soon, on the bright side, there is an opportunity to create a less car-centric, more bike-, pedestrian-, and transit-friendly LSD as part of the upcoming North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project, such as by including bus-only lanes without widening the highway. Here's how to make your voice heard on that subject.

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