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Deadly Lakefront Trail crash highlights need for better protection of path users

12:51 PM CST on December 17, 2021

In September 2020, a driver flipped their car onto the Lakefront Trail near Belmont Avenue, seriously injuring two of the occupants. Last Saturday there was a deadly car crash on the path in Edgewater. Photo provided by a reader.

The Lakefront Trail is a popular with pedestrians and cyclists, partly because it's a route where they can commute and/or get physical activity without having to worry about getting struck by drivers – at least in theory. But while the path is off-limits to motorists, that doesn’t actually mean trail users are free from the dangers of traffic violence.

Tragically, last Sunday, December 12, around 12:45 p.m., a deadly car crash on the trail was a reminder that the path isn't truly free from vehicular danger. According to a Chicago Tribune report, a driver was speeding in the 5300 block of North DuSable Lake Shore Drive in Edgewater when they careened off the highway and crashed into a tree next to the path. The car burst into flames, killing two men inside the vehicle, one of whom was 24 years old. It’s a small miracle that no greenway users were injured, given that the crash occurred on a Sunday afternoon, a popular time for Lakefront Trail use.

Speeding is a known issue along DLSD. Sustainable transportation advocate Michelle Stenzel recently shared screenshots of a 2018 “Traffic Safety Newsletter'' from the Illinois Department of Transportation. There’s a sentence in which IDOT states, “Speeding has always been a problem on Lake Shore Drive." Further down in the newsletter IDOT states “Up to 95 percent of [drivers] exceed the authorized speed limits. The increased enforcement, however, has not been producing benefits to the city in any measurable form; It did not particularly increase revenue for the city, nor did it necessarily decrease the crash rate along the route.”

Given that speeding is a known issue along the drive, and the fact that several crashes that have come dangerously close to the Lakefront Trail, more guardrails should be installed, perhaps of stronger material than are currently used. The photo below from a 2018 crash near Addison Street shows that the railing wasn't durable enough to stop the motorist from crashing onto the trail.

Aftermath of the November 30, 2018, crash. Photo: Matheis Carly
Aftermath of the November 30, 2018, crash. Photo: Matheis Carly

After some frightening collisions on the south lakefront, in fall 2017 the Active Transportation Alliance 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 2019, the park district installed guard rails along the Lakefront Trail between 41st Street and Promontory Point during the the project to create separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists. There were and are no plans for additional guard rails on the North Side.

Rendering of an alternative layout for DuSable Drive from the Better Streets Chicago website.
Rendering of an alternative layout for DuSable Drive from the Better Streets Chicago website.

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In the case of protecting trail users and drivers along DLSD, more should be done to calm traffic along the drive. We could start out by passing state legislation to legalize speed cameras on the drive. In the long term, I’d like to see the eight-lane highway transformed into a more human-scale boulevard that prioritizes transit, walking, and biking.

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