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Drivers invade Promontory Point and the Lakefront Trail, endangering pedestrians and bike riders

Advocates say the worsening problem may require ticketing right now, design that makes it impossible to illegally drive and park in the near future.

A driver illegally enters the underpass of DLSD to Promontory Park near 55th Street last Sunday evening, putting pedestrians at risk. We’ve blurred the license plate number. Photo: Steven Lucy

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

Update Friday 9/22, 10:30 AM: Eric Allix Rogers provided the following update on the situation with the access point to the lakefront for (authorized) drivers on the east side of DLSD between 55th and 56th streets,

Update Thursday 9/14, 12:45 PM: Two days after Streetsblog broke the story of unauthorized motorists illegally parking and driving on the Lakefront Trail and Promontory Point on Labor Day Weekend, the Hyde Park Herald ran a good article on the issue. Their piece included additional statements from local and state officials.

And last Tuesday Streetsblog freelancer and Hyde Park resident Steven Lucy, who helped publicize the problem, tweeted a new photo with a raised bollard in the 55th Street ped-bike underpass and a new sign: "Authorized Vehicles Only: Police Order." Lucy later posted that he believed that there is no chance this is actually a police order, but rather this it's a Chicago Park District rule. We'll double check on this with the park district.

Promontory Point – a hump of green space on the lakefront at 55th Street in Hyde Park with great skyline views, swimming, fire pits, and a nice wedding venue – is supposed to be a place for relaxation. So why was it clogged with people illegally driving and parking on Sunday evening, endangering people on foot and bike, and probably damaging the grassy parkland? That was despite the fact that there's plenty of public parking at a large lot right next to the peninsula.

Aerial of view Promontory Point, with 55th Street and DuSable Lake Shore Drive. The underpass is visible in the center of the frame, and there's a parking lot on the west side of the drive. Image: Google Maps

Streetsblog freelancer and Hyde Park resident Steven Lucy tweeted a thread about this issue at sunset Sunday. He said that a dozen or so motorists were driving or parking on peninsula. The Point has no roads open to people who aren't there on city business or other officially sanctioned purposes, like deliveries for events at the field house.

"Just cars as far as you can see," Lucy tweeted. "The park is becoming parking... So disappointing to encounter this just a few hours after Bike the Drive." He tagged the Chicago Park District, local alderperson Desmond Yancy (5th), and bike-friendly alder Daniel La Spata (1st), chair of the City Council's Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety. "Please raise the existing bollard at the 55th street underpass, figure out a solution for the emergency access from DLSD at 56th, and ticket these cars."

While there was a wedding going on at the time, none of the drivers were there for the nuptials, Lucy tweeted. He had no problem with the lightweight golf car that was being used to ferry guests between the parking lot on the west side of DLSD and the field house at the east end of the peninsula via the underpass.

The large public parking lot a short walk from the Point, just west of DLSD. Image: Google Maps

Another Twitter user pointed out that this problem had been going on earlier in the day as well. They also noted that this practice was a hazard to non-drivers.

Encouragingly, Ald. La Spata posted on Labor Day Monday evening that he had contacted the park district about the illegal driving and parking problem on the Point and elsewhere on the lakefront months earlier, but more action may be needed. "I’m sorry for the frustration and danger this causes so many." La Spata didn't reply to Streetsblog's request for additional info this afternoon because he was at the Transportation and Public Way meeting, where hopefully he raised this issue. If so, we'll add an update. (Ald. Yancy didn't respond to a request for comment this afternoon either.)

Update 9/8/23, 5:30 PM: After Streetsblog called the 1st Ward office a couple times requesting more info from La Spata, his chief of staff Nicholas Zettel responded by email. "Alderman La Spata has no further comment on the Promontory Point / Lakefront Trail situation at this point. I can confirm he is discussing any lakefront trail issues with local Alderman [Yancy] through his capacity as Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Chair, and 1st Ward staff are routing any of these requests received to committee staff."

But later that night Streetsblog photo contributor Eric Allix Rogers posted that the problem was still happening just south of the Point on the lakefront, at least until the park's 11 p.m. closing time. "At least a dozen cars parked on the grass between the trail and lake, between 56th and 57th, at 11p.m. on Monday night... Cars are ruining this city."

Vehicles parked just south of the Point next to the Lakefront Trail between 56th and 57th streets on Monday night. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

But, happily, on Tuesday around 7 PM someone else tweeted an image showing that the steel bollard for the 55th Street underpass had been raised and bolted in place. That made it more difficult for unauthorized people to drive onto the Point and the Lakefront Trail.

The underpass, after the bollard was bolted in place. Photo: Steven Lucy

This morning Park District spokesperson Michele Lemons told Streetsblog, "The cars parked on the grass belong to individuals participating in unpermitted picnics and cookouts in the areas surrounding Promontory Point. Park District Security works to alert drivers of the District’s parking policy and to remove cars from prohibited areas."

Asked whether any ticked or towing had been done on the Point since Labor Day, Lemons said any tickets would have been issued by the Chicago Police Department, not park district security.

A police spokesperson told Streetsblog that to learn whether the department did any ticketing or towing on or near the Point last weekend, we'd need to submit a Freedom of Information Act request.

Eric Allix Rogers tweeted that part of the problem may be Google and Apple driving directions to lakefront destinations that involve routes which "terminate" on DuSable Lake Shore Drive. "Ask Google to give you driving directions to Promontory Point and see what I mean! It's easy to imagine how drivers might cluelessly end up turning off DLSD onto the trails via the emergency access curb cuts when Google informs them that they've arrived." Streetsblog's Steven Vance also noticed that problem.

This morning Rogers tweeted that the Google Maps driving directions problem seemed to be fixed, sort of. Users were told to leave their cars at the parking lot west of Promontory Park and walk through the underpass to the peninsula. But in order to access nearby 57th Street Beach by car, they were still directed to just stop dead on DLSD and abandon their vehicles. Let's hope Google gets word of this bug and corrects it.

As for what the city of Chicago should be doing to keep motorists from illegally driving and parking on bike trails and parks, Rogers tweeted, "Some ticketing may be necessary given how rapidly this problem is worsening... [But] I'd like to see an approach that makes it physically impossible to do this, rather than a punitive approach." Other commenters agreed.

I also agree with that POV completely. So bring on the bollards!

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