Back in December 2016, when Ken Griffin announced he would donate $12 million to the Chicago Park District to create two separate paths for bikers and pedestrians, local athletes rejoiced. As the most crowded path in the state – nearly 100,000 users on an average summer weekend – this could only help settle the congestion and danger.
And it has. But it’s not perfect. Yet.
Executive Director of the Chicago Area Runners Association [CARA] Greg Hipp was on the planning committee for the Lakefront Trail Separation project from the very beginning. He shared everyone’s excitement, and met with the Chicago Park District [CPD] and Active Transportation Alliance [ATA] every two weeks for nearly two years to get the path built.
“When it was announced, people had a concept of what that means, which was a reasonable concept of two paths, side-by-side, all the way down,” Hipp explains. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t realistic.”
As they broke down each portion of the path, they realized that while some areas were wide open, giving them freedom to separate the trail in that way, others had benches, 50-year-old trees, softball fields and parks that could not be moved. In these areas, the group had to work with the space available.
“It is better and safer, but some locations aren’t ideal,” Hipp admits.
Since the path was completed in December 2018, users have been vocalizing their concerns. Many of them are reasonable opinions, Hipp explains, and while there is reasoning behind the construction, he wants everyone to know that it’s not done.
In January, Hipp met with ATA and shared views on the state of the trail, based on their own observations and feedback they received. Together they compiled a list of suggested improvements and send it to the CPD.
“[The Park District’s] goal is to observe the trail in all aspects throughout the year, see usage patterns, and determine what’s working and what isn’t,” Hipp says. “Initially, people are going to be confused regardless because it’s new and not what they’re used to. So, they want to see what’s really going to be needed for the long-term.”
CARA and ATA are continuing to compile feedback and sending it to the Park District, and Hipp encourages people to keep voicing their opinions.
“We’ve shared all the feedback we’ve received and even though we’re not meeting regularly, we still welcome these emails because it gives us more to add to our files and show these are mass opinions and not individual ones,” Hipp adds. “Another thing that can lead to improved paths, including the addition of gravel – it sounds a little bit odd – if runners make a cow path somewhere in the grass, then eventually the PD will give in.”
In the meantime, Hipp advises, both runners and cyclists alike, do their best to make it work.
“I see comments of people who purposely don’t listen to the rules, and will go on the path that’s more convenient even if it’s not for them,” Hipp explains. “It’s never going to work if we don’t make it work. We’re all out here for the same reason, so we need to do our best and be accountable.”
If you have a concern about the Lakefront Trail, email [email protected].
We took this to social media, and asked what your concerns with the path were. Many of you pointed out the same problems, so Hipp wanted to respond himself.
“There needs to be more markings on the ground designating bike and pedestrian lanes.”
“Signage is something we all agree needs improvement. From CARA and ATA’s perspective, the trail needs negative markings, so not just where you’re supposed to go but showing where you’re not supposed to be. Essentially ‘no diving’ signs, but with a bike or pedestrian on the appropriate trail. We think having these on the pavement is more visible then traditional signage and better for tourists who are completely unfamiliar with the area. The PD is not opposed to the concept, but they’re not there yet.”
“Why are bikers on softer asphalt and runners on hard cement?”
“There’s a few places where the path assignments had nothing to do with the surface but just with the configuration of the area. The big spot is North of Belmont, and the reason pedestrians were given their side was because there’s a couple turns and a dog park, which wouldn’t be accessible by foot if that was assigned to bikers. It has to do with speed of traffic too; obviously yes, we would prefer asphalt for runners, but there’s legitimate reasons it was chosen that way. In some places pedestrians got the ideal side, and others, cyclists did. However, we hope runners continue to have a strong voice about the importance of a gravel path, because if enough speak up about it, they might change it!”
“They need some drinking fountains on the running path. Most of them are on the bike path.”
“That was an unintentional result; it was just a reassignment of paths, and water fountains weren’t in the plan so there are certainly some places where water fountains are closer to one path or the other. We have addressed that it’s an issue. The best resource runners can use right now is the CARA and Fleet Feet water stations.”
“Too many runner/cyclist crossings now. And the two-way running part of non-physically separated paths (north of Foster, Montrose to Irving, Belmont Harbor, south of North) is quite narrow. With walkers three-four abreast, strollers, dogs on retractable leashes and runners all packed on the same two narrow lanes, it feels really overcrowded.”
“There’s some configurations, like from the Totem Pole to Irving Park, where cyclists are riding down the middle and runners are on both sides. The original plan was bikers were going to be on the other side of the parking area, and cross Recreation Drive, with a separate running trail. But through public meeting and postings of the maps, the public opposed because bikers would have to cross Recreation Drive. We wanted a wider path … or have the two paths side-by-side, but the Park District couldn’t do either based on property ownership or national trail marking standards. We understand the PD’s point of view, but from a runner perspective we’ve got about 36-inches of path that’s about enough for a stroller and that’s it.”
It’s not all bad though. Here were some of the positive comments!
“I’ve run and biked the entire path both ways. It works best if everyone stays in their lane. Simple as that. I think we can voice our opinion on improvements over time, but everyone will be happier if they just follow the rules!”
“If you look at the trail from 18.5 miles, you see a really incredible place to run, bike and walk. It’s safer too, you just have to pay attention.”
“I think it’s a big improvement on a single path for both bikes and pedestrians. Even if people don’t “stay in their lanes” 100 percent of the time it still relieves congestion.”
“I appreciate the effort in trying to separate … I take full advantage and enjoy it in the early hours of the day (running and biking) to avoid any frustrations.”