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Collision course

Parts of the Lakefront Trail are ripe for clashes

  • The Lakefront Trail near Lake Shore Drive and Grand Avenue
The Lakefront Trail near Lake Shore Drive and Grand Avenue (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
July 25, 2012|By Tracy Swartz, RedEye

Pete Beuscher of North Center is used to seeing others running alongside him on the Lakefront Trail, but on one recent Sunday, as he ran north near Belmont Avenue, Beuscher spotted a trail user running on gasoline.

"I heard some people shouting behind me. I turned around and saw a taxicab driving down the middle of the Lakefront Trail!" Beuscher, 44, said. After some hubbub, the cab found its way to Belmont Avenue and exited safely, Beuscher said.

While the pedestrian-cab conflict is rare, other clashes on the trail are not. The Active Transportation Alliance, a cycling, walking and transit riding advocacy group, estimates 70,000 people use the Lakefront Trail—which spans 18.5 miles from Edgewater to South Shore—each weekend day in the summer. About 70 percent of those users are pedestrians, the alliance determined.

The Active Transportation Alliance has identified five hotspots for conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians on the Lakefront Trail based on user feedback and a study it conducted with the Chicago Park District that was released last year.

Some of these areas suffer from structural problems, while others see too much foot traffic. Some sections have been targeted by the city for improvement.

One of the most congested areas of the trail, near Navy Pier, is scheduled to receive a full makeover as part of a $44.5 million project. Construction on the Navy Pier flyover, a bridge over the Chicago River that links up to the Lakefront Trail near Ohio Street, is slated to begin in the spring, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales said.

The north side of the trail, from the Navy Pier area to Edgewater, sees "significantly" more users than the south side of the trail, according to the Alliance.

Justin Gudani of West Ridge said he was concerned about congestion on that section of the trail when he recently took his new black beach cruiser for its first spin on the trail from Foster Avenue to Navy Pier.

As it turns out, his fears were unfounded.

"I think there are some areas [of the trail] where it does get a little narrow," said Gudani, 23. "There are a lot of runners, a lot of bikers. ... It's just about letting each other know 'We're about to pass you.' "

Mary DeBacker of Hyde Park wasn't so lucky. DeBacker said she was in an accident five years ago on the trail near Montrose Avenue. She said she was trying to avoid a group of runners and ended up running into another cyclist. There were no injuries.

DeBacker said because of congestion, she used to avoid the 31st Street area but that section of the trail is much better now because of recent upgrades.

"It was terrible. I try to be really conscious of not hitting people when I'm bicycling, so I would slow down to walk speed just so I could get through 31st Street. There were a lot of pedestrians that were not paying attention," said DeBacker, 53. "After awhile you learn you stay on the right."

Communication is the key piece of advice that the Chicago Area Runners Association gives to the 2,000-plus runners in its marathon training program.

Megan Sullivan, CARA training program manager, said she's heard of a couple of incidents between runners and cyclists this year. At least one runner was sent to the hospital while he was training on his own, she said.

To prevent these conflicts, Sullivan said CARA starts its group runs in two waves and group leaders strongly enforce running two-wide as the groups make their way along the path south of Wilson Avenue.

"We try to pace them out so they're not all clogging up the path at once," Sullivan said. "We warn them about the trail being really busy. We know how dangerous it can be if you're crossing over that midline."

tswartz@tribune.com | @tracyswartz

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