As a cyclist in-between novice and experienced, I fall somewhere within the spectrum of the majority of cyclist using the Lake Front Path as a source of exercise and transportation. The recently separated path is a godsend. In areas around North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach not only was a biker forced to bike at a snail’s pace, but the areas were so congested that it was downright dangerous. This is not an exaggeration, bike collisions on the Lake Front Path have resulted in death. I’ve also seen multiple bicyclists along the path tending to broken bikes from a recent crash and wiping up blood from their knees with their shirts. Taking the path has felt kind of like a “bike at your own risk” type of situation for far too long.
The separated paths have certainly cleared up the congestion, but there are still some areas of confusion and of course the ever treacherous human error. For instance when you cross the bridge near Fullerton along the path, the lines shift dramatically, and for a few moments it’s a free for all as you find your way back onto the right path. Below are other issues that are still faced daily both cyclists and runners.
1) The people who want to be path rebels
I get it, sometimes you want to go against the grain, but people who take this in the literal sense along the paths are putting their lives, and perhaps more importantly, my life in danger. I’m not quite sure why there is a need to go against the flow of the path traffic (unless you’re going around someone and that is addressed later). It’s unclear if people are just unaware that there are rules for path direction or if they get some strange satisfaction by ignoring it. Which leads me to wonder if there is a plan in place to put up more signs alerting path users that they need to follow the path traffic per area. I also wonder if there will be any type of legal enforcement of the path’s directions. Will police patrol the area?
2) Sidewalks to parking lots
Here’s another issue, in certain areas the path acts as a sidewalk for people to get to a parking lot on the other side, for instance at the Sydney Marovitz Golf Course and Waveland Parks. This creates a crisscross that challenges the Cha-Cha Slide. All it takes is a person trying to get to their car a half second to forget that what they perceive as a sidewalk serves as a path to bikers and runners. They step onto it and boom, they are taken down by a biker that’s in their lane. Even at an average speed a collision between a cyclist and pedestrian can equate to broken bones.
3) Passing Each Other
This is one of my bigger pet peeves. Cyclists and runners alike often need to pass someone/something, like for instance the 50 feet long row of people on their segues (a segue tour) by the Shedd. Doing this needs to be done responsibly. A few days ago I was on my side of the bike path going north, and a biker going south wanted to pass a few kids that were biking slower than him. Let’s be clear here: It’s not the responsibility of the biker staying within their line to make space for someone who wants to go around a slower moving person. Be patient and wait. This biker flew into my line and I had to slam on my breaks and veer off the path so he could go by the kids. It’s irresponsible of this cyclist to rely on me for his safety, and dangerous. I know it’s frustrating to be stuck behind someone, especially if you’re training, but there’s no excuse for endangering other people’s lives so you get a better time.
4) Cars Dissecting the Path
Say it with me now: Cyclists and pedestrians have the right away. There are multiple locations where cars need to cross the path, for instance at Montrose and Foster. A friend of mine was hit by a car on her way to play volleyball at Montrose Beach. Drivers don’t expect cyclists and roll past the stop signs at these intersections. Even if the cars are moving slowly, it’s enough to jar a cyclist and at times throw them off balance, causing a fall. Even if the car doesn’t hit them a cyclist may swerve into another cyclist of person.
5) Pets and Kids
For goodness sake! Walking and enjoying the outdoors with a pet and children is wonderful, but it’s so dangerous when a pet or child isn’t properly prepared for the path. Pets should be on leashes. Always. No exceptions. The dog park at Belmont Harbor is an area where dogs roam free, and that area is separate from the path, but once an owner and dog are leaving, the leash needs to go back on. My cyclist friend got into a collision with a dog that sprinted across the path after seeing a squirrel. The dog was okay, but she was devastated, not only because she thought she severely hurt the dog, but she was cut up and her bike had flipped while her shoes were clipped in! Children often wander, and without checking their surroundings I’ve seen them dash across the path to chase a bird or pick a flower I’m thankful I’ve never seen a child get into a crash.
The lake front path offers amazing views of Chicago’s best architecture and is one of the greatest ways to get in cardio while enjoying the breeze coming off of Lake Michigan. Separating the path was a strong step towards better safety for path users, and this avid runner and cyclist is grateful for it. More work still needs to be done though. More signs about safety along the path would be great, and more consideration among users would be even better.