Lakefront trail users share priorities and experiences through Web survey

To help shape our advocacy efforts for improving the Lakefront Trail, Friends of the Lakefront Trail has been actively gathering input from people who use the trail through an online survey. 

We heard from 1,569 people about their goals for and experiences on the trail. The survey followed two workshops earlier in the year, and was promoted by Friends of the Lakefront Trail partner organizations: Active Transportation Alliance, Friends of the Parks, and Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA). We expect to release a full set of results later this year, but for now here’s a summary of what we’ve learned.

Survey respondents identified themselves as cyclists, runners, walkers, skateboarders, rollerbladers, dog walkers and bird watchers. Most live on the north or northwest side, but nearly every neighborhood of Chicago was represented, as well as several people from outside the city. Among our respondents, biking was the most popular use for the Lakefront Trail, with running and walking both very close behind.

We asked survey respondents to tell us what Lakefront Trail issues are most important to them. The top 10 were:

  1. Provide more separate spaces for walking, biking and running (e.g. soft surfaces for running, boardwalks for walking at the beach, etc.)
  2. Reduce congestion and conflicts on the trail to make it safer
  3. Educate trail users on safety and trail etiquette
  4. Improve basic trail maintenance and condition of asphalt and soft surfaces
  5. Improve availability and access to bathrooms, including year round access, along the Lakefront Trail
  6. Improve availability and access to drinking fountains, including year round access, along the Lakefront Trail
  7. Improve lighting and personal safety
  8. Complete gaps in the Lakefront Trail, including connecting to neighboring cities
  9. Improve bicycle and pedestrian safety along streets connecting to the trail
  10. Reduce street/trail crossings

Feedback from the survey about trail access, congestion and conflicts was similar to what we heard at our workshops earlier this year:

  • Conflicts with others using trail were most common from Fullerton Avenue to Oak Street and around Navy Pier. Many trail conflicts were also reported around the museum campus and between Irving Park Road and Addison Street. These parts of the trail were also reported to be the most congested.
  • The access points at Fullerton Avenue, North Avenue underpass, Oak Street and Illinois Street had the highest rate of crashes reported by respondents. These access points were also reported to be the most crowded.
  • The access points with the highest reported rates of conflicts between vehicles and trail users were Foster Avenue, Lawrence Avenue, Wilson Avenue, Montrose Avenue and Illinois Street on the north side, and 71st Street on the south side.

Survey respondents listed congestion as one of the most important issues facing the trail. Congestion is especially an issue given the wide variety of skill levels and ways people use the trail. For that reason etiquette is important for keeping the trail safe and fun for everyone. Friends of the Lakefront Trail recently launched a Share the Shore campaign in partnership with the global communications agency GolinHarris to remind people about proper trail etiquette.

To inform this campaign, we asked people what they perceive to be the most frequent etiquette violations. The top 10 reported by survey respondents were:

  1. People clogging traffic by traveling two or more abreast
  2. People blocking or standing in the trail
  3. People not moving to the right to make way for faster traffic
  4. People stopping suddenly in the middle of the trail
  5. People distracted by electronic devices/cell phones or headphone usage
  6. People not yielding to slower traffic or slowing down in congested areas
  7. People not using proper passing signals or notifying others of their presence
  8. People not yielding to others when crossing or entering the trail
  9. Dogs/pets off leash or obstructing pathway
  10. People moving against traffic

One of the most intriguing parts of our survey was the number of creative suggestions people had for how the path can be improved. There was overwhelming support for widening the path and separating different types of trail users, but here are a few of the other intriguing ideas from survey respondents:

Your ideas: Trail design and maintenance

  • Connect the Lakefront Trail to Evanston and Indiana
  • Pavement markings for different uses
  • “Adopt-a-path” program like adopt-a-highway
  • More visual warning when approaching access points
  • Move vending away from the trail
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian traffic signals for congested trail access points

Your ideas: Safety and etiquette

  • Support for spreading the word about etiquette
  • Enforcement of “rules of the trail” by police or bike ambassadors
  • Trail speed limits during congested times of the day
  • More signage on etiquette and safe use of the trail
  • Work with bike rental companies to educate renters on rules of the road
  • Sell bells, lights and helmets near the trail
  • Support for more police presence, better lighting

Thank you to everyone who completed the survey, and congratulations to Richard, who won the $100 REI gift certificate raffle, generously donated by REI!

Look out for a full survey report along with recommendations for the city and park district to be released later this year.

Bike Highway

While I support any effort to make a safer way for all on the lakefront trail, it'd be a shame to add more impermeable asphalt to our limited natural lakefront to make a wider trail. There are currently many times outside of summer months when there is almost no one on the existing path. Has usage ever been consistently and precisely tracked in all different months & at different times of the day & evening?

The current width of Lake Shore Drive encourages speeding in non-peak-use hours & many of the drivers who utilize it could use public transportation or travel with more than one driver in the car. Could higher-speed or through bike traffic be moved to Lake Shore Drive, perhaps as a bike highway sharing space with a future BRT route on one half of the drive?

This strategy could avoid placing more street-like things like bike streetlights and directional signals in the lakefront park, which could quickly erode its natural beauty and move it away from its original designation as "Public Ground -- A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear, and Free of Any Buildings, or Other Obstruction, Whatever."

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