By Michelle Stenzel
Construction crews will be breaking ground next week on the much-needed reconstruction of the Fullerton Parkway bridge over the lagoon, near Lake Shore Drive. Apparently the planning, design and approval process occurred years ago, prior to the reign of our current mayor, CDOT commissioner, and alderman.
|Satellite view of the Fullerton Parkway bridge project, with south sidewalk eliminated to add a lane for eastbound car traffic. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Many elements of the redesign will be great improvements, like replacing the crumbling bridge structure while replicating its Art Deco facade, improving the north-south underpass for people using the gravel path to eliminate standing water and make full use of its width, and eliminating the center pier of the bridge to better accommodate rowing activities on the lagoon.
Unfortunately, the plans also have elements that are detrimental for people walking and riding bikes on Fullerton to and from the lake front trail. I attended the meeting Wednesday night at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in which CDOT staff members presented the plans and answered questions.
|The south sidewalk of the Fullerton Parkway bridge will be eliminated permanently to create a second right turn lane for cars going onto southbound Lake Shore Drive. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Here are the problems with the design as we see it:
1/ Elimination of the sidewalk on the south side of the bridge
The south sidewalk will be eliminated permanently from Cannon Drive eastward to the lake front trail.
People walking on the south sidewalk from points west toward the lake front trail will be routed onto a curved path down toward the lagoon, then northward under the under pass, then either up a set of stairs or around a looping path upward, then turned around to face east again, and over the bridge, under the Lake Shore Drive underpass, and then onto the lake front trail.
|On this drawing, north is to the right. It reflects the deletion of the south sidewalk, and the looping path onto which all east- and west-bound pedestrians and bicyclists will be routed. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
There is a planned increase in the width of sidewalk on the north side, to 20 feet. (It is currently about 13.5 feet by my measurement.)
2/ Fullerton Parkway will have an additional lane added for car traffic for the intended purpose of easing car traffic on Fullerton.
The south sidewalk for pedestrians is being removed in order to create a fifth lane for car traffic; specifically the asphalt portion of Fullerton Parkway over the bridge will be increased from four lanes to five lanes to create a second right turn lane for eastbound car traffic to enter the ramp onto southbound Lake Shore Drive.
Adding this right-turn lane is being described as an improvement of safety for pedestrians since there are “fewer points of conflict” with car traffic, but it is being done by simply eliminating the presence of pedestrians.
|"Fewer points of conflict with pedestrians" will be achieved by simply eliminating the presence of pedestrians on this side of Fullerton Parkway over the lagoon and under Lake Shore Drive. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
In any case and importantly, the addition of a second turn lane will do nothing to reduce car traffic back ups, since the two lanes must merge into one lane half way up the ramp before entering Lake Shore Drive.
In fact, one attendee pointed out that the design actually causes a traffic jam, since the current single right-turn lane on eastbound Fullerton will increase to two lanes for only a few yards, then the drivers will have to merge back together on the ramp. It’s just creating more space for cars to pile up, in effect.
3/ Lack of accommodation on the street for people riding a bicycle to and from the Lake Front Trail
Currently, there is no bike lane of any type on Fullerton Parkway on this stretch, currently or planned with this design. Fullerton car traffic is already too fast-moving for all but the most fearless bicycle rider to reach the Lake Front Trail. The proposed design, with its additional turn lane and synchronized traffic lights, will only make car traffic faster, more aggressive, and more treacherous for a person riding a bicycle on Fullerton.
|Four lanes of car traffic will be increased to five lanes of car traffic under the newly designed Fullerton Parkway bridge. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Under this design, people bicycling on Fullerton to the lake front trail will now have to navigate three lanes of eastbound cars instead of two, including two turning lanes instead of one, increasing the number of potential points of conflict.
Since Fullerton is already scary to ride on, most people on bicycles currently ride on what I always considered a sidewalk, since it’s concrete, and it looks and feels like a sidewalk. When I brought up this issue at the meeting, CDOT staffer and former chief bridge engineer Dan Burke said that it’s actually a mixed use trail once you enter the park east of Lincoln Park West, and bicyclists can and should use the “sidewalk”. Apparently bicyclists are now expected to take the path with its up and down grading and loop de loops.
The crowded state of the sidewalk/mixed use trail on this part of Fullerton Parkway will only get worse when the current 27 feet of sidewalk/MUT (combined north and south) is reduced to 20 feet total under the new design.
The increased number of bicycles on an already busy and newly narrowed sidewalk/MUT, will be annoying and dangerous to people walking.
|The lake front trail just south of Fullerton is a very popular destination for recreation and transportation, even on a late winter day like this one. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
We’re very disappointed to see these three elements of the plan. Eliminating a natural and direct route for people walking, and reducing the territory given to pedestrians for the purpose of adding more capacity for car traffic is not consistent with our current city leaders’ goals of encouraging active transportation. Eliminating sidewalks and crosswalks in order to marginally (or doubtfully) benefit car traffic is a throwback to a bygone era.
Finally, the lack of design elements for people riding bicycles for transportation seems to violate the city of Chicago's Complete Streets policy, which require that all modes of transportation, including bicycle transportation, be accommodated in street redesign. All over the city, our forward-thinking city planners are reducing the number of car lanes to put streets on a "road diet", but this road is being fed steroids and goose fat instead. If there is a technical loophole that allows this design, we feel that it’s still a violation of the spirit of our Complete Streets policy.
Are we the only ones disheartened about this development? Comments below, please, or to email@example.com