Strange signage on the Lakefront Trail

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The Chicago Lakefront Trail at Lawrence Avenue showing possibly conflicting intersection signage. Photo by Robert Powers.

[This piece originally ran in Time Out Chicago. Photos by Hui Hwa Nam.]

Q: What’s up with those signs in Uptown where streets cross the Lakefront Trail? Are drivers supposed to stop for bicyclists or are bicyclists supposed to yield to drivers?

A: This unusual signage is at Montrose, Lawrence and Foster Avenues, where the path not only intersects these east-west streets but also meets on- and off-ramps from Lake Shore Drive (LSD). Street traffic gets stop signs while cyclists and skaters on the trail get yield signs.

According to Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) spokesman Brian Steele, the path used to cross these streets about 50 feet east of the LSD ramps and there were no signs for either street or trail users at the crossings. A few years ago the city improved the path at these locations by widening it and adding soft-surface jogging lanes.

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View from the Lake Shore Drive off-ramp at Montrose Avenue showing two, possibly conflicting signs: one is a stop sign and the other instructs turning drivers to yield to those in the crosswalk. Photo by Hui Hwa Nam.

CDOT also opted to bend the trail west towards the ramps, creating curves in the path that encourage bikers and bladers to slow down. This layout also means cars are already stopped when they encounter trail users. Since there’s usually more traffic on the path than the roadways, non-noxious transportation gets the right of way.

So why the yield signs? Just like on-street yield signs, these direct folks on the path to slow down or stop when necessary, says Steele. “I don’t believe these intersections are confusing to any of the users and they’re certainly a much safer environment than the old configuration.”

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View from the Lakefront Trail at Montrose Avenue showing that trail users have a yield sign. Photo by Hui Hwa Nam.

Randy Warren from Active Transportation Alliance disagrees. “These signs are completely inappropriate.” he says. “Bicyclists are being told to yield to stopped traffic.”

Warren thinks the ensuing confusion may be causing crashes. “I got a call from an insurance company after a cyclist got hit,” he says. “It wasn’t clear who had the right of way. The motorist was saying the cyclist was supposed to stop for him. The signs just don’t make sense.”

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

7 thoughts on “Strange signage on the Lakefront Trail”

  1. Thanks for bringing up this issue.

    I’m a path user and I also think the mix of stop and yield signs is confusing.  It seems to me that if path users have the right-of-way, then telling them to yield doesn’t make sense.  A yield sign means yield the right-of-way, not “slow down.”  A warning sign might be more appropriate.

  2. Those signs don’t bother me. North of Montrose the trail gets less congested and it’s easy to hit 15+ MPH. I’ve been in the situation as a cyclist and driver at these intersections where sight lines are difficult and fast cyclists come seemingly out of nowhere. 

    The signage does not indicate that one needs to put a foot down or come to a stop just that they should be aware that moving vehicles are near-by. A sign indicating to watch for vehicles might be more appropriate but not necessarily as universally effective as a yield sign.

    1. I think the issue we’re talking about in this article is that the “Yield” sign has a legal meaning. In a collision between someone cycling and someone driving a car, the meaning and existence of the sign may come into play. 

      The existence of the “Yield” sign, and its legal meaning, requires that you respond to it/do something about it. 

      I don’t think we want people using the Lakefront Trail to bear the onus of proving they didn’t cause a collision because they didn’t** “Yield” (when a driver must obey the “Stop” sign). 

      **This would be determined by a responding police officer whilst filling out a Illinois Motorist Crash Report. 

      So, a sign with no, or less, legal meaning, like “Use caution” or “Slow zone,” might be more appropriate.

  3. The amount of congestion on the path and confusing off-ramp issues really warrant stop signs for path traffic. Yes, bicyclists, you’ll have to stop… it sucks, I know. Get rid of the yield signs, re-route traffic at Montrose to the underpass that already exists, and put stop signs in elsewhere.

    1. What do you mean by re-route traffic at Montrose? People are traveling north and south do not need to be re-routed to Montrose. 

      Another idea is to make an ALL STOP intersection, where Lakefront Trail users must also stop.

      I wonder if there are any documented crashes here… Let’s check the crash portal.

      1. There is an underpass under Montrose Avenue approximately 50-yards east of the LFP. Visibility is poor at streets crossing the LFP (awful lighting, path users don’t believe in self-illumination, sight-lines are bad). Moving traffic to a location where there are not at-grade incursions would be best.

        1. Ahh, I see it on the Lakefront Trail map. By “underpass” I thought you meant where Montrose Avenue goes under Lake Shore Drive, not “pedestrian subway” (that’s not the best name for it either). 

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