Friday, May 1, 2009

Strange signage on the lakefront path

By John Greenfield
Photos by Hui Hwa Nam

Lakefront path at Lawrence Ave.

Q: What's up with those signs in Uptown where streets cross the Lakefront Trail? Are cars are supposed to stop for bicycles or are bikes supposed to yield to cars?

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

According to 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. Recently the city improved the path at these locations by widening it and adding soft-surface jogging lanes.

View from LSD off-ramp at Montrose Ave.

CDOT also opted to bend the trail west towards the ramps, creating curves in the path that encourage bikers and bladers to slow down. The new 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.”

View from the Lakefront Trail at Montrose

Randy Warren from Chicagoland Bicycle Federation 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.”


Anonymous said...

This situation should not be confusing to anyone who paid attention in Driver's Education or knows the Rules of the Road as they apply to both motorists and cyclists.

Yield signs do not require you to stop, but rather to yield to anyone already in the intersection you are approaching. Stop signs require you to come to a full stop and then proceed once you have the right of way based on rules of the road.

In fairness to the City, they could have installed stop signs on the pathway. Instead, they recognized the reality that cyclists don't stop. So they installed Yield signs which give cyclists the legal right to cross the intersection without stopping. Now cyclists can conserve their momentum and not waste it on unnecessary stops. And motorists must stop for them. If a cyclist is hit by a driver, it will almost always be the driver's fault. If a cyclist hits a motorist it will almost always be the fault of the cyclist for not yielding to whoever was in the intersection already.

The only situation where this should not be applied is locations where cyclist speeds of motorist sightlines will prevent approaching bikes from being seen by drivers.

T.C. O'Rourke said...

The anonymous comment from the arm chair traffic engineer aside, the use of yield signs here is not appropriate or safe.

Determining what signage is used in a given situation should not be based on what laws users are expected to obey, but on instructing them how to operate.

And the idea that 'whomever got into intersection first' before the a collision had the right of way is ridiculous.

I have never seen, in Chicago, the rest of the country or in travels abroad, a stop sign and yield sign used in conjunction this way.

It is highly likely that the person or persons responsible for the decision felt it was ok to break the rules since, hey, it's only bikes.

I mean, would a large, stationary post ever be placed in the middle of a busy intersection? No. But it's common practice on bike trails.

We are living in the dark ages of trail design...


Anonymous said...

T.C.'s right, of course, and I suspect that anyone who's ridden the bike bath at those intersections must have gotten a chuckle, since it makes no sense.

Forget about particular vehicles for a moment. Imagine an intersection of two roads at right angles. One road has a stop sign, the other road has a yield sign.

What makes sense?

One road should have a stop sign, and the other road nothing. Or there's a four-way stop for the intersection.

How does it make sense to yield to a vehicle of any kind with a stop sign?

Anonymous said...

Arm chair engineer? I thought it was an armchair lawyer based on his liability analysis.

I totally agree with Randy and TC. The yield signs are inappropriate. It's like the city wants to give drivers a defense if they hit a cyclist. The driver will say, "I stopped then proceeded, and the cyclist was supposed to yield." Add a jury packed with Chicago drivers and an injured cyclist is looking at no recovery.

Good post John. This signage has been brought to my attention in the course of my practice, and I see it as part of the continuing problem we face as cyclists immersed in car culture.

Anonymous said...

There are similar intersections on 71st Street in the South Shore neighborhood. It's such a mess that the MUTCD doesn't even cover this situation, apparently not realizing anyone would be stupid enough to install signs in this manner.

I think what many people fail to realize is that yield signs are actually more restrictive than stop signs. They don't mean "slow down and stop if necessary." They mean "yield the right-of-way" as long as it takes until the intersection is clear. If cyclists followed the yield signs by the definition of the law, they would be queued up for blocks in the summer waiting for traffic on the east-west arterials to clear the intersection while the traffic on the arterials stopped for no good reason.

The yield signs should be replaced with yellow warning signs.

Unknown said...

I recognize that it's possibly the most expensive option, but also the safest: what about constructing tunnels/bridges for the path to safely cross these intersections? I'm sure this isn't a priority for CDOT, but is it something that the Active Transportation Alliance has thought about and/or proposed?

Summer finds traffic queued up quite a ways at these intersections, with drivers' rage steadily increasing every time another path user "jumps out" in front of them in order to cross the path without losing momentum, and this signage situation is unlikely to decrease tension - if anything it may just make things worse.

chitownclark said...

Wow...let's not have bridges up and down the Lakefront for every side street that a bike path has to cross!

How about doing away with the bike path entirely when there are perfectly good park roads nearby? As in the Montrose Harbor area, and down near Cannon and Stockton drives? The existing bike path is downright dangerous on pleasant summer days.

I'm alarmed at the proliferation of bike paths. We should be pushing to make our streets and traffic laws more cyclist-friendly instead of building bike paths.

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marven said...

The YIELD sign is out of place and should be removed. Instead, there should be CROSS TRAFFIC DOES NOT STOP (W4-4P) signs colocated with the STOP signs for the road.

marven said...

The YIELD sign is out of place and should be removed. Instead, there should be CROSS TRAFFIC DOES NOT STOP (W4-4P) signs colocated with the STOP signs for the road.