The Chainlink

I'm sharing a story as both a warning and a poll. I commute from Lakeview to River North and use the LFT for all of the north/south portion of my commute. This morning at about 6am (pitch black out) I got to the curve just south of Oak Street and stopped to survey the waves, which were relatively mild. I hesitantly decided I would go, so I rode very slowly while hugging the wall..the waves weren't coming up nearly that high though. About halfway through the curve, I realized the entire path was ice. Since the path is sloped towards the lake, after about 10-20 yards my bike slipped out from under me and I fell...the next couple seconds were the scariest of my life. Because the path was completely covered in ice and on a slant, I slid down towards the water, unable to stop myself. I knew that if I ended up in the water that it was all over. Keep in mind there were still waves coming up, and with all the ice I could see something or someone getting pulled back into the lake as the waves race back out. Thankfully, I stopped about halfway down the path, but I could barely get up because it was all ice. By chance I was on a crack in the pavement which had some divots in it, which I was able to use for grip as I crawled back up the icy slope towards the wall. I could still barely stand up even while against the wall, but I sloooowly walked back towards Oak Street and was fine but shaken up.

First, I feel like a fool for having chanced it. I've ridden that stretch probably 2,000 times and like many others I'm sure, have witnessed some potentially dangerous stuff on that same stretch due to lake conditions, mostly from people underestimating the conditions. Consider me scared straight. I'm normally very safety conscious so I keep wondering how I could've been so dumb to risk it at all. 

Second, am I crazy in thinking that this really is an insanely dangerous ~200 yard stretch of the LFT that needs addressing? It is the only portion of the path with no protection or barrier of any kind from the lake, which is at record high levels. There is are no breakwaters protecting that section, and the northern breakwater for the playpen is shaped so that the waves are actually funneled right into that curve, which is partially how the waves can get so large right there. Then there is the sheer ~10 foot wall meaning people are essentially trapped down way to scale it and not even a railing or anything. I can't begin to tell you how scary that wall was. And it's all sloped to the lake, where there is no breakwater and no shore. The whole thing is almost like a James Bond villain's death contraption, and I was almost the first casualty this morning. 

I wanted to warn people but also ask if I'm off base in thinking this is a potentially dangerous little stretch? I'm not sure if my story does justice to how terrifying my experience was. Extending the breakwater or elevating the path or putting in a railing along the wall seem like obvious improvements. Any feedback is appreciated. 

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Ice is an unfortunate reality of biking in cold weather. I'd recommend you try some studded tires. 

As for the curve, I really think it should be banked slightly in the correct direction, and runoff handled with drains. That would prevent anyone being swept out into the lake as I have seen videos of.

For about 14 years, I have figured I would slip, slowly go down, and, exactly as you described, suffer the slow speed slide to the lake...

Glad to hear you're okay - while I don't know what could be done, certainly lights mounted to the wall cascading across that curve would help identify sketchy sections...

The asphalt used to be sloped  even more without the tiny sea wall and raised concrete underneath.   The wave used to wash out a few dozen to 100 feet like every other year.  Really needs to be 3 feet higher.

Sounds terrifying.  Thank goodness you're all right.  That curve worries me even when the weather is nice.

Same thing happened to me a little over a year ago. Except I didn't feel like I was sliding into the lake. (Hell, I know how to swim; unless hypothermia kills that fast, I think I'd survive. :)  )

But man, it's SO TRUE that "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" -- I'm a big guy (one of the reasons I got a bike: to lose maybe about 700 pounds), and I hit HARD. The entire right side of my body ached for weeks. (I had myself looked at - no broken bones, but I do have reason to believe the bone spur I was diagnosed with shortly after that was a result.)

Since then, if the temperature is in the 30s or lower, I've been avoiding the LFT just for that reason. Pretty dangerous. Glad you're OK.

Hell, I know how to swim; unless hypothermia kills that fast, I think I'd survive.

Hypothermia is dangerous if you cant get out of the water in a few minutes but cold water shock can easily claim the strongest swimmer.

+1  When air and water temps are both below 40F, hypothermia can claim you VERY fast. It doesn't matter how strong a swimmer you are. 

I'll have to join in as just another person who has made a big mistake about that section.  Mine was just an ordinary summer day except for the wind and waves.  I thought I had everything under control when a "rogue" wave knocked me off my feet.  At my age I have a hard enough time getting of of the bath tub.

Glad you made it out of there.

I took the inner drive from Oak to Ohio on Wednesday morning and this morning.  Respect the powers of the lake, especially once the temp goes below freezing.

I have a good friend who was taken down by a wave just south of Fullerton years ago.  His rear pannier was washed into the lake (and unrecovered), but fortunately he and his bike survived.  Thankfully, that hazard has been removed with the new upper cycle path.

Yes, I am keenly aware of the danger you describe.  I head toward the loop from 5000N at around 6AM, choosing the Halsted/Milwaukee/Desplaines/Fulton/Clinton/Washington/Wells Route in the winter.  

I usually take the lakefront home and I normally check the wind direction/speed.  When I see a strong North/NW wind, that means likely trouble on that bend.  This past Tuesday, I forgot to check.  As I approached Grand Ave (heading North), it didn't look good.  Did a U-turn before approaching the wall (I could see the danger), then headed South to take the stairway at Chicago Ave., did a bypass to Oak, then got back on the bike path.

I have found a great alternative from the loop, when that wall is dangerous:  Take Dearborn all the way to Oak (bike lane ends around Walton), take Oak east to Michigan, then jump on the path to head North...

Signs. Now.

Then the bureaucrats can continue to prattle.


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