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Runner Injured on Lakefront Path Pushes To Separate Cyclists, Other Users

By Paul Biasco | December 10, 2014 5:01am
 Megan Williams still had two black eyes a week after she was struck by a cyclist on the Lakefront Trail.
Megan Williams still had two black eyes a week after she was struck by a cyclist on the Lakefront Trail.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco/Provided

OLD TOWN — A 27-year-old Old Town jogger who was seriously injured by a cyclist on the Lakefront Trail is leading a push to separate cyclists from other users of the trail.

Megan Williams was training for her first Chicago Marathon this fall when she was knocked unconscious during the crash, suffering a fractured skull and bleeding in her brain.

Months after the crash, Williams has chosen not to go after the cyclist in court, but instead to make sure this doesn't happen to another runner or walker.

"I don't want anyone to ever go through what I did," she said. "It was so scary waking up [in intensive care] and not knowing what happened."

The crash, which occurred on the trail near Diversey, forced Williams, an accountant, to miss work for a month. She is just now beginning to try running again on a treadmill with a spotter in case she falls.

 A screenshot from Megan William's Nike+ running app taken the moment she was struck by a cyclist.
A screenshot from Megan William's Nike+ running app taken the moment she was struck by a cyclist.
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Megan Williams

She still hasn't been back to the trail, although she lives just blocks away in Old Town.

"I'm really scared that if I go back, all of the emotions are going to come back," she said. "I still don't remember the accident. I don't know if it's buried somewhere deep down in my brain. I have a feeling as soon as I get on it I'll have a rush of emotions or a flashback."

Speeding cyclists, runners wearing headphones, ambling tourists and Divvy riders have been blamed for collisions along the popular trail, but Williams and a number of transportation organizations say a separated system is the answer.

Separating the path on the North Side of the city during the Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project has been proposed, but that project isn't set to break ground until 2019 and only accounts for 7 miles of the 18-mile trail.

"This potential for conflict is going to continue to raise, so we don't think we can afford to wait five years until we break ground on that project," said Kyle Whitehead, a campaign director with the Active Transportation Alliance.

The transportation advocacy group launched a petition earlier this week urging city and Chicago Park District officials to provide funding for projects to separate bicyclists and pedestrians along the trail.

The petition asks the city to develop and implement plans for near-term, lower-cost improvements.

Some of those short-term improvements include enhancing pavement markings and adding a separate path in the most congested areas for greater safety, launching a public education program promoting basic trail etiquette, adding lighting and infrastructure and providing better maintenance on the trail.

There are a number of wider sections along the trail where users could be separated, but signs or markings would need to be put up for that to happen, according to Whitehead.

"We want to make sure the Park District is thinking about these types of issues so that whenever there's construction going on or a project going on along the trail, safety is a priority and separation is a priority," Whitehead said.

Williams, the victim of the September collision, posted her story in an online forum set up by the Park District asking for ideas on how to improve the city parks.

"I just think it's crazy that it can happen to anyone," she said. "That day I was going for a 4-mile run."

The cyclist that hit her fell off the bike in the collision but wasn't ticketed.

The trail, which has sections with peak daily usage reaching 31,000, is expected to become busier as more commuters are expected to pick up cycling, according to a study.

Results from two North Lake Shore Drive public hearings earlier this summer revealed that the top idea collected at the event was to separate cyclists and pedestrians on the trail.

The No. 2 idea was to improve transit service and the third was to improve east-west pedestrian and cycling connections and facilities.

For Williams, who is considering running a half-marathon next spring, the trail originally was the only place she felt safe running in the city.

"Cars are crazy, taxis are crazy, and now that comfort of being safe on that path has been ripped away from me," she said.

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