Chicago gets ready for beach season
When Chicago’s 26 beaches officially open Friday for the summer season, visitors may notice some improvements and some distractions.
Changes this year include faster reports of lake water safety and a new dog washing station, while ongoing construction to separate the trail along some of the city’s popular beaches will cause detours for lakefront visitors.
Beaches are open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, with lifeguards on duty from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Here’s what you need to know about the summer beach season, which wraps up Sept. 4.
Water testing expanded
Swimmers will be alerted more quickly about lake water quality thanks to the expansion of same-day water testing for bacteria. The testing is now in place at all city beaches and takes two to three hours for results instead of 24 to 48 hours with the previous system.
"Because water quality and water bacteria levels can change both rapidly and dramatically, culturing water samples to make decisions on issuing swim advisories today based on yesterday’s results is not the ideal way to protect the public’s health," said Samuel Dorevitch, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which will test the water samples at its lab.
The Park District notifies people if the water quality or weather conditions are dangerous and whether swimming is permitted. That information can be found on its beach website, through a beach hotline at 312-742-3224 and via color-coded flags at beaches.
Crews prepare for the official opening of Chicago’s beaches on Memorial Day weekend.
A green flag means swimming is permitted and the water quality is good. A yellow flag indicates swimming is permitted but to exercise caution because weather conditions are unpredictable or bacteria levels are higher than Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards deem safe. A red flag indicates that swimming is banned because of dangerous water quality conditions or weather.
Lakefront Trail separation
The lakefront is heavily used in the summer, with an estimated 100,000 people per weekend day and more than 60,000 people per weekday using the trail along the lake.
Construction to divide the Lakefront Trail into separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians to help ease congestion and reduce collisions will continue this summer.
Beginning Monday, the trail will be closed from Diversey to North Avenue. City officials broke ground earlier this month to separate the trail from Fullerton south to North Avenue. Users will be detoured west of Lake Shore Drive for that stretch, but beach access will be open during construction at Fullerton Avenue, the North Avenue pedestrian bridge and LaSalle Street.
Construction will be ongoing this summer on the section of the path from Oak to Ohio streets. There will be a shared lane around active construction and crews will try to limit the use of heavy equipment during morning and evening commuter traffic. Meanwhile, crews are expected to begin work this summer on a segment from 41st to 56th streets set to be finished in the fall, according to the Park District.
"This is an important next step in continued efforts to make the Lakefront Trail safer and more accessible for the thousands of cyclists, runners and walkers that use the path each day," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at a groundbreaking earlier this month.
The trail near Fullerton Parkway has had two separate paths since 2015, part of a bigger project that added 6 acres of parkland along the lakefront and a concrete sea wall to protect the shoreline. Trail separation is nearly completed from 31st to 41st streets.
Once the project is completed in 2018, nearly the entire 18-mile-long trail from Ardmore Avenue on the north and 71st Street on the south will have separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians. The separation is being funded with a $12 million gift from billionaire Ken Griffin.
Dog days of summer
Warmer weather means more dog owners will be taking their canines to the city’s designated dog-friendly areas, where pets can roam off leash. And if they’re at the Montrose Dog Beach, chances are the dogs will get wet and sandy.
New this summer is a self-service dog washing station that allows owners to wash and dry dogs for $10 for every 10 minutes. The station is scheduled to open early this summer and will be operational until the fall. During the winter months, the station will remain on site but be enclosed to protect machines from the elements.
Police on patrol
The Park District will continue to rely on off-duty Chicago police officers working overtime to patrol the lakefront and other parks, paying the Police Department $4 million this year.
The police officers will be responsible for maintaining a visible presence and breaking up large crowds and "unplanned gatherings" in addition to performing similar duties of beat officers like responding to calls or reported crimes and monitoring and preventing potential gang activity.