The long-awaited first leg of the Chessie Trail will be ready to use — mostly. Since late August, crews have been clearing, grading, laying concrete and asphalt to construct a little over a mile of new multi-use trail connecting Pine Lake to NewPorte Landing. Certain elements of the trail will be installed later in the fall, including landscape, signage, and the pedestrian crossing signal at Pine Lake Avenue. Delays caused by weather, perfecting signage artwork, and shipping of signal poles will result in a period where the trail is 90 percent functional but won’t allow trail users to cross over Pine Lake Avenue. “Although the trail is mostly complete and usable over much of its length, it isn’t safe to cross Pine Lake Avenue until the pedestrian hybrid beacon is installed and powered on,” said Beth Shrader, La Porte City Planner. Within the first weeks of October, a bright green thermoplastic crosswalk will be installed at the location of the future pedestrian signal at the intersection of East Shore Parkway and Pine Lake Avenue. The signal poles won’t be installed until early winter and the signal won’t be turned on until spring 2019. The delay wasn’t intentional, but it could have the benefit of allowing the community to ease into the change on one of our most heavily traveled roads. “The delay between the installation of the crosswalk and when the signal is powered on may help drivers to get used to the idea of stopping for trail users,” added Shrader. The City plans for an official ribbon-cutting in the spring.
Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon
After much study, the pedestrian hybrid beacon, sometimes called a “HAWK” (High-intensity Activated crossWalK) signal, was determined to be the safest way for trail users to cross La Porte’s busy Pine Lake Avenue. “The City and our consulting engineers worked closely with INDOT to design the best possible crosswalk and still have funds enough to build a trail,” stated City Engineer, Nick Minich. Although the City originally tried to convince INDOT that a full traffic signal at East Shore Parkway was the best alternative, the intersection didn’t meet INDOT’s signal warrants. To authorize a new traffic light along a state highway, there must be a minimum number of vehicles turning at that intersection and not enough drivers turned onto or off of East Shore Parkway to warrant a signal. “We also investigated grade-separated crossing options like a tunnel and a pedestrian bridge, but those options were ruled out due to insufficient space, inappropriate grades, and prohibitive cost,” added Minich. Ultimately, INDOT engineers suggested an alternative, the pedestrian hybrid beacon at East Shore Parkway. The new crossing will greatly improve the walkability of La Porte. Until the trail opens across Pine Lake Avenue, the closest pedestrian crossing of US 35/39 is a mile south on Truesdell.
Park Superintendent Mark Schreiber is enthusiastic about the newest addition to the La Porte Parks system. “The Chessie Trail will connect once-isolated neighborhoods to our parks and lakes,” Schreiber said. The trail commences at Kiwanis-Teledyne and Unity parks on Pine Lake, overlooks Rumely Park and the adjoining pond, and skirts Fox Park. Within five years, the trail will also encircle Clear Lake and cross the tracks into downtown. “Chessie has the potential to inspire a culture of active living in La Porte — a community where people will choose to bike or walk to parks, shops, restaurants, school, work — because it is a convenient, fun and safe option.”
The Healthcare Foundation of La Porte also sees potential for the Chessie Trail to improve the health and quality of life of our community. Their grant to the project of $232,020 provided the 20 percent match for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds earmarked by the federal government for projects with potential to reduce motorized vehicle traffic and improve air quality. For La Porte, the Chessie Trail is an all-around win. Mayor Mark Krentz said of the project, “With the Chessie Trail, we gain walkability and bike-ability between some of our community’s greatest assets—our parks, lakes and eventually our historic downtown. The Chessie makes it easier to be active and improves the quality of life for La Porte.”