North Lake Shore Drive Will Get Rebuilt, But Will It Be a Great Street?

North Lake Shore Drive rendering by Thom Greene

A vision for Bus Rapid Transit on Lake Shore Drive and two Lakefront Trail paths. Drawing: Thom Greene

The north portion of Lake Shore Drive, from Grand Avenue to its northern terminus at Hollywood Avenue, will be rebuilt in the next five years. It’s a major transportation project and a huge opportunity for Chicago, but will we make the most of it?

A coalition of 15 national and regional organizations presented their vision for the North Lake Shore Drive corridor today, seeking to create “a stronger connection between Chicagoans and their lakefront, knitting together our neighborhoods, our parks and our beaches.” The coalition’s vision document, “A Civic Platform for the Reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive” [PDF], says that Chicago faces a choice: We can make a bold plan and create a more livable city, “or we can reinforce the slow shift towards a superhighway that serves as an ever-widening barrier between Chicago and its lakefront.”

That unfortunate shift has been in progress for decades. The road was transferred to the Illinois Department of Transportation in the 1960s and 70s. In 1987, Friends of the Parks sued because the Fullerton and Belmont junctions were being designed as expressways, not city boulevards. While the lawsuit succeeded and Lake Shore Drive “is to be considered a boulevard and designed to boulevard standards,” according to the website for the reconstruction project, in practice highway design has won out. Last year, the Chicago Department of Transportation and IDOT expanded on the expressway-like design of the Fullerton junction, to the detriment of bike and pedestrian access to the lakefront.

The reconstruction is being managed by IDOT, which has jurisdiction, and CDOT. According the project website, the goal is to “[improve] seven miles of the 8-lane boulevard” and “12 highway junctions.” The language regarding walking, biking, and transit doesn’t aim high, setting out merely to “satisfy Complete Streets requirements.”

The importance of this project to improve transportation options and meet the city’s climate change goals can’t be overstated. CTA bus routes in this corridor carry over 66,000 people each weekday on nine routes, and the implications for walking and biking access to the Lakefront will be tremendous.

There are three upcoming public meetings that kick off the planning process (more on those below). Residents can also get involved by filling out this form [PDF] and joining one of the many task forces.

Why I avoid the Lakefront Trail

The coalition calls for creating two paths, one for higher-speed bike traffic, on the Lakefront Trail.

Streetsblog readers must get involved. Should there be a bike-bus highway? Two paths on the Lakefront Trail, one for faster bike traffic and the other for slower cyclists, skaters, jogger, and walkers? More connections, including breaking down the mile-long barrier between North and Fullerton?

The coalition, which includes the Congress for New Urbanism, Metropolitan Planning Council, and Active Transportation Alliance, makes several recommendations on how the Lake Shore Drive corridor should be rebuilt, including:

  • designing the Drive with 35 MPH in mind [this doesn't mean putting up speed limit signs with 35, but actually enforcing this speed limit through design and infrastructure]
  • not adding travel lanes
  • creating bus-only lanes and possibly Bus Rapid Transit
  • increasing the number of lakefront access points beyond the every 1/4 mile standard
  • adding a separate bike path on the Lakefront Trail
  • reducing the amount of land dedicated to parking and using performance-parking strategies [like pricing] to manage congestion

Download the document to see more and read the press release on Active Transportation Alliance’s website. And of course, plan on attending one of three meetings in early August:

Gill Park
825 West Sheridan Road, 3rd Floor
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Open house: 6-8 PM

Truman College
1145 West Wilson Avenue, Atrium
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Open house: 6-8 PM

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 North Cannon Drive, South Gallery
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Open house: 6-8 PM