Small Steps for IDOT Add Up to Giant Leap for North Lake Shore Drive

Chicago: Lake Shore Drive
Move over, cars: There’s a new top priority along North Lake Shore Drive. Photo: Roman Boed, via Flickr

IDOT’s revisions to the newly updated North Lake Shore Drive “Purpose and Needs Statement,” an opening salvo that sets the tone for the long process of rebuilding the Drive, might not quite be on the same scale as landing on the moon. However, a few seemingly minor text edits signal a huge shift in how the agency will treat active transportation in the upcoming reconstruction. A comparison between the April draft statement [PDF] and the May draft [PDF] reveals substantial changes to what IDOT lists as the project’s priorities.

The first major change is in the opening “Project Purpose” section. In the original document, “improve mobility for automobiles” was the first priority listed, with “buses and non-motorized modes of travel” lumped together afterwards. Looking over the new P&N, “improve safety” has moved to the top of the list, followed by “improve mobility for non-motorized modes of travel,” and then finally “buses and automobiles.” While this may look like a small difference, the statement illustrates the proper road user hierarchy — the safety of pedestrians and bicycles should come first, trailed by the need to move many buses and cars quickly. Similar changes have been made in other sections of the document.

In the original draft, the “Improve Safety for All Users” section had named vehicular safety first, with a small section afterwards about improving safety for “Non-Motorized Modes of Travel.” This time around, the two have been switched. Sadly, no new data or examples of major problem areas were added, whereas the vehicular section did see additional detail added.

Happily, the sub-sections under 1.4.2, “Improve Mobility for All Users,” have undergone a massive transformation. As with the other main sections in the first P&N, cars had led the list, with a meager three paragraphs about transit following, and a passable attempt to address “Lakefront Trail Mobility” last in line. This oversight has been rectified, with the Lakefront Trail section now leading. Under that is a significantly expanded section on “Transit Mobility,” with new information on issues that transit along the Drive faces. For instance, the document now recognizes that “in the 16 census tracts adjacent to study area, 35 percent of households own zero automobiles.”

IDOT also uses this section to address “Transit Service Quality,” referring to the frequent delays that CTA’s “express” buses face during peak hours because of auto-induced traffic congestion. For instance, IDOT’s new draft links the substantially lower ridership in the afternoon peak hour (33% lower than morning peak hour) to lower bus speeds caused by worse traffic congestion at that time. Furthermore, many bus stops along the Drive “do not meet ADA standards or lack sufficient capacity to accommodate peak demand operations.”

The rest of the changes primarily shift around sub-section content. For example, the “Address Infrastructure Deficiencies” sub-section now places “Roadway” below “Structures” and “ADA Requirements.” Another example, under “Improve Access and Circulation,” places “Non-Motorized Access to Lincoln Park” after “Vehicular Access to North Lake Shore Drive.”

These large and small changes show that IDOT is beginning to give the project the balance that it rightfully deserves. Provided that IDOT follows the outline that the Purpose and Needs has laid for the eventual alternatives analysis and environmental impact reports, its priorities will be in the right place — on the north lakefront’s pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users. Going forward, ongoing public pressure will be needed to encourage IDOT to stick to these priorities.

  • Bike Walk Lincoln Park sent a letter to the North Lake Shore Drive project team with input on the original draft, as did many other individuals and organizations, and I’m sure many were as happy as we were to see the improvements in the second draft that you outlined above.

  • Ryan Wallace

    Everyone who has any involvement is fully aware that IDOT has their head in the sand and would love to stick to the “old ways” and rebuild this as a unsafe, fast highway rather than the boulevard that the city and lake front deserves. The only way this project will be the transformative project it should be is to continue to pressure the folks at IDOT. If you haven’t already, please do.

  • Guest

    It seems to me that the P&N statement, in its new form, still ignores one the major issues with LSD: it’s northern terminus at Hollywood/Sheridan. My comment to the project team on this issue was thus:

    Thank you for the opportunity to provide input. As a resident of the
    Edgewater neighborhood, I am concerned with the north terminus of LSD,
    and its effect on, or role for, the surrounding neighborhood and
    communities.

    The scoping, planning, and design for the northern ending (or
    terminus — i.e. the intersection of LSD and Sheridan Rd./Hollywood) of the Drive should
    strive to create a “transition zone” that clearly communicates to
    drivers coming off of LSD that they are entering an urban neighborhood
    of significantly lower speeds, where pedestrians and bicyclists will
    be present.

    The goal should be to create a “gateway” to the neighborhood at the
    terminus of LSD (i.e. at the intersection of LSD and Sheridan), the
    design of which will both welcome drivers to the neighborhood and, more
    importantly, which will slow the traffic coming off of LSD. “Speed ridges” (like one finds on roads leading to airport terminals) may be necessary to effectively communicate to drivers the need to slow down.

    This “gateway” or “transition zone” will mark the transition from a
    high-speed, limited access roadway to a mixed-used, diverse, walkable,
    bikeable neighborhood, where seniors, transit riders, children, and
    other residents are present. The design should focus on speed management
    — on clearly demarcating the new ‘context’ or ‘environment’ into which
    the cars coming off of LSD are now entering. The design should compel
    automobiles to slow down and to proceed henceforth at a target speed of
    20 to 30 mph. This type of “transition zone” or “gateway” is commonly
    used in European and U.S. cities where limited-access, high-speed roads
    enter urban neighborhoods. This kind of design, when well executed, can
    save lives, improve overall traffic flows (for all travel modes), and
    improve the economic viability and livability of the surrounding
    community.

    For more information, see StreetsWiki page on “Gateway Treatments” (http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/Gateway+Treatment) and page 12 of the NCHRP report (http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_737.pdf). See also “Speed Management” section (especially “Gateway Treatments”) of the Roadway Safety Toolkit (http://toolkit.irap.org/default.asp?page=treatment&id=33)

    The terminus of LSD is, of course, a very difficult problem. The
    ‘ending’ of any limited access road (highway) in an urban area is a very
    difficult design problem, but one that must be successfully solved to
    maintain and promote the health and vitality of the surrounding
    neighborhoods.

  • Fred

    Or, you know, the road could just be redesigned to no longer be high speed and limited access. Voila! No transition needed.

  • Still waiting for the addition of light rail to a future P&N.

  • That’s what we have now, and what happens is that after the traffic light at sheridan, the velocitized drivers who’ve just gotten off LSD try to keep doing 45mph+ on Hollywood …

    Unless you mean de-speedify LSD, which is a much harder project to sell. :->

  • Fred

    I meant LSD.

  • Pete

    The new plan for LSD: one lane in each direction for bikes, two for express busses and emergency vehicles, and one lane in each direction for cars. To keep anyone from going more than 20 MPH we will pave the car lane with gravel. Does this sound about right?

  • Lizzyisi

    This is exactly how I felt, sitting through those meetings. Comments and concerns that the Drive be restored to its Boulevard status were ignored. The discussion was continually turned back to the needs of lone drivers of private cars, although the people at the meetings wanted to discuss transit, pedestrian access, and the need to accommodate both transportation cyclists and recreational cyclists. IDOT has no interest in anything but a multi-lane, high speed freeway on the Lake.

    At one meeting an IDOT rep. said (I’m paraphrasing my notes) that drivers only obey the speed limit on the Drive when it is physically impossible not to. That is, drivers only do no drive at excessive speed on the Drive when it’s gridlock. When asked if there were plans to engineer the road to discourage high speed when it’s not gridlock, he not only looked confused but responded in a manner that indicated IDOT had no problem with a permanently increased speed on the Drive.

    It was extremely disheartening. The new P&N is better, but does not reassure me that the project is honestly considering a long range transformative vision of the Lakefront, which prioritizes mass transit and recreational access over a highway.

  • Fred

    Plus a lane in each direction for non-bike active users, and a lane in each direction for clueless un-self-aware tourists who do nothing but slow everyone down when they stop in the middle of the path to tend to little crying Jonny.

  • I don’t think the Purpose & Need statement is the right place for any decision making like that. It’s supposed to define what’s wrong with the current and what the future should serve, not how to do it.

    What if BRT serves the need as well as LRT?
    Or what if a double-decker freeway serves that need best? At this point we should be mode agnostic and focus on mobility and service.

  • Okay then, revise the P&N to say that there is a lack of non-rubber wheeled public transit serving the giant population density around the lakefront.

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