Streeterville Residents Redefine Their Own Bit of Lake Shore Drive

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A plan view shows a green shoreline between Navy Pier and North Avenue, in place of the current concrete. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

John Krause isn’t the only north lakefront resident who realizes that the Illinois Department of Transportation’s “Redefine The Drive” reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive is a chance to reinvent how the city meets the shore and the street.

In a bid to add more green space in Streeterville, a high-rise downtown neighborhood with with just a few parks, residents commissioned local architecture firm VOA Associates to redesign the area’s lakefront. The proposal has been in the works since 2006, according to DNAinfo, and was revealed at a public meeting last month.

The proposal substantially widens the shoreline park, expands Oak Street and Ohio Street Beaches, and submerges Lake Shore Drive below parkland at both Chicago Avenue and Oak Street. VOA’s plan is backed by the Lakefront Improvement Committee, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, and Friends of the Parks.

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation are currently studying North Lake Shore Drive and adjacent areas from Navy Pier north to Hollywood Avenue. The study has since issued a purpose & need statement, listing the goals of the project, and has now proceeded to solicit solutions from residents to fix those issues.

The proposal from Krause, an independent architect, covers the entire north lakefront and proposes to add substantially more park space and improved mobility for transit, bicycling, and walking. VOA’s design, however, considers the stretch of lakeshore alongside the Streeterville neighborhood, and changes little about how the corridor serves bicycles, buses, or automobiles.

Streeterville residents, though, seem more excited to have the Drive redefined than IDOT. Howard Melton, an attorney and Streeterville resident, facilitated the May meeting where VOA presented their design to residents. As reported by Lizzie Schiffman in DNAinfo, he said the whole project could be completed in four or five years:

[Melton] said if approved, the three-phase plan would renovate Lake Shore Park in the next two to three years, complete the lakeshore buildout around 2016 or 2017, and complete the entire project in four or five years.

While it could be possible to do it in that time if the project were approved today and independent of the North Lake Shore Drive study, CDOT and IDOT have a rather different timetable. They expect to select a preferred alternative in 2016, then receive environmental and design approval four years from now, and start construction afterwards.

VOA’s plan proposes to soften the lake’s waves by constructing a barrier island — like those called for in Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which resulted only in the near south side’s Northerly Island. VOA’s overall design, however, focuses more on building green space than on rebuilding the multi-modal transportation corridor that runs through the park. Both VOA and Krause propose to build several acres of new park space atop a buried Drive near Oak Street Beach.

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A sketch shows how Lake Shore Drive would be buried near Oak and Michigan. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

South of Oak Street, VOA’s proposal widens the angled, paved-over shoreline south of Oak into a swath of green space and a broad access point at Chicago Avenue, flowing over another tunnel and meeting the existing Lake Shore Park tucked behind the Museum of Contemporary Art.

One detail that VOA’s proposal doesn’t address is where and how the Lakefront Trail would be routed around Oak Street. This part of the path is unusable for several days in the winter, because waves crash and freeze on the pavement.

VOA’s pro bono work for Streeterville community groups is one example of what could result from Krause’s suggestion of a design competition that could bring big new ideas to the table. Krause also wants Redefine the Drive to engage design professionals, which could raise new possibilities during what will likely be a once-in-75-years chance to redesign of one of the city’s signature parks and transportation corridors.

VOA did not respond to our requests for more proposal details.