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

  • Anonymous

    yeah, and those people (if they’re smart) park down at the south end of the lot close to the ped bridge.

    I really don’t think a bridge over the lagoon is worth the expense.

  • Anonymous

    “If we somehow got all of the downtown commuters to take the train, I bet
    there would be a lot less congestion (and it could be converted to
    fewer lanes).”

    The “somehow” is an ambitious transit, biking, walking, and car-sharing investment plan. As long as we keep building more highways and expanding the ones we have, while at the same time focusing almost entirely on transit state-of-good repair (and losing that game while we’re at it), there really isn’t a way to get people out of their cars.

    We need reliable, efficient, and affordable alternatives to driving – not more highway capacity.

    The models we use to make our major investment decisions say that nobody will ride transit, so we need to keep building highway lanes. Past predicts the future in a twisted self-fulfilling prophecy where the more we spend the worse our condition becomes.

  • CL

    I agree that we need to invest in alternatives, especially transit. But downtown is the one place in Chicago that is already very well-served by public transit. The entire system is designed to get people to and from the Loop. Some people live far away in a distant suburb, but I think a lot of the people currently driving downtown and parking there already have a perfectly good alternative.

    It’s possible that a lot of them would have a long commute before they reached the line that would take them downtown — and for those people, better transit might make a difference.

  • Anonymous

    That’s why we don’t make transit investments: Because many/everyone already has a good alternative, or so it is argued. Thus, building more transit would be of no use, of course, since they simply don’t ride the efficient alternatives we already have. So, I guess we just have to build more road capacity . . .

    The fact is that many/most don’t have a decent alternative to driving and we don’t have a real transit network. Yes, pricing can help encourage people to change modes, but they will not if there’s not a viable alternative.

    More than one transfer from CTA rail and there is no reliability in many locales, especially in suburbs. One can’t use a transit pass on all three providers, with METRA being the odd-one-out . . . that’s like trying to get from point A to B on a road network that turns to gravel and deep mud pits anywhere that is more than more than one turn away from the paved highway.

    We need an actual network of legitimate alternatives to driving . . . and some pricing strategies to help fund them and further encourage mode shift.

  • CL

    I don’t think everyone already has a good alternative — I think most people *driving to the Loop* have a good alternative. Lake shore runs right beside the red line.

    Everywhere else in the city, I completely agree with you. I have to drive all around the city for work, and driving typically beats public transit by an hour at least. Especially if I need to go both North/South and West — that’s when travel times are really ridiculous.

    So in general, I strongly agree with you — our transit network is highly inadequate, and it’s not a feasible alternative for most drivers. I just think people who drive to the Loop might be the exception.

  • Chris DiPrima

    The northern stretch of the Drive is one of the single most amazing pieces of road-building infrastructure in the world, a testament to the Chicago century, and a treasured piece of history. Its design, which hearkens back to the parkway era where roads were built for pleasure and not for the banality of commuting, should be preserved as it is upgraded. The stench of a superhighway should never mar this Chicago icon, but neither should the insanity of at-grade intersections above Chicago Ave.

    When we as Chicagoans look at Lake Shore Drive compared to the waterfront drives of any other city in the world, we should recognize what we have: a truly amazing icon.

  • LCS

    I agree with CL. I live in Lincoln Park and work in Hyde Park. There are no safe or (reasonably convenient) options for me to take public transportation to work, so I drive. Reducing the speed limit or lane amount would be a nightmare — especially for northbound traffic on Cubs game days.

  • “When we as Chicagoans look at Lake Shore Drive compared to the waterfront drives of any other city in the world, we should recognize what we have: a truly amazing icon.”

    I’m with ya. Other cities waterfront “drives” are disgusting. Seattle’s transition from double decker viaduct being replaced by an outrageously priced tunnel + “boulevard” comes to mind.

  • Dave Sorrell

    I’m going to vote HOV (non-toll yet enforced) lanes. If anything, when LSD isn’t in gridlock in the daytime (this comes from an old vendetta going to Payton HS in the early 2000’s), it can be a pleasurable experience. At least, get the buses to come through when there’s traffic; but it would help to have some signal upgrades (if not TSP) so the buses can get off the Drive and onto their termini.

  • Anne A

    Having Divvy helps a little bit, but Metra doesn’t recognize that a significant number of us need to connect between downtown stations/lines at least some of the time.

  • Anne A

    Add Marquette Park to that list – same problem.

  • FatJohn

    Sorry, while. I DO like the idea of a separate bike path for pedestrian safety, I do NOT want to see LSD become what the Friends of the Parks want it to be; a local street. They already have what they wanted: No northbound extension to Evanston. Chicago is a city drowning in traffic problems, and with a very biased, completely unfair parking contract. Adding additional pedestrian bridges or tunnels, closing off or narrowing portions of Simonds, Recreation and Belmont Harbor drives I’d agree to, but a major resurfacing and a change in light standards is all I want to see happen. LSD is NOT a street or an avenue, and I pray for the sake of this city it NEVER becomes one of those. EVER.

  • Logan Square Driver

    I couldn’t agree more! We get our cars stuck in traffic every day – so it makes no sense for the city to discourage people from driving. And good point about the parking contract: I think we should have a moratorium on any “traffic calming” measures or anything to discourage driving until the parking contract expires. That’s the only thing that’s fair! If bikers and pedestrians want separate paths, we can give them that. I think the best way is to take the existing path, and run a barrier down the middle of it. Pedestrians go on one side, bikes on the other: problem solved, and all without making Chicago’s existing traffic problems worse!

    While we’re at it, I hope we can change the name to Lake Shore Highway. Then I can claim the initials “LSD” for myself!

  • eric299

    I’m fine with people loving their bikes. But Lake Shore Drive should be rebuilt as it is now: a street for express auto traffic. It is obscene that the city would consider any grand architectural statements until after the massive debt crisis has been addressed. In the meantime, while it may not be grand, there is a workable lakefront exercise path. I use it all the time myself during summer weather.


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