Tell IDOT to Rehab LSD as a Complete Street, Not a Speedway

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This bus stop on Inner Lake Shore Drive at Addison is an unwelcoming space for riders. Image: Google Street View

On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Transportation kicked off the feedback process for the the North Lake Shore Drive rehabilitation’s future alternatives analysis, at the third meeting of the project’s task forces. During the previous two meetings, it seemed like IDOT would insist upon just another highway project, with minimal benefits for pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists. Yet as the process of determining the lakefront highway’s future has evolved, some hope that the project can be steered in a more positive direction.

When the city of Chicago began building LSD in the late 1800s, the road was designed to be a place where one could take a leisurely ride to enjoy views of Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. Today, an average of 161,000 cars use the drive on a daily basis, few of them leisurely partaking in the view. IDOT estimates that 78 to 95 percent of drivers break the posted 45 mph (40 mph in winter) speed limit. In the highest-speed section, nine percent of drivers were doing more than 70 mph.

Several of the CTA’s busiest bus routes also use Lake Shore Drive. Around 69,000 passengers ride on the 970 local and express buses that ply the Drive every day, many of them residents of high-density lakefront neighborhoods. That’s almost as many passengers as the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch carries daily, and more than twice as many riders as dedicated busways in other cities, like Cleveland’s HealthLine and Los Angeles’ Orange Line.

Yet unlike those passengers, those riding LSD buses frequently get bogged down by car traffic. Northbound bus commuters who use stops along Inner Lake Shore Drive have to wait for the bus on narrow sidewalks, with only a thin fence and guardrail separating them from high-speed traffic on the main road. At intersections were buses get on and off the drive, there are complex interchanges with tight turns.

A task force participant marks up a map at Thursday’s meeting. Photo: Charles Papanek

Just east of the drive is the increasingly popular Lakefront Trail. On weekdays, an estimated 15,000 people use the trail; that number balloons to 31,000 on weekends, leading to crowding and conflicts between different user groups on busy summer weekends. 76 percent of IDOT survey respondents use the trail for accessing the lakefront, 68 percent use it for walking, 66 percent for recreational biking, 41 percent for bike commuting, 33 percent for jogging, and four percent for roller skating or skateboarding. On weekdays, cyclists account for 75 percent of trips on the trail, with pedestrians making up the other 25 percent. These numbers flip during the weekend, with 25 percent bicycle trips and 75 percent pedestrian trips.

Getting to the popular trail can be challenging, even for those who live right across the street. The access points sometimes require dangerous crossings of Lake Shore Drive, are infrequently spaced in the interest of keeping traffic flowing, and sometimes involve dark corners and tight curves. The Chicago Area Metropolitan Agency for Planning forecasts that by 2040, trail use will grow by 12 percent at the northern terminus at Ardmore, where there are currently 2,000 daily users, and by 19 percent near Oak Street, where now over 22,000 people use the underpass every day. 

During Thursday’s meeting, several taskforce members voiced concerns about the proposed “Purpose and Need” statement for the project. They noted that the document devoted long passages to issues facing drivers, but gave short shrift to walking, biking, and transit. Transitized blogger and Streetsblog contributor Shaun Jacobsen recently tweeted his displeasure about this:

In response, IDOT representative Bob Andres encouraged people to send feedback on the Purpose and Needs statement using the online comment form.

To gather more input for the upcoming Alternatives Analysis document, IDOT has launched a website where the public can post ideas directly to an online map, along with descriptions and attachments. The department will compile these comments and incorporate them into the first draft of the AA document. It’s crucial that as many Chicagoans as possible comment on the map, and tell IDOT that the new Lake Shore Drive must benefit pedestrians, transit users, and cyclists, not just drivers.

At the meeting, Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke said that his organization is pleased that the draft statement identifies the need to improve both transit service and the Lakefront Trail. However, he noted a disconnect between IDOT’s projection that transit use will grow by 23 percent, its assumption that car traffic levels will stay about the same, and its statement that the project won’t build new mixed-traffic lanes.

“It’s obvious we need move more people traveling by transit and bike,” Burke said. “The [statement] refers to a need to maintain current levels of car traffic, but this is presumptuous. The goal is to move people efficiently, and if we move more by transit and bikes and with carpooling, we won’t need as many cars.”

Task force member Rafael Suarez proposed creating a long-distance lane for commuter cyclists, runners, and other long-distance trail users, in order to reduce conflicts. This lane could be separated from the lane for slower, more casual trail users using aesthetically pleasing barriers, such as planters.

During the event, Chicago Department of Transportation staffer Jeff Sriver assured me that both CDOT and IDOT understand that North Lake Shore Drive is a unique corridor with unique challenges. He also said funding for the next phases of the project is likely to be found, but nothing solid has been identified yet. He emphasized that there is still time for citizens to provide preliminary input, and that more public outreach is on the way.

  • oooBooo

    Indeed, politics is always about pitting people against each other to fight over the perception of a fixed pie that someone else has an undo share of. To build yourself up you must knock someone else down. Or if you can knock everyone else down you’re better off. It’s very destructive for society.

  • Barcelona did this recently with the stretch of highway along the coast when it prepared for the Olympics in 1992. It was such a success that it has been repeated throughout the city, and with almost all the ring-roads. As we speak the Gran Via at the north end is being buried. I guess Chicago tried it too downtown with lower Wacker, and sort of with Hubbard’s Cave but this was not continued consistently…

  • I’d almost think you like sitting in traffic jams and seeing the bikes zoom by and actually getting somewhere ‘cuz they simply can, even without any special bike lanes (after all, there truly isn’t much of that in Chicago). All your reasoning cannot change the fact that cars are too big, costly, inefficient and clumsy (in their present form/use) in a dense urban environment to function as a reliable form of mass-transportation. That’s what this is about.

  • Chrissy Mancini

    To clarify, they’ll have to extend the wall out in areas where there is no park space, from around Grand to about North Avenue. The sea wall further north offers plenty of park space.

  • Pete

    And by “complete street”, what streetsblog really means is “completely without cars”. There will be 2 bus lanes, a bike lane, and one automobile lane that is so hopelessly clogged that drivers eventually stop using it.

  • Pete

    Yep. That is the real purpose of the Ashland BRT project. It does a lot more to screw up driving than it does to improve transit.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Lower Wacker is not buried. A lot of downtown Chicago is artificially raised. Drainage wwas needed becuse the Chicago river was the public sewer.

  • oooBooo

    I love the knee jerk assumptions and emotional launches into tangents around here.

  • I stand corrected—but still, this meant public investment into this part to make it more functional, and if I recall correctly, wasn’t there an ambitious plan to solve the downtown congestion by making a system of below surface transport tunnels and roadways (some of it built in the early 1900’s, and part of which flooded in the early 90s)?

  • Disagree—emotion/passion around specific subjects combined with insight spurs debate, which promotes forming solutions to challenges. Irrelevance resides in unproductive comments during a debate.

  • Nope, the Hubbard’s Cave part was privately financed (the buildings that wanted to build on the ‘air rights’ paid for it). Raising the whole city for sewerage was paid for partly by the city and partly by enormous donations from the city boosters (who also controlled city government; think Florence’s ruling families).

  • Mishellie

    True, but in some cases the pie chart IS far off what it should be, and there does need to be some reduction of privilege to provide for those that are underprivileged.

  • Mishellie

    Yeah I really don’t think the streets are working for people who drive cars as well as you think they are. I mean… I love sitting in traffic on a polluted highway behind a high emission car burning oil… but not really. We need a system that is less good for “cars” and more good for “humans”

  • Mishellie

    That’s incorrect. Anyone can get on a bike who desires to.

  • Mishellie

    You are hopelessly wrong.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    There was a system of tunnels under the loop. Now they are mostly used for public service like phone, water, sewer, gas, telecommunications.

    Interestingly enough, some were built with rails. It was to avoid paying the Teamsters (those guys that delivered to businesses in horse and wagon) who had cornered the rights for all deliveries into the loop above ground.

    Another interesting fact was after the tunnels were abandoned, they were often used for prostitution assignations.

  • oooBooo

    Except for many disabled people.
    But what you are trying to say is that you want to restrict, reserve, and tax until people see the light and make the life choices you think are best.

  • oooBooo

    This reply is not debating any points. It is emoting. Let’s tear down the entire city and restore the wonderful natural wetland environment. We need a system that less less good for homes, businesses, buses, trains, cars, bicycles, etc and one that is more good for frogs, birds, fish, plants….

  • oooBooo

    And where you get decide what it should be rather than people making their own decisions because they don’t know what’s best for them and you do.

  • oooBooo

    Casting dispersions, exchanging quips, and manipulating emotions does not lead to solutions. I’ll play along at times but I don’t delude myself that it is constructive to get cheers from the peanut gallery instead of dealing with the substance of debate.

    Again, what you or I feel is best, is irrelevant. Central planning, be it for bicycles, cars, or transit leads to problems. It creates ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ no matter the outcome. That’s the political process. That’s what it does. Market processes result in every little niche being served. Just take a look at something that doesn’t matter to the powers that be. In those areas there are more choices than any one person can keep track of, the more something matters to the power structure the less choices there are.

    One of the best ways I’ve heard it expressed:

  • Fred

    Is it a matter of what is best for an individual, or what is best for society? Isn’t reducing oil consumption, reducing pollution, and reducing congestion best for everyone?

  • oooBooo

    Society is a very complex thing made up of many different individuals with different preferences and the choices they make. To say there is a best for society is merely to express what one person or a group of persons feel is best for society. It’s an opinion being imposed on many millions of people.

    Such a concept breaks down further when there are many ways to solve a particular problem. The political process by its very nature restricts the possible solutions from infinity to usually one or two. Just look at any product that nobody thinks matters enough to involve the political process. Near endless choices of different balanced solutions to fit every need, price, and opinion. Now look at those things considered too important to leave to the market, each one some degree of a disaster that has made it an on going problem for decades where things cost too much, take too long, don’t serve everyone well, etc and so on.

    It is quite the leap to say that you or some other person has an answer that will reduce oil consumption, reduce pollution, and reduce congestion. All too often these solutions turn out to be boondoggles that do quite the opposite or have negative effects worse than the original problem. From corn ethanol to plastic shopping bag bans….


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