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.

  • Ryan Wallace

    Jon, I think you failed to appropriately frame how important the Purpose & Need (P&N) statement is. All alternatives will be measured by how well they address the P&N. If the P&N continues to state that there is a need to “increase mobility for vehicles”, this can be used as ammunition against reasonable and transformative alternatives that might reduce personal vehicles in favor of dramatic changes to transit.

    I encourage everyone to comment through the link provided that the movement of PEOPLE should be the top priority.

  • CL

    I drive on LSD all the time, and I love it. It’s amazing how efficient the drive is compared with every other option, even during rush hour. Every other option adds 40+ minutes. If it were up to me, the only thing we’d change on the main 8-lane part is fixing the potholes. I am afraid that they will mess with LSD so that we’re left with zero efficient ways to travel long distances in Chicago.

    The fact that 95% of northbound drivers are breaking the speed limit indicates that it’s unrealistic for the road — 40 mph is too slow for most of the drive. There are a few stretches (near downtown, and very far south) where the lanes are so narrow and curvy that I feel 40 mph is too fast — but often those parts are congested anyway. When I drive south during rush hour, the busses are speeding right beside the cars. The fast speed allows busses to really move, instead of being stuck in the congestion that enforced slower speeds would cause.

    However, busses do get stuck going south in the morning, and north in the evening, during peak hours. One thing to consider is making one lane bus-only — but only during those hours, like the Jeffrey Jump. One southbound lane could be bus-only between 7 and 9 a.m. and then one northbound lane could be bus-only between 4 and 6 p.m. They would need to study it, though, to see how this would affect overall congestion. Hopefully many drivers would switch to the bus — especially after seeing it zoom past them — reducing congestion overall.

  • what_eva

    While those Inner LSD stops do suck, don’t get too worked up about them, as they’re not heavily used for boarding. They’re the stops people get off at coming off of LSD. I lived on that stretch for a couple of years and used a northbound bus there maybe once or twice. When going northbound it usually made more sense to go west and take the Broadway bus or the Red Line.

  • Jay Broaney

    What is a complete street in this case? There already is a giant bike path, which obviously could use improving but it exists. And as for the bus stops, what do you want to see, massage chairs?

  • Lizzyisi

    EXACTLY! At this point, the project is still accepting comments on the validity of the Purpose & Need statement, which desperately needs re-framing to emphasize transit, transportation cycling, and pedestrian movement to and through the Lincoln Park and the Lakefront.

    Personally, I think the P&N does a *terrible* job of reflecting the input I heard at the task force meetings. At meetings, I heard many residents express that the Drive is a barrier
    between the city and the Lakefront and plenty of comments that it’s a
    blight on the Lakefront. I heard many people suggest that a bold
    re-visioning which emphasizes transit and foot-traffic is due. Many many people echoed the idea that the Drive needs to reclaim its boulevard status. None of that is referenced in the current P&N.

    In fact, at one meeting one of the project staff remarked how increasing capacity will only increase congestion over time and further noted that unless it is physically impossible to exceed the speed limits, drivers on the drive will exceed it. That is, the only time the speed limit is currently observed is when congestion forces it. The P&N as it is written, however, does not suggest traffic-calming nor the need to reduce congestion by providing viable alternatives to more private cars on the road.

    I think this Purpose and Need does a poor job of reflecting a lot of what I heard at task force meetings.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Put the Drive under ground and deck it over so that there is continuous park land…while at it add a LRT to the mix to serve dense near lake neighborhoods.

    Toll the drive with congestion pricing.

  • $ doesnt grow on trees

    Sounds like an amazing an idea. Lets pave the streets with diamonds too.

  • oooBooo

    Along a fair amount of its length, Lake Shore has been relocated further from the lake. The original roadway locations are often well within the parks today or perhaps in some spots the roadway ended up further inland due to landfill. (I have not studied the entire length in depth)

    Thus it has already been reconfigured to make for pedestrian and other spaces many decades ago.

  • It is a long bike path, but definitely not giant. I specifically avoid it in the summer because of how crowded it is.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Possible for less than one month wasted dollars in Iraw

  • Mcass777

    I am not sure you could ever have a big enough bike path because of the amount of people who live near or travel to the path. Having done Bike the Drive, I can tell you a car free lake shore drive filled with bikes is crowded! And I love driving LSD as much as riding the path. It is spectacular.

  • BlueFairlane

    I don’t think saying that a plan for one road in one city costs less than an entire nation sending the most bloated military machine on the planet to war for a month is much of an endorsement.

  • mhls

    Chicago did something great decades ago so we should do nothing now is not a call to action or a plan for the future.

    Spend a minute on the lakefront and you’ll see the need for improvements.

  • mhls

    Massage chairs?!? Have you ever seen the busses and bus stops along lakeshorre drive? They’re stuff to the brim with commuters in the morning and afternoon. Let’s make their trip nicer – better waiting and better riding.

    You’re not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic.

  • oooBooo

    I’m just adding historical fact that was likely intentionally left out because it doesn’t work with the anti-car narrative.

  • JacobEPeters

    Giant bike path is not how most people who have experienced the congested areas where high volumes of pedestrians and high volumes of runners, cyclists, and rollerbladers create a hectic constrained experience. Providing attractive alternatives to that path would allow runners and cyclists looking to avoid these areas on their way to destinations elsewhere along the Lakefront Path.

    Additionally, BRT stations near dense population and destination areas, with express bus lanes to eliminate the instances where express buses are stuck in traffic on the drive. It happens every time I take on of those buses. These are improvements that would positively effect the user experience of thousands, while attracting new people to options other than driving through a park.

  • JacobEPeters

    Here, here, 24hr express bus lanes would be a change that would make transit an efficient way to travel long distances in Chicago. It would allow LSD to carry far more passengers per lane mile per hour, than if all lanes were mixed traffic.

  • JacobEPeters

    Just because something is calling for equal consideration of all modes does not make it anti-car. Is calling for equality automatically anti-whatever has preferential treatment currently?

  • JacobEPeters

    incorporating other modes of travel will not stop LSD from remaining car centric. It will merely allow it to be something more than car dominant.

  • JacobEPeters

    Both of these ideas would cost far more than the benefit they would provide. Express bus lanes with a few select BRT stations would provide much of the LRT benefits at a fraction of the cost & could be accommodated in a way that increases pedestrian access to the Lakefront without eliminating existing park land. This would also allow transit coverage to serve areas that are not directly on the lakefront by allowing for interlining and more varied alignments once the buses got into downtown as well.

  • Kevin M

    Speaking of being out of touch with reality, we stopped using crayons years ago.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Digging a big car tunnel is so expensive. I think the complete streets plan should be like a triple decker road for bikes and one for busses, and one for cars. If we have to we can put a fourth layer for a light rail. Maybe we need some heavy rail too.Then on top we can build miles of TOD. On top of the TOD we can have waterslides down to the beaches. Did I mention moving sidewalks for pedestrians? If we build it close enough we can have the marina boats ties up to the TOD, because no complete streets is inclusive unless you include the canoeists and kayakers. Oh, we need places for the hot air balloonists and zeppelins too. I would have included the camel caravans, but PETA objects.

  • oooBooo

    Equality achieved by making driving worse is indeed anti-car.
    Improvements raise all ships, not raise some while sinking others.

  • JacobEPeters

    Transit and Lakefront path improvements will not sink car access, nor the expedient and prioritized treatment with which automobile traffic is placed above all other modes. If one is experiencing preferential treatment, and that treatment is shared with everyone else, they might view it as making their lives worse, but it is not.

  • Mishellie

    Yeah. It’s an 8 ft wide bike path, at max, also to share with pedestrians and gaping tourists who like to just stop and stand in the middle of it.

    Next to an ENORMOUS what… 8 car lane? road.

    It’s not giant. No more car space is necessary.

  • Mishellie


    Bikes/Peds: _
    Cars: _________________

    Unequal right? Let’s “raise all ships.”

    B/P: ________
    Cars: _________________________

    STILL unequal! Wow!

    “Anti car” would be if our goal was:

    B/P: ________________
    Cars: _

    Ideally? The goal is:

    B/P: ________________
    Cars: ________________

    And then, when you take into consideration that there are highways etc… that will NEVER be anything more than car dominated, and which we aren’t really asking to be improved? The goal’s more like:

    B/P: ___________
    Cars: ________________

    So…. there’s my unscientific example.

  • Mishellie

    Yup! It’s like the old “Ugh but what about the opressed MEN!” argument in feminism or “What about the REVERSE RACISM” argument. (obviously to a different extent….)

    Those aren’t real problems. You only perceive them to be real problems because you’re not enjoying blind privilege as much as you used to before.

  • Lizzyisi

    I’m not sure I agree with this–having lived on the inner drive for several years. If people are NOT using the stops to travel northbound, it’s probably BECAUSE they are so awful, not necessarily because they prefer to walk to the red line or take the Broadway bus. At least up near Lakeview/Wrigleyville, I see many people waiting northbound at Belmont or Cornelia, which are relatively wide and comfortable stops with shelters and room to stand.

  • what_eva

    I was forgetting that the 151 stops there too. The other thought I had was that the express buses don’t go all that much further north anyway, but the 151 does.

  • Fred

    I support this, but only for the section along Grant Park. Sink the road into a trench, then cap it with park land creating a continuous park from Michigan Ave to the lake. Also, permanently close Columbus to cars and brick paver it.

  • Fred

    Just like designing Ventra machine for people in wheel chairs is anti-tall people.

  • Lizzyisi

    Right. I think the commute time use–with routes like 135 or 143 that run southbound only in the morning and northbound only in the afternoon–skew things a little. Around the top of the Mag Mile, those 151 stops are terrifying, but people definitely use them both directions.

  • Bus-only lanes would be unenforceable if the only thing marking them as separate from car lanes is paint — but if they are physically separated, it becomes very hard to allow cars to use them part of the time. If it’s just paint, you can’t tell me those frustrated cars stuck in congestion won’t just pull over and ‘cheat a little’ — making them no longer bus-only lanes.

    Except in congested conditions, it always feels like LSD has too many lanes anyway; the cars spread out and put a lot of space between themselves and that’s why it feels ‘ok’ to try to hit 70MPH.

  • Massage chairs aren’t necessary, but how about room for more than five people to wait without one of them being shoved off the curb into traffic?

  • There’s always camera enforcement.

  • BlueFairlane

    I’ve seen paint-separated HOV lanes very well enforced in other cities. Los Angeles, for instance, or Denver, Atlanta, and almost any city in the Northeast. You just have to create an environment of enforcement, so that people believe they’ll get a ticket. Cameras would help.

  • Peter

    Just invent a flux capacitor so we can go into the future and bring back flying car technology. Then all of the earth can be saved for bikes and pedestrians. Although I would also be inclined to bring back a Pit Bull hoverboard which might irk a few cyclists and peds :-)

  • Chrissy Mancini

    We’ve set a goal as a region to double transit ridership by 2040, so yes, a goal of the redesign of Lake Shore Drive should be to increase transit ridership and reduce vehicle miles traveled.

  • Peter

    Wouldn’t increasing the size of the path just encourage more pedestrians and dreaded tourists to come stand in the path (J/K)? At congested locations if you increase the path to say 20 or 30 feet, the users loose their sense of path line. This will lead to more meandering and can create unsafe conditions (especially with the cyclsts zooming by yelling “this is a bike path you walker/jogger/pedestrian… GET OFF”)…You would need pedestrian lane lines to keep people in check… and i would recommend against pedestrian left turns… LOL.

  • I have hopes. But not much. The past fifteen years in Chicago have been a slow slide away from any kind of culture of assuming enforcement is going to happen — about ANYTHING. There are cars with massive windshield cracks, broken AND HANGING LOOSE taillights, and other dangerous bars to their operation that drive for years with no tickets. I know because some of them belonged to my neighbors.

  • CL

    That’s because typical enforcement requires manpower that has been declining for many years. But we’re moving toward camera enforcement — first for skipping tolls, then for red lights, and now for speeding. The cameras make Chicago lots of money, and don’t require much manpower, so I could see Chicago going for it in this case. Rahm is never so happy as when he’s installing new cameras that will fine drivers millions of dollars.

    While I hate the speed and red light cameras, I’d be okay with bus-only cameras because these wouldn’t punish people who got confused, failed to watch their speedometer, or were wrong by a split second. Avoiding bus-only tickets would be extremely easy.

    The bus-only lane seems to work out for the Jeffrey Jump, doesn’t it? I’m usually on Jeffrey just after 6 p.m. but the lanes seem mostly clear of parked cars.

  • I am hopeful about automated enforcement, but the HOWLS of OUTRAGE every time they’re implemented make me worry. Up here in Albany Park you would think people were putting a fascist surveillance-state-for-profit in (instead of a couple of red-light cameras to encourage people not to drive 60mph right past a park) … the vehement, vituperative objection to automated enforcement needs to be overcome before I’ll trust it.

    First step, IMHO, involves mounting cameras on the front of all CTA busses with a small button in reach of the driver: when they can’t use a bus stop because someone’s parked in it, KLIK and a ticket in the mail.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Puts Priorities in perspective. Dismembering people via high explosive or 5.56mm round is better for business.

    Beautifying the lakefront and turning an eye-sore (current LSD) into an asset that pays dividends for generations….
    Not so much…..apparently

  • BlueFairlane

    It puts priorities in perspective … but not the way you might hope. “See this enormous military debacle that cost the nation a trillion dollars and tipped us into recession? We can come in just under that!”

    There are far cheaper ways of beautifying the lakefront.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    So, how does one fit bus only and car only lanes on LSD. Will buses move to the left and go express or will cars be kept to the left. You can’t have cars and buses using the same exits because one will back up the other eventually. So do you create two sets of exits? That’s an awful lot of digging and reconfiguring.

    You want a BRT on LSD? The City has spent a lot of money at the Harbors. Will this mean you will need to add landfill and possibly move the harbors out further into the lake? Or will the landscaping in the medians that makes LSD so attractive have to go?

    So you want to add more bike lanes? From Oak Street to North Avenue, there’s not a lot of real estate. There is virtually no median. Cost will be a factor and if you take down more traffic lane what do you do with the traffic diverted from Ashland?

    Its all well and good, but remember our government entities are getting more and more strapped for cash and this kind of project will need lots of dollars. How much can the city and state tax us before people just say chuck it I’m leaving? No matter who gets elected in the next Federal election cycle, when you have companies like Walgreens contimplating moving to Europe to pay less tax, the burden gets thrown on individual taxpayers to make up the difference.

    So you can dream big dreams, but everyone in the end will settle for less.

  • Chrissy Mancini

    They’ll have to move the sea wall out regardless. The incremental cost of moving it 100 feet or 300 feet isn’t that much when you consider we’re redesigning this for the next century.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Find out what was spent to fix up Lincoln Park where the gun club was North of Diversey Harbor used to be. That project took several years. I know it involved replacing the seawall. So figure in what the time and cost is? Find out how long that project took. You are talking a lot of dollars here, especially if you expect the taxpayers to pay for work over again that was just completed.

  • oooBooo

    Incorrect analogy. A correct analogy would be instead of designing all ventra machines to be usable to everyone, two out of four would be only for people in wheel chairs.

  • oooBooo

    In the political process one is either at the table or on the menu. This is not market process where any need will be met to make a profit. It’s a brutal political game where what one desires is taken from someone else.

    When streetsblog publishes articles that clearly state that making transit better isn’t enough, that driving has to be made worse shows exactly that political premise of the fixed pie, that what one gets must come at the expense of someone else. Which you demonstrate with your lines.

    A solution isn’t good enough here unless it degrades driving in the process. That’s what makes it anti-car. One article here even made it’s title an explicit statement to that effect.

    If you want equal, build something up, don’t degrade others until you achieve communist style equality.

  • oooBooo

    The very idea of “preferential treatment” is something that comes from the political process. I come from a free market viewpoint of underserved need, not “preferential treatment”. The political process manipulates emotions to tear down, I think in terms of building up.

    If I build trikes do I concern myself with bicycles? No. People who want bicycles are not my market. I build the best trikes I can for people who want trikes. Maybe if I build them good enough people change from bicycles to trikes.

    Now the political person thinks there has to be equality between bicycles and trikes. He’ll build the same sort of trikes that have always been built that few people chose. He uses the government to take away space to limit bicycling’s usefulness and tax bicycle usage so that more people will use trikes. Not because they want to, but because bicycle use has been limited, downgraded in some way. He’ll say that this is just diminishing the “preferential treatment” that bicycles have.

    Which would you rather have, the trikes people want because they are so well made and work so well or the trikes that people have to buy because there are too many taxes and usage restrictions on bicycles?

    This issue like every other one sees a road that is working for driving
    and then uses bicycling and transit as excuses to dismantle, to tear
    down what exists. There is no thought put into how can we have good
    driving and good bicycling/transit. Everything is centered around how to
    harm driving. That’s the central theme, that’s the primary way of
    encouraging other modes time and time again, that’s what makes it
    anti-car agenda rather than pro-transit, pro-ped, or pro-biking. They
    merely serve as vehicles by which to operate the anti-car agenda. Or
    more rightfully IMO, an anti-independent, uncontrolled, individual
    transportation agenda.


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