Streeterville Residents Redefine Their Own Bit of Lake Shore Drive

VOA Associates NLSD image 1
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.

VOA Associates NLSD image 2
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.

  • I’ve heard that IDOT could just repair the drive and wouldn’t technically have to make any more “improvements” beyond that. I don’t know how true that is. But what do you think IDOT would do if faced with these options: keep lake shore drive the pseudo-freeway it is now, and just repave it and repair the bridges, or radically redo the entire north lakefront with less space for cars and more space for everyone else?

    Place your bets…

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    My bet is that IDOTs plan will be…
    1 fix oak street curve possibly bury it.
    2 Add some land fill south to Olive Park along the lake and fix Chicago Ave
    3 fix Belmont Sheridan by running express buses down Sheridan to Diversey thru park, thru zoo parking connecting to North Ave and inner drive to Michigan Avenue.
    4 fix bridges north of Belmont
    5 Repave the rest
    We’re done.

  • Regarding item 3…in a discussion I had with a CDOT representative at the Drake hotel meeting on Tuesday it was said that the plan will likely not dictate/delineate any CTA service addition/change because the plan is not about service but about infrastructure and facilities.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    So basically I was right from the start. Most of this is window dressing meant to make people feel included, but in reality has little or no effect on the final outcome. Most of the rebuild will be determined by how much money is available to do whats needed to repair and replace.

  • Lizzyisi

    It’s been clear from the meetings that the public input is making no impression at all. The goal of the project is to make the Drive as highspeed and as private-auto dense as possible.

    They’ll come up with some very small but high profile pedestrian improvement at one of the crossings and go right on building their lakefront highway,

  • Fred

    My problem with this plan is that there is no consideration for public transit, either rail or bus. Either they should just bring the status quo up to par, or nuke the entire thing and start over with a proper full 21st century solution. Do this right or just rebuild as is. Let’s not half-ass this.

  • ChicagoStreetcarRenaissance

    They still need to provide space for driving, transit, cycling, etc. even though they don’t operate the cars, buses, or bikes. Forcing transit to share a lane with cars is dictating/delineating service. They said at a task force meeting that they’re not considering accommodating light rail because they’re “not in the rail business,” which is a silly thing to say if your name tag says Department of Transportation. For IDOT to say that transit service will be bus not rail, or stuck-in-traffic not BRT, is dictating service.

    They should build whatever facilities we need in a sensible and cost-effective manner. You don’t get to spend public money building infrastructure without regard to how it’s used–without a clear understanding of its usefulness and impact on the surrounding city. Of course transit service and traffic congestion are central to any evaluation of the plan.

  • CL

    The people who come to these meetings, and make these plans, are the people who want drastic change. But they’re not necessarily representative of majority opinion. A lot of people just want minor improvements, but nobody wants to attend a meeting just to advocate the status quo.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Here’s what I do know. Lake Shore Drive is US Hwy 41. Most of the rebuild money is going to come from Federal Highway funds because this is part of our national Highway system. All the other bells and whistles will need to come up with a combination of local and state funding. You are not going to build a light rail system with highway funds meant for road building. There may be other funding sources within the Department of Transportation, but it is not going to come out of the highway building bucket of funds.

    Park improvements like adding islands and reconfiguring beaches and play areas will only be done if the road needs to be realigned as part of rebuilding the drive.

    If burying the Oak Street Curve results in additional park lands so be it as the intention will be to improve the road.

    Bus lanes, well, there may be some wiggle room here, but it may not necessarily be a top priority unless the city of Chicago taxpayers and state of Illinois taxpayers can find the local funding to add to the Federal funding.

    And remember once the plan is locked down and the funding is found, not much else is going to change.

  • Bruce the masseuse

    just a general question if this project goes as planned for that 4 or 5 years we have no beaches at Oak in Ohio. considering Chicago’s push on tourism in the summer is this a wise idea.

  • There are plenty of other beaches that tourists can get to, from North Ave on up the Red Line to really big less-busy ones like Montrose.

  • FG

    If we are going to go to all this effort to improve the lakefront, we should go ahead and bury LSD from between North and Fullerton to McCormick Place and turn area into parkland where there is an access road and parkway where there is not. This would negate the need for additional landfill (in part anyways) and contortions for pedestrian access to the lakefront.

  • R.A. Stewart

    My interpretation of what Wewilliewinkleman and Lizzyisi are saying, and based on many years in Chicago it’s my expectation as well, is that it doesn’t matter what the people who come to the meetings think, and it doesn’t matter what the majority of people think. This is IDOT, this is Chicago, and what gets done will be what the boys in the back room want done. Probably, as Lizzyisi predicts, a lakefront highway, “as highspeed and as private-auto dense as possible.”

  • Lizzyisi

    That was, indeed, that I meant. The call for public input was meaningless because regardless of what the public indicates it wants (majority of the public, or the minority of the public, or some combination thereof. Major changes, minor changes, whatever), the project planners will create a highspeed lakefront throughway which prioritizes private-auto traffic over all other uses. The attitude of the project managers at the public meetings telegraphed that intention, quite clearly, in my opinion.

  • Coolebra


    I thought CDOT was a little better than IDOT.

  • Coolebra

    Yep, window dressing.

  • Coolebra

    “It’s been clear from the meetings that the public input is making no impression at all.”

    It’s a dog and pony show because the taxpayers of Illinois don’t demand anything different.

  • The Bloomingdale Trail didn’t turn out this way. But IDOT wasn’t involved one bit…

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Here’s the thing Lizzy, if it is intended to be a “mode shift” what really is needed is the politicians themselves to come out and make a statement in support of all the lovely things proposed by these different groups. Its called leadership. The mayor, the aldermen, the other quasi-entities like CMAP, etc. aren’t willing to lay it on the line.

    IDOT, CDOT and the like are not going to make substantial proposals. All they can do is implement the plans. And the plans come from top down.

    When politicians use public forums, it could be argued that this is the way for politicians to gauge public support for new and innovative ideas, however, my experience is more likely than not it is used as a way to duck and cover.

    Groups like Transit Future are good, but when you have to start planning years out so that you have the money appropriated on the Federal level to do the north LSD project when the time comes to do the project. Transit Future should have been on the ground running 10 years ago.

    Rebuilding the Red Line on the northside is a priority. Going back and asking for more rail funds for a lakefront light rail when you haven’t secured the funding for the complete rebuild of the Red Line (only sections of it) probably won’t fly in Washington. So the politicians know this and that’s why any serious discussion of that is not going to go anywhere. But to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, they let them go ahead and make proposals like this know full well it won’t go anywhere.

  • Yeah, he was reiterating their position, not his.

  • Coolebra

    Chuckling, but it isn’t funny.


#1 North Lake Shore Drive Request: Separate Bike, Pedestrian Trails

This week, the Redefine the Drive study team listed the most requested improvements (PDF) that Chicagoans want to see as part of the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive. By far the most popular is also among the easiest and least expensive ways to improve safety: creating separate paths for bicyclists and pedestrians on the overcrowded Lakefront Trail. […]