There Ain’t No Road Just Like It: Latest LSD Session Reveals Some Ambitious Ideas

A proposal calls for widening the shoreline with infill between Oak and North.  Image: City of Chicago
A proposal calls for widening the shoreline with infill between Oak and North. Image: City of Chicago


At yesterday’s public meeting on the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction, after well over a year of waiting, the public finally got a better look at what the Illinois and Chicago departments of transportation have planned for the coastal highway. The project has been a long time coming with almost four years of public input and at least another three-to-four years to go before construction starts. During this period, the debate over how the various modes of transportation should be prioritized will continue.

Most of the design alternatives presented at yesterday’s meeting were discussed at the last hearing in May, but earlier this week a few new renderings were released showing proposals to expand the lakefront between Oak Street and North Avenue using infill to create new green space and enlarge the beaches. This scenario would also replace LSD’s at-grade intersection at Chicago Avenue with an underpass and soften the Oak Street S-curve.

There were several computers set up where attendees could take a public survey, in addition to opportunities to write down comments on paper. We were highly encouraged to share the questionnaire with others – you can take it online here. You can also leave comments on the project website.

During the meeting there was significant interest in plans for the convoluted intersection of Belmont and Lake Shore Drive. Many residents wanted a more detailed look at not only how the various options for that junction would affect the neighborhood, but also other alternatives such as the potential for permanent southbound entrance and northbound exit ramps half a mile north at Addison. (Currently there’s a gate at Addison that is opened to allow southbound drivers to exit during Cubs games and other special events.)

Residents check out renderings at the meeting. Photo: Charles Papanek
Residents check out renderings at the meeting. Photo: Charles Papanek

There was also a fair amount of confusion over the proposal to split the Fullerton junction by relocating the southbound exit and northbound entrance half a mile north to Diversey. Many residents thought this would dump traffic onto Diversey itself due to the unfortunate placement of the map legend on the rendering, which blocked off a chunk of that area. Instead, the proposal calls for redirecting traffic onto cannon drive and eliminating the existing three-way intersection of Cannon and the Inner Drive. Apparently, the management of the Lincoln Park Zoo, located south of Fullerton, supports this option because they believe splitting the Fullerton junction would make it easier to control large influxes of traffic.

During the meeting there was plenty of feedback indicating that residents from both the the project area and other parts of the city are worried about the North Lake Shore Drive redesign turning the already eight-lane-wide highway into something more like an Interstate. One resident commented that while previous changes to the drive, such as the elimination of the sidewalk on the south side of Fullerton at LSD, made driving more convenient, they significantly contributed to the freeway feel. With public comments in mind, I went to find some residents to talk to.

During the meeting Dietrich Müller, who lives in Streeterville but originally is from Berlin, told me his primary concern is the Chicago Avenue intersection, and so far he likes what he sees from the plans. He says the existing at-grade junction, which forces pedestrians and cyclists to take stairs and a gloomy tunnel to access the lake serves as a barrier to access. Therefore he likes the idea of burying the highway in this location so that “traffic out of sight and out of earshot,” as well as adding additional bike/ped access points. When I asked him what he would do with this location if he were in charge with an unlimited budget, he mentioned Berlin’s Tunnel Tiergarten Spreebogen, a project that buried a highway and covered it with parkland, as a good model for LSD.

On the other hand, Michelle McCarthy told me she was worried that submerging segments of the Drive would make it less pleasant for motorists. She cited Aliotta Haynes & Jeremiah’s song “Lake Shore Drive” and artist Yvonne Jacquette’s painting of the highway as examples of LSD’s cultural significance. McCarthy also had an interesting take on the idea of creating new parkland, saying she was concerned that the additional green space might make it more difficult to find one’s way to the beaches, and that it might create personal security issues. While she doesn’t support adding tolled or managed lanes to the Drive, she is in favor of separating buses and private vehicles via the addition of bus-only lanes.

Existing conditions at Oak/Michigan and the proposed changes. Images: City of Chicago
Existing conditions at Oak/Michigan and the proposed changes. Images: City of Chicago

Ted Ledford told me he’s not happy with how the North Lake Shore Drive planning process is progressing. He sees the project as a fundamentally car-centric one, designed by highway engineers who see improving pedestrian, bike, and transit access as a “cute” afterthought to their main concern of facilitating driving. Ledford added that IDOT needs to do a better job explaining how the proposed treatments would work. He also wants the renderings to show more of the connecting surface roads to better illiterate the potential impacts of the redesign. Ledford also argued that attendees weren’t provided with enough info on how many people are utilizing the lakeside parks and beaches – he felt that it would probably be more appropriate for the Chicago Park District to be leading the redesign process.

CDOT’s Jeff Sriver told me he was very happy with the turnout at the hearing and indicated that, based on interest from the public and aldermen, there may be additional meetings in the near future focusing on proposed changes to specific intersections. He added that the next Task Force meeting would most likely take place this fall or winter with another public meeting in the winter or spring. These will focus more on busway and managed lane treatments as well as more details on the ped/bike enhancements.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

  • Chicagoan

    I don’t like the idea of the underpasses moving off of the major streets like Division for wayfinding purposes. It seems like a common assumption that if I want to get to the lakefront, I need to get onto a major thoroughfare, which is most likely to have an underpass. Moving them onto smaller streets like Banks seems silly.

  • Perhaps if drivers worry about not getting a “view” in exchange for making it easier for everyone to access the lakefront, then we should lower the speed limit! Preserving a view for drivers at the expense of easier access and less noise pollution is a low priority.

  • Anne A

    I like the fact that ped/bike access is via bridge and not tunnel. I also appreciate the path being a little further from the beach and the waterline – reduces conflicts with beach traffic and eliminates the problem of waves crashing over the path and washing it out in bad storms.

  • ardecila

    I’m fine with a lower speed limit – I seem to remember that lower speed limits actually maximize vehicle throughput since there isn’t a huge speed differential between entering vehicles and full-speed vehicles.

    Unfortunately the geometry of the road encourages relatively high speeds so a speed limit change is unlikely to change driver behavior (although LSD still isn’t set up for interstate speeds, I’m fine driving 80 on the Kennedy but only 55 on LSD – narrower lanes, close trees, and no shoulders).

  • rohmen

    Well, this goes to the heart of the LSD problem. The speed limit is already only 40 m.p.h., while people routinely drive at 55, and many at 60 to 65—including many that would never drive 20 to 25 over the limit in other areas. I’d go as far as saying driving the speed limit on LSD would maybe even be dangerous if it isn’t congested.

    Without an extremely radical redesign (and taking the s-curve out is a clear move in the opposite direction), I just don’t see reducing the limit as a viable/safe option.

  • ardecila

    That’s kind of my point. The actual speeds of drivers on LSD already reflect a sort of “parkway” ideal, higher than the 40mph that people drive on a boulevard but lower than the 80mph people drive on a true urban expressway. Obviously there will be outliers who drive at truly unsafe speeds on any road. But I’m not sure I see the point in reducing speed limits even further below the design speed of the road, if it will have little effect on driver behavior. I am opposed to design changes that increase the design speed, like curve easing, wider lanes, tree removal and adding shoulders.

    The lack of shoulders and generally compact footprint of LSD makes enforcement difficult, though, since there’s nowhere for cops to perch and nowhere to pull drivers over.

  • rohmen

    I think we both agree. It’s sort of a tough spot for IDOT though. The curve easing and other measures are really necessary given the real speed people drive and the amount of accidents that occur there. From what I understand, people are getting hurt in that spot. But that same move really just ensures the speed will remain high. Honestly, I think the only real solution is to get rid of LSD all together by reducing it to a two lane road with a valid transportation option like light rail or BRT in its place, or bury the thing and treat it like the highway it really is. Unfortunately, I doubt either are even remotely possible.

  • Even if they submerge parts of LSD, it will only be for a few short segments (too short, in my opinion) in the southern section of the 7-mile stretch that’s being redesigned. There would still be miles and miles of the same views for motorists under this design. How people “enjoy” the view at 65 miles per hour, however, I’ll never understand.

  • 1976boy

    What we have now is a largely dysfunctional highway from the river to North Ave, and what this gives us is one that functions the same way but removes a lot of the blight, while adding green. I’m generally supportive, but they really need to consider making all the pedestrian access points and crossovers truly pedestrian friendly, and not designed to maximize vehicle convenience, or else we will have something actually worse than what is there now.

  • Dubya P

    Let’s hope they design the Lake Shore Drive (automobiles) where it offers zero view of the lake front and is like in this relatively narrow valley which holds all that road noise. Yes, I’m talking about how St. Louis did it down by the Arch. (West of the Arch on the 270 loop). Big concrete walls to support the over passes above, for cyclist & pedestrians. Where one has to focus on driving verse rubbernecking. Just something to absorb all that traffic noise as I’ll bet it wasn’t bad when it was a simple two lane country road but what it is now is a dangerious highway. Go checkout some those Taxi Cab Toyota Prius rear ender car crashes.

  • Dubya P

    If the Lake Shore Drive has a driver speeding problem they should install some license plate readers and speed radars so that the DMV will just mail them a speeding ticket in the mail. Doesn’t Illinois have junk rated bonds because they lack positive cash flow into the state. Drive thru Atlanta at a high rate of speed and see how many tickets one can rack up in one pass. Knew somebody that did that – expensive lesson. ( This something they could be installing right now to pay for the renovations. )

  • Dubya P

    If you know anybody in the Florida Key tell them the should create a light rail system to go from Key West to Florida City (South of Miami), completely underground so as not to have to avoid fooling with all that sponge coral on the bottom of the Keys… Go complete under it. As they too have parking problems in Key West. As nobody can find that parking garage, which they were suppose to build but blew it it off.

  • Carter O’Brien

    No to mention, keep your eyes on the danged road and maybe on the speedometer!

  • Even if it means smashing my murals under LSD to gravel sized chunks…nothing is permanent…I really like the plan to widen the pedestrian/bike underpasses at Buena and Margate Park (others?) to something more like the underpassess in the Museum Campus, wide and inviting, more s uitable for public art.

    Right now they are functional but little else.

    Also…would like to see more communication in the next phase about how the “Chicago Cultural Plan 2012” can be integrated into the whole scheme. That was the purpose of the well-funded effort to create the plan. Unfortunately various government agencies work in their own silos, DCASE created the CCP2012….CDOT/IDOT are creating thi plan, the two need to get together and talk about it.

  • Maybe this is a better fit for Elon Musk and hiss fantastical electric sled idea?


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