IDOT Favors Managed Lanes for the North LSD Redesign

A possible layout for North Lake Shore Drive with reversible managed lanes.
A possible layout for North Lake Shore Drive with reversible managed lanes.

Hot off the heels of July’s public meeting, the Illinois Department of Transportation finally lifted the curtain off its Transit and Managed lanes concepts for the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project on October 16, 2017, at the CMAP offices. Unfortunately, the results are a mixed bag of good ideas held back by an apparent desire to maintain the car-centric status quo. View the presentation from Monday’s event here.

The meeting started out well enough with the presentation of some relevant data from the survey taken at the last meeting. Out of the almost 2,500 responses, a whopping 41 percent of participants said they didn’t own a car, in massive contrast to the citywide car-less rate of 27 percent of households and Cook County rate of only 18 percent of households without vehicles. Notably, out of about 1,000 responses, 65 percent of respondents said they would switch to the bus if improvements were made to both speed and reliability. The study acknowledges this, noting that several factors have significant impacts on bus service. The example given was a typical CTA #147 Outer Drive Express trip with a quick eight-minute travel time at 6 a.m, that bumps up to 18 minutes at 8 a.m. due to rush-hour congestion. The worst travel time for this trip was a 31-minute on a “bad day,” or roughly a day every two weeks, something recently noted by Transport Politic blogger Yonah Freemark.

This scenario gives buses an edge at intersections.
This scenario gives buses an edge at intersections.

The transitway alternative themselves can be broken down into four categories. The first one can apply regardless of the final alignment, IDOT calls this “Transit Advantages at Junction.” In other words, at specific junctions buses would have access to both a new queue-jump lane as well as priority signals. The second option is bus-on-shoulder, a strategy that’s been successfully deployed in both the Chicago area and Minneapolis. However this might be challenging to implement on NLSD due to junction proximity and other vehicles taking up the shoulder lane. In addition, buses are only allowed to go 15 mph over the speed of traffic with a maximum of 35mph.

The third idea was a transitway on the inside of NLSD. This would minimize conflicts with cars coming on and off the drive as well as allow buses to hit a maximum speed of 45mph. The final proposal is an entirely separated off-alignment transitway that would otherwise be the ideal solution but unfortunately has several flaws that I’ll touch on later. IDOT also noted that dedicated alignment could be built in a way to accommodate future light rail, but nothing was committed to.

An option with a dedicated transitway to the left of the mixed-traffic lanes.
An option with a dedicated transitway to the left of the mixed-traffic lanes.

Unfortunately, all of these scenario contain a major drawback, the necessity of expanding the width of the drive by adding a lane. While the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has projected transit ridership to grow, they also predict that the amount of driving will stay the same, making it a harder to make the case for the conversion of existing lanes. Of course, that’s something of a self-fulfilling prophesy: If we continue to make the same amount of road space available for driving, that will facilitate the same levels of car use.

The alternative that IDOT is promoting is managed lanes. The route of these roads is similar to the median transitway alternative, only with more dedicated onramps for drivers and buses along with a few ramps for exclusive use by buses. The thinking behind this approach is that because drivers would technically still have access to the lanes, theoretically LAke Shore Drive would continue to have car capacity similar to exists now while speeding up the buses. IDOT is also emphasizing that a fee or toll would probably need to be charged to keep the lanes free flowing, an idea that would require new state legislation. The city of Chicago explored this idea back in 2011, but ultimately the proposal didn’t go anywhere.

After that, attendees broke up into our groups and to look at maps. The table I was at started with the managed lanes with the presenter pointing out that in this scenario the ramps at Addison would only interact with the new managed lanes. Interestingly our table presenter mentioned that in the models they had run so far, every bus route running at two-minute headways at peak or a bus every 40 seconds in some sections. The presenter also tried to play down concerns that the new split design over the intersections to accommodate the center on/off ramps were too highway-like, but conceded that the viaducts would increase in size under this plan.

The off-alignment transitway scenario.
The off-alignment transitway scenario.

Later we looked at the off-alignment transitway. While this should be the perfect solution, several significant flaws keeping it from reaching its full potential. The central issue is the design philosophy behind the ROW, which is to maintain current service. In other words, instead of a proper BRT route, this would only be used as a dedicated space for existing routes. Any stations would need to have some bypass lane making an already tight ROW even tighter. These constraints would also mean dramatic changes to the layout of the drive with a tunnel at Irving Park while the busway would be stuck at-grade. Meanwhile the proximity of Montrose and Lawrence meant that a considerable chunk of the busway would need to be in a trench similar to the McCormick Place Busway. To say this is all less than ideal is an understatement and I do hope IDOT and the CTA start to rethink how the bus routes interact with NLSD, present and future.

To wrap up the meeting we got to hear a quick update on the Lakefront Trail and that the next task force meeting would be focusing more heavily on that aspect of the project along with a look at the following round of alternatives. The meeting should take place sometime in early 2018 while the next one for the Northern Terminus Study should take place sometime in late 2017 or early 2018. As always, the project managers are still accepting feedback via their website and encourage everyone to send some their way.

  • rwy

    I’m trying to visualize what you are talking about. It would be easier if you just posted all of the slides.

    In my experience the Sheridan Rd portion of the 147 route takes up most of the travel time. The example stated is obviously not boarding at Howard.

  • Sadly the project focus is very narrow it terms of transit so the example only looked at when the bus was on NLSD.

    Slides and other meeting materials *should* be on the website within the next week but it could take longer.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Lake Shore Drive is not a very good place for a classic busway or BRT—much less for light rail. No ridership comes from one whole side of the ROW (the park and lake). Much better to keep basically the current route structure, with various routes serving different portions of the lakefront; picking up riders at their doors and then offering the choice of LaSalle or East Loop dropoffs. I have no objection to improving the bus speeds during their time on LSD, but switching to a classic line-haul busway with intermediate stops would increase walking (and dwell) time for the vast majority of riders while saving only a few minutes in riding time.

  • Obesa Adipose

    Um, the other side of that roadway is a dense, towering wall of apartments.

  • Courtney

    I ride the 147 and agree Sheridan does take up a good chunk of time (I’d love to see BRT on Sheridan from Lawrence to Howard….) BUT there have been plenty of times my route to work was delayed by 15-20 minutes because of either traffic on LSD OR traffic on Michigan (most notably cabbies blocking the bus stop).

  • Courtney

    *sigh* I would much rather see lane conversion and eventually BRT on Lake Shore Drive. I’m tired of transit riders getting the short end of the stick all in the sake of pacifying car drivers.

  • Michelle Stenzel

    Materials from the 10/16/17 meeting are on the website now
    http://www.northlakeshoredrive.org/involved_task_forces.html

  • Dennis McClendon

    . . . which currently has service right at their front doors.

  • It good to see so much thinking going into accommodating and improving the transit experience on LSD.

    My vote is to reduce the car travel lanes to three each way. Instead of inducing demand lets reduce demand.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Thanks, added.

  • Jeremy

    Most weekdays, I ride the 134 for commuting. I am bothered by the idea of redesigning LSD to decrease commute times during 10 hours of the week. Doesn’t that just create excess capacity during all other times?

    I don’t want to see more concrete added to the lakefront. I would rather see 2 lanes removed from LSD (with no special bus accommodation) then see two dedicated bus lanes added.

  • rwy

    Did they say what impact the construction would have on the Lakefront Trail?

  • FlamingoFresh

    These roads should just be tolled (managed) in general and also have bus lanes. That way even if you can get to work quicker than before maybe you don’t want to pay the tolls that come along with it and rather pay the bus fare. That would make using public transit even more attractive.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I wish that IDOT could shrink/redesign LSD, to become a beautiful urban boulevard. Sure, it couldn’t carry the amount of traffic it does now, but that’s the whole point. We don’t want or need a freeway here! We have to get folks out of their cars (private, single-occupant). Transform it to a boulevard and fewer people, per force, will drive. Bike-walk-transit, with a few cars, should prevail here along our beautiful lake shore! No? Keep the “from the front door” that Dennis McClendon rightly praises below, but rethink prioritizing (to the degree that it is now) automobile mobility.

  • JacobEPeters

    Interlining BRT is the solution Dennis. The many routes utilize the dedicated lanes much like their current service, but could make 1 stop at a transfer station adjacent to a major trip generator (say Lincoln Park Zoo, or North Avenue Beach) in order to allow riders to transfer from buses bound for Michigan Ave to buses bound for LaSalle, or vice versa. This would mean that instead of waiting 10 minutes for the next bus headed to their destination, they could jump on whichever bus arrives first & transfer at a station where a bus heading to their final destination was arriving every minute or so. This could result in faster trip times for many passengers on routes with ridership that is too low to justify increased service right now, while providing flexibility for route choice by riders should a disruption occur to one line due to a bus malfunction or other issue. It doesn’t need to be a BRT line with many stops that replaces the services that stop locally near homes in Lake View, Edgewater, & Uptown, it can be more like the BNSF line where routes utilize an express “track” in between their frequent local neighborhood stops.

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