North LSD Survey Says: People Want More Buses, Fewer Cars

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

A significant part of any public project is collecting quantifiable and useable feedback from residents. Displaying that information to the public helps maintain transparency for the project. In the case of the ongoing discussion about how we should rebuild North Lake Shore Drive, IDOT has finally released this information  that was initially teased back at the previous private meeting. A little over 2,400 people took the survey.

The survey started off with some standard questions about transportation modes and the corridor. The first question asked how many vehicles people own. 41% of respondents stated they do not own a car at all while 67% said they have a bicycle or use Divvy.

There was also decent support for the proposed new Addison vehicle access lanes but a more lukewarm response to the idea of removing ramps at Wilson Ave, and an arguably hostile response toward turning Bryn Mawr into an at-grade junction. There was similar disagreement toward reducing vehicle lanes from four to three north of Montrose Ave.

Responses to other questions provided insight as to whether people would like to see the car-centric status quo remain on LSD, or shift to a more transit-oriented approach. The most fascinating response was to a question about how often people drive on NLSD, with clear majority driving fewer than three days a week and 41 percent of respondents said they do not get in a vehicle most weeks. In a later question, another 680 people said they could use existing bus routes but don’t.

The reasons for this are instantly made clear in other answers in the results. These boil down to buses that are too slow and unreliable in comparison to all other modes of transportation. This was again confirmed, with 508 people flat out stating they would be more willing to take the bus if it “was consistent and not affected by traffic.” Roughly the same results were present when bus riders were asked if there was a way to get them to take transit more often.

My reaction to the survey results was nearly identical to that of fellow Streetsblog freelancer Michael Podgers in a post on Twitter:

It’s obvious that a majority of people who took the survey want to ride the bus due to the negative effects drivers have on congestion and pollution. The solution is clear: build bus lanes. But IDOT doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo yet.

Accompanying these survey results were direct answers from IDOT on several pressing questions that fell short of honestly addressing the project’s problems. The department itself admits in a response that the project is unable to solve congestion but instead seeks to improve traffic flow by removing bottlenecks. IDOT even mentions that “The project is looking to balance transit needs with the safety and operational improvement needs of NLSD and the need to minimize impacts to Lincoln Park.”

The constant struggle to balance the needs of transit riders, drivers, pedestrian, cyclists, and other park users is reaching a breaking point. Without significantly expanding the shoreline into Lake Michigan there just is not enough room to please everyone at the same time to the degree IDOT wants to.

In some ways, I understand the department’s predicament. At the end of day cars still dominate and the department is geared toward supporting and continuing that domination. Even when IDOT considers usage numbers from more progressive organizations like the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the department is still locked in the mindset that the car-oriented status quo must be maintained.

Almost half of respondents said making bus service reliable and immune to traffic jams
Almost half of respondents said making bus service reliable and immune to traffic jams, i.e. adding dedicated lanes, would make transit a better option on LSD. Image: IDOT

However, that does not stop IDOT from taking bolder steps even if they do not end up where urbanists want them to. Merely considering what congestion would look like if a lane in either direction was taken away from cars and given to buses would be a step in the right direction. The department does not have to commit to the idea, but just the act of putting it out there as an official proposal would be an essential step forward. It would give all of us who support the expansion of transit, bicycling, and pedestrian infrastructure an official rallying point that we could point to and say, “We understand this looks like an inconvenience for drivers, but let us explain why it would be a net gain for all residents.”

It’s hard to shake the feeling that, as far as IDOT is concerned, if push came to shove, bus lanes would be the first thing knocked off the drawing board. Whether it is bus lanes replaced with managed lanes (shared with drivers who pay a toll or are carpooling) and those managed lanes removed for political reasons, it’s difficult not to feel like like one of these three pillars is in danger of being knocked down. Granted, it’s possible that none of this will end up happening, and I hope IDOT ultimately proves me wrong.

The full survey results are here and comment responses are here, and while you are on the site, please leave some feedback for IDOT.

  • Bjorn

    Are there plans to thin out the number of stops when the 14x-series routes run local? I’ve only experienced the routes as a visitor, but I found the express portion of the route to be reasonably efficient; it’s the local portions of the route that are the true timeliness killers.

  • Jeremy

    The people running for governor really need to be pinned down about how they want IDOT to operate for the next four years. I have no faith they will tell the truth, but I at least want them to have to address the balance between cars and public transit.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Great write up. Thank you.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Oh, the sadness of how spot-on Steven’s 2015 article “Chicago Should Take Over the North Lake Shore Drive Redesign Project” article linked directly below was. I understand that North Shore and Chicago residents rely on LSD to get in and out of the Loop, but given that there are many alternatives to do that with existing public transit, access to the Lakefront for Chicago residents needs to be a higher priority. And to a fellow’s point a few days ago that Chicagoans that can’t afford to live near the Lakefront need to be able to drive and park there to enjoy the beaches and LFT, this is when IDOT should be working with CDOT to improve east-west access via public transportation as well. Otherwise we continue to perpetuate a vicious cycle where the only way Chicagoans far from the lake feel they can get to it is by private vehicle, but by prioritizing the infrastructure for private vehicles they are making it more difficult for themselves and their communities to get there in any other fashion.

  • Tony Adams

    Good timing. IDOT just opened up its annual “The Illinois Traveler Opinion Survey” which provides another more general way to let IDOT know that we’d prefer more sustainable modes of transportation to be be prioritized. The survey is here: https://uisits.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_d0xTEKERJ7OshG5 and is open until the end of this year (2017).

  • Carter O’Brien

    Thanks for sharing!

    Although I do have to note that the fact this is the first I’ve heard of this survey suggests IDOT isn’t trying very hard to solicit Chicagoans. They have to be familiar with this blog, and they certainly didn’t send anything out in the email blasts I occasionally get by being an I-PASS owner.

  • I can live without dedicated bus lanes in the future build when it is rolled out, but only if provisions for dedicated lanes are built in for a further future decisions to dedicate lanes for buses.

    Did that make sense? The future build for LSD must include either the accessory needs a dedicated bus lane would need or the ability to easily add those accessory needs at a later date should that public desire arise with sufficient clout.

    IN other words at least design it as if it has dedicated bus lanes, even if on opening day the lanes themselves are not yet dedicated.

  • Tooscrapps

    IDOT and the Illinois Tollway are different bureaucracies, but it’s dumb that they don’t cross-collaborate on something like this. Drivers undoubtedly use IDOT roads to get to the Tollways.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ah, gotcha. Well, whomever is in charge of soliciting the public for this survey needs to step it up – and this is ANNUAL? It’s hard not to wonder if they intentionally try and ignore Chicago. And it is a really well done survey, I was impressed by the content.

  • Tooscrapps

    Agreed.

  • simple

    The author of this article approvingly cites a tweet above that states “current proposals call for more traffic lanes for cars.” Can someone please send a link to which current proposals actually call for more traffic lanes for cars? I couldn’t find any that do, either online or at the public meetings. In fact, the plans call for reducing traffic lanes for cars north of Montrose (and the survey respondents were pretty mixed on how they felt about that). If there are no proposals that actually call for more traffic lanes for cars, why is the author propagating the misinformation that there are, while also failing to report about the actual plans to reduce lanes for car traffic?

  • Michelle Stenzel

    Simple, go the the project’s link below, open “Task Force Meeting #7 Presentation” and look at pages 26 through 35.
    1/ Most alarming to me, ALL of the current alternatives propose widening the existing footprint of LSD. Until this point, I was under the impression that widening of LSD’s footprint was a no-go.
    2/ None of the alternatives remove a lane from the general private automobile traffic.
    3/ Access to the new proposed FIFTH lane is up for discussion. Although the drawings show buses only in the new lane, actually “bus only” is only one of six “managed lane” concepts, and the other five concepts all allow private vehicle access if they meet certain criteria, like pay a toll, have a certain number of people, etc. So, those proposals are all in effect providing even more lanes for private cars.
    http://www.northlakeshoredrive.org/involved_task_forces.html

  • simple

    Michelle, I think you may be mis-interpreting the alternatives presented at that Task Force Meeting #7 and previous meetings. The only alternatives in which lanes were contemplated to be added were the “Transitway” alternatives — in which the potential added lanes would be for the exclusive use of transit vehicles only (not “more traffic lanes for cars” which was the claim in the article that I refuted). Please note that in the “Managed Lane” alternatives, the total lane count would be kept identical to today (four lanes in each direction), not increased. However, one of the four lanes in each direction would be converted to a managed lane, so the count of “general purpose” (free) lanes would actually decrease. As for your second point, please re-read the base line alternatives (called “Context Tailored Treatments”) in earlier presentations and last summer’s public meeting — they all call for removing a travel lane north of Montrose (going from 8 lanes to 6 lanes total). The study documents clearly state that the base line (“Context Tailored”) alternatives represent the fundamental road that would be built, and the “Transitway” or “Managed Lane” alternatives would be overlaid on the base roadway only if they’re felt to provide sufficient benefits to justify them. None of the alternatives propose “more traffic lanes for cars.”

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