IDOT Proposes Detailed Options for Lakefront Trail, Part of North Lake Shore Drive Project

2018-03-12 14.52.54

After many (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine) meetings the first phase of what will probably be a decades-long process of the complete reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive took place yesterday afternoon. This meeting was the most straightforward as the elements considered had already been narrowed down and because most attendees were repeats and familiar with the meeting’s format.

The primary concern of the meeting was the currently overcrowded Lakefront Trail, with all its cyclists, pedestrians, families pushing strollers, and tourists duking it out for space. However, after years of waiting, with an interim solution currently under construction, IDOT finally unveiled their first design proposal. Apart from minor kinks, it looks surprisingly good at first glance.

The first thing IDOT representatives touched on was how helpful the current trail separation project has been through this process and that they have learned a significant amount from both the construction and use of the new, separated facilities. So much so that they also talked about and showed examples about the possible new dedicated bike and trail pathways on the west side of LSD near Cannon Drive, better connecting and integrating with the rest of the city’s bike lane network. While IDOT is not exactly known for being a bicycle friendly organization, this is a very encouraging development that hopefully can carry over into other projects that they do.

After another short recap of the project, attendees broke up into the groups, as usual, and started poring over IDOT’s proposed designs. What was instantly striking is how dedicated IDOT was to the philosophy of putting significant crossings, reminiscent of the underpasses around Museum Campus, approximately every quarter mile. The designs of all of these bridges and underpasses are to be determined, but attendees at my table encouraged IDOT to hold contests and support local artists in their designs.

View all of the plans on the project website under Task Forces Meeting #8.

Design proposal around Diversey and Belmont harbors.
Design proposal around Diversey and Belmont harbors.
IDOT's design proposal at Hollywood and Foster Avenues.
IDOT’s design proposal at Hollywood and Foster Avenues.

As for the trail itself, for the most part, it seemed somewhat reasonable. Grade separation was maintained almost the entire time with the two trails – one for walking, one for biking – rarely crossing paths. The addition of the west side improvements was also very well received, efficiently doubling bike capacity between LaSalle Drive (1600 north) and Belmont Avenue (3200 north). They also included plenty of street connections making meeting up with future bike lanes a no-brainer.

However, there were still some issues that needed to be addressed. The most significant problem being the routing from Montrose to Lawrence Avenue, to say the least – the circuitous path wasn’t received well at the meeting and on social media (one, two). IDOT assured us that it was only chosen as it is the current path of the Trail Separation Project (pdf) and could be changed to be more of a straight shot in the next iteration.

Another positive feature was the many bus terminals and turnarounds that would facilitate better beach access as well as staging for the busses. IDOT also committed to the construction of queue jump bus lanes on busy ramps in the event that dedicated bus lanes were not built. IDOT also pushed the idea of permanently removing a lane north of Irving Park junction to better match the drop in traffic north of there.

The proposed Lakefront Trail alignment is shown in red. There is a lot of beachfront parking.
The proposed Lakefront Trail alignment is shown in red. There is a lot of beachfront parking.

Our table was not the only one with feedback as other groups had some genuinely useful suggestions. One idea that I liked was pull off areas for cyclists along the route that could be as simple as a rest stop to a full bike repair stand that has been installed in other places across the country including in Los Angeles and Denver. There was also some support for even more bike lanes on the western side of the drive, in in the neighborhoods, further adding capacity and increasing flexibility. Moreover, while not a game changer, the suggestion to add more non-intrusive signage to keep the two trails separate while making it extra apparent to new users.

Design proposal around Oak Street beach
Design proposal around Oak Street beach

As the meeting came to a close, and questions started rolling in, IDOT stressed that while not present at this meeting all transit and managed lanes alternatives are still being worked on and all are compatible with every option shown at the meeting. The alternatives that were cut were primarily a mix of the compressed roadway and frontage drive concepts, removed mostly due to cost and complexity.

Pumping stations, which remove water from the underpasses, were also a point of contention for their potential visual impacts, but IDOT said the plans were far from final and there would be plenty of opportunities to better fit them into the environment.

Finally, IDOT encouraged everyone to send additional feedback as they narrow down the alternatives for the next meeting that should take place sometime this summer.

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Starting in 2013, the Illinois and Chicago transportation department have hosted a series of public meetings on the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction study, dubbed “Redefine the Drive.” At a hearing in July 2014, planners introduced Chicagoans to the project’s latest purpose and needs statement (essentially a mission statement), while also asking attendees to chime in with […]