“Leave Briar Alone!”: Lakeview Residents Weigh in on North Lake Shore Drive Plans

Residents hope that the changes to Lake Shore Drive will be divinely beneficial for safety and efficiency. Photo: John Greenfield
Residents hope that the changes to Lake Shore Drive will be divinely beneficial for safety and efficiency. Photo: John Greenfield

On August 12th and 13th, the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project team presented a focused version of previous plans to groups of residents. Before the meetings even started, there were already some issues, because these hearings were not necessarily well-publicized on social media. I personally only found out about the meeting after a reader emailed Streetsblog the 44th Ward Flyer about the hearing yesterday, causing me to miss the meeting on the 12th.

At any rate, a large number of attendees did show up for the second meeting at St. Joseph Hospital in Lakeview. I’d characterize the crowd as generally older and opinionated. Walking around the room I heard some backlash to the more progressive aspects of the proposal, comments like “All cyclists should be licensed,” “We have enough parking problems already,” and my personal favorite, “Between this and the Treasure Island development, the neighborhood is ruined”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, with some people, both young and old, advocating for positive changes such as installing speed cameras with hefty fines. One person was chatting up a representative from the Illinois Department of Transportation, making the point that we are very much in the midst of both a climate emergency and a crisis of too many cars. Disappointingly, the official dismissed this  comment with a canned line to the effect of “We need to accommodate everyone.” But it was encouraging to hear an older woman very adamantly making the point that the project is not forward-thinking enough. She said she sees lots of younger people walking, biking, and taking the bus, and that this project doesn’t do nearly enough to address that mode shift.

Local alderman Tom Tunney kicked off the presentation a few choice words about “non-starters” from earlier in the project’s development, but never mentioned any specifics. Moving on to the presentation itself by Chicago Department of Transportation engineer Nate Roseberry, most of the information was repeated from earlier meetings with only a few new pieces of info. The most significant update was IDOT is currently hoping to complete Phase I of the process, selecting a general alignment, by 2021. Construction would start in 2025 at the earliest, assuming all funding can be secured by then. The chances of this happening have increased thanks to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s recently passed infrastructure spending bill. Currently the budget for the LSD project is estimated at $2-3 billion. Construction would likely take more than a decade as to minimize negative impacts on residents and commuters. 

Roseberry reiterated that improving safety is the biggest priority of the project, with both the Belmont and Irving Park junctions each having serious safety issues. Based on IDOT’s most recent data, Belmont has the highest number of crashes due to its complexity, while Irving Park has the highest number of fatalities due to less congestion and greater speeds. Unfortunately, like all the other data IDOT has been relying on — most of it from before 2013 — these crash numbers were outdated.

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Checking out a rendering of proposed changes. Photo: Charles Papanek

Next a short break in the presentation for questions yielded a few interesting inquiries and answers. Someone asked why the planners are using such stale data. It turns out that IDOT is planning a data refresh within the next year or so, but it wants to wait until the alternatives have been narrowed down to set options. Another attendee asked how residents will deal with not only the construction itself but the extended timetable. An IDOT official stressed that high-impact alternatives had already been eliminated and the department will hopefully be working in both this Phase I and Phase II to reduce those impacts further.

After that the presentation resumed with a discussion of the Diversey bridge, which will be raised to provide more headroom for anyone crossing under the span. At Belmont, plans call for the direct offramp to be relocated to Aldine, a block north in addition to a secondary onramp, potentially introducing new conflicts for both pedestrians and cyclists. IDOT defend this new configuration saying it will work in conjunction with Addison to spread the traffic out. 

Another change was the proposed reconfiguration of the entrance to the Belmont harbor parking lot with a smarter design that they hope will make it impossible for drivers to accidentally wind up on the Lakefront Trail, a not-uncommon occurrence nowadays. This controversial proposal has a new junction at Briar going under LSD to the parking lot that was rejected by many attendees. After someone shouted “Leave Briar alone!” there was a round of applause.

On the plus side, new bus turnarounds and lanes are proposed at Belmont and Irving Park, which would provide ways to get around traffic and potential for layovers and turnbacks. A final minor positive note was that IDOT seems to be willing to go forward with single-lane reductions past Irving Park. Before things wrapped up, Alderman Tunney took a quick show-of-hands survey and found that about 75 percent of attendees live south of Belmont.

Afterwards, attendee Kyle Hance told me he uses the Lakefront Trail daily to bike from his home in Uptown to his job in River North. Hance said although he’s glad improvements are planned for existing pedestrian and bike conflicts areas, with many nasty pinch points being removed, the overall project leaves a lot to be desired. He added that, in light of the trend away from driving and the threat of climate change, it’s a shame that it looks like Lake Shore Drive will be rebuilt in a more-or-less car-centric manner.

Roseberry told me the changes to the plans mostly involved small details as they focus in on individual neighborhood sections. As for the possibility of speed and bus lane cameras, he said more focused study is needed as to where they would be appropriate. Lastly, he said there will be more ward-based meetings in the near future, so keep an eye out for announcements on ward email lists, as well for announcements of the next round of North Lake Shore Drive task force meetings, which will be focused on the possibility of tolled lanes, congestion-priced lanes for buses and drivers who pay a premium for less congestion.

While the North Lake Shore Drive plans haven’t evolved much recently, this project is likely to heat up over the next year as we approach the 2021 planning deadline. You can leave feedback about the project on the planning website.

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IDOT Provides an Update on the North Lake Shore Drive Reconstruction Study

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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 […]