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DuSable Lake Shore Drive

State legislation introduced by Kam Buckner and supported by North Lakefront reps urges CDOT and IDOT to “transform DLSD”

The bill calls for "a lakefront thoroughfare where green urban mobility is emphasized."

The current state of DuSable Lake Shore Drive, as seen from the North Avenue bike-ped bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

Earlier this month, progressive State Representative Kam Bucker (D- 26th), whose district includes parts of Chicago's South Lakefront and downtown, filed a new bill that he tweeted would "return DuSable Lake Shore Drive to the people." Buckner said the legislation, titled HR0438, would call for "a lakefront thoroughfare where green urban mobility is emphasized, focus on multimodal [transportation], and create more green space and recreational opportunities for ALL Chicagoans."

Currently HR0438 is cosponsored by fellow Chicago-based state reps Anne W. Williams (D-11th), Margaret Croke (D-12th), Will Guzzardi (D-39th), and Lindsey LaPointe (D-19th). All but Guzzardi represent North Lakefront communities.

Of course, achieving major improvements to DLSD will also require cooperation from the Chicago and Illinois departments of transportation. Buckner's synopsis of the legislation says it "urges CDOT and IDOT to transform DuSable Lake Shore Drive into a true boulevard and to be creative and forward-thinking in their redesign." Currently the departments are conducting the planning process for the North DuSable Lake Shore Drive redesign, dubbed Redefine the Drive.

The synopsis adds that the bill's goal is to get the departments "to incorporate safe and efficient multimodal transportation throughout DuSable Lake Shore Drive for pedestrians, cyclists, public transit users, and drivers, to emphasize green urban mobility." This would "ensure that any proposed changes are considered as part of a comprehensive plan for efficient traffic management and movement of people, including during special events and weather challenges." The synopsis concludes that the aim is to have "more green space and recreational opportunities for Chicagoans, as well as visitors, and to repurpose, where possible, existing infrastructure as part of expanded recreational opportunities."

An aerial view of DuSable Lake Shore Drive, looking south from Diversey Avenue towards the Loop. Photo: Steven Vance

The Active Transportation Alliance was very excited to see the bill introduced, according to director of planning and technical assistance Dave Powe. He said the passage of the legislation will signal to IDOT and the rest of the state government that there are elected officials who are dissatisfied with the current approach to redesigning North DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

“This bill also gives the representative an opportunity to gather additional co-sponsors, and amplify the impact of the bill, and elevate the level of scrutiny on how it is moving forward with this project," Powe said. "Right now, three of the five Illinois House members that represent the project area have signed on to the bill, which is very telling of how the representatives and their constituents feel about the direction of the project."

Back in July 2021 Michael Podgers from the grassroots transportation advocacy group Better Streets Chicago wrote a guest op-ed for Streetsblog that argued DLSD must be transformed from an eight-lane highway to a multimodal boulevard. Powe echoed Podgers' sentiment that the current Redefine the Drive plan would essentially upholds the status quo by rebuilding a massive road that separates Chicago residents from the lakefront. "They've given us a false choice," Powe said. "[Choosing] between on-ramps for bus-only lanes, or more green space and wider sidewalks." He noted that in reality both goals could be accomplished if we reduce the number of lanes for private cars.

Powe also noted that the Redefine the Drive study, which covers DLSD between Grand Avenue (530 N.) and Hollywood Avenue (5700 N.), is supposed to improve sustainable transportation on the lakefront, but has met with criticism for being inadequate. However, he said the project probably won’t be eligible for state funding until 2030, so there is an opportunity to change the direction of the plan.

"The Active Transportation Alliance has been on the stakeholder committee for the project for the entirety of this ten-year-long process," Powe said. "And we have been pushing for the project to incorporate more Complete Streets elements and to really reimagine our highly trafficked... lakefront as a more sustainable and multimodal corridor.”

"Tens of thousands of people ride buses on the drive every day," Powe said. "And what we're seeing is a project team that values the convenience of people in single-occupancy vehicles over the needs of transit riders, environment, cyclists, and pedestrians. We want to see this project team revisit the Purpose and Need Statement of this project and truly reimagine North DuSable Lake Shore drive.”

Since Redefine the Drive is a stand-alone project and long-term planning initiative, it's not subject to any sort of legislation. But that isn’t to say that HR0438 couldn’t have any effect on the plan. Powe said that while it would be a resolution that is not legally binding, it "would encourage IDOT to reimagine what this project scope, purpose, and need is."

Before-and-after renderings of a Redefine the Drive proposal for Oak Street Beach, looking north from the top of the Hancock Tower. This version of the after rendering includes bus-only lanes.

"We desperately need a better vision than the one being advanced by IDOT and CDOT and tacitly endorsed by the civic and media organizations with the power to force the planners back to the drawing board," Michael Podgers told Streetsblog recently. "We must not replicate the highway-through-a-park status quo, and merely swapping a couple of travel lanes for bus lanes wouldn't produce the change we need."

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