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Chicago, Bike Grid Now! and 14 alders join forces to demand a more people-friendly North DLSD

They sent a letter to IDOT and CDOT calling on them to put the brakes on plans to simply rebuild the eight-lane highway next to our gorgeous lakefront.

DuSable Lake Shore Drive near Ohio Street. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

Some of Chicago's grassroots sustainable transportation advocacy groups have made big strides lately. Walk/bike/transit boosters Better Streets Chicago and Access Living, a disability rights group, recently reached a major milestone when Mayor Brandon Johnson announced recommendations for the "Plow the Sidewalks" program the advocates proposed. Next week Streetsblog will look at what's going on with that initiative to have the City clear walkways on a trial basis, in several neighborhoods across Chicago.

But today let's talk about another big campaign spearheaded by citizens promoting better conditions for green transportation, and their allies at City Hall. Last Friday, Chicago, Bike Grid Now!, which has previously pushed for a citywide network of low-stress bikeways, teamed up with 14 alderpersons and other organizations to release a letter to the Illinois and Chicago transportation departments. The document calls on the agencies to stop current plans for the reconstruction of North DuSable Lake Shore Drive between Hollywood and Grand avenues, and relaunch the project with a much greater focus on moving people instead of cars.

The bike advocates organized the campaign, dubbed the Better Lakefront Initiative, and an impressive list of elected officials, most of them proactive sustainable transportation supporters, have joined the effort. The signees include alders Daniel La Spata (1), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), Ruth Cruz (30); Scott Waguespack (32); Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Andre Vasquez (40), Brendan Reilly (42;) Timmy Knudsen (43), Bennett Lawson (44), Angela Clay, (46), Matt Martin (47), Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48); Maria Hadden (49), and Debra Silverstein (50).

Tweet about the campaign from Chicago, Bike Grid Now!

Hadden (Rogers Park), Manaa-Hoppenworth (Edgewater), Clay (Uptown), , Lawson (Lakeview), and Knudsen (Lincoln Park) are the representatives for North Lakefront wards within the project area for the DLSD rebuild, called Redefine The Drive.

Other entities that are joining the fight include the CTA advocacy group Commuters Take Action; Michelle Stenzel, a member of IDOT’s Redefine the Drive Geographic Stakeholder Task Force; Urban Environmentalists Illinois (Streetsblog's Steven Vance is a member); The Southwest Collective, Active Transportation Alliance; ​​Chicago BIPOC Birders; and the Freshwater Lab at UIC. Also signing on is the aforementioned Better Streets Chicago, whose cofounder Michael Podgers wrote a persuasive op-ed about the issue for Streetsblog back in 2021.

"The coalition is asking the Illinois Department of Transportation to halt its Redefine The Drive project before it moves out of the planning phase," the Better Lakefront Initiative said in a statement. "This is the first time Council members have come together to speak out against the IDOT plan and they join a growing number of elected officials from the Illinois General Assembly seeking to reboot the NDLSD plans."

The transportation departments haven't announced a final design for the highway yet. But the renderings of possibilities that the agencies released in spring 2022 showed that, at best, the drive would remain an eight-lane highway with two bus-only lanes. It would still be a major source of congestion and pollution, not to mention a daunting barrier to the lakefront.

Only "The Flex" scenario calls for adding transit-only lanes without widening the drive. Image: IDOT / CDOT
Potential NDLSD redesigns released in spring 2022. Only "The Exchange" scenario calls for adding transit-only lanes without widening the drive. Image: IDOT / CDOT

"We want a greener, smaller NDLSD that includes multi-modal transportation solutions such as light rail or bus rapid transit and better access to parks and beaches," stated Chicago, Bike Grid Now! cofounder Rony Islam. "IDOT’s vision is an urban highway next to our city’s greatest resource – Lake Michigan. All of us want to see less traffic and more efficiency. More lanes won’t accomplish that but mass transit will."

"The NDLSD study and Redefine The Drive project presents a unique opportunity to reimagine how we utilize this essential artery that fuels the economic engine of Chicago," said Ald. Hadden, chair of the City Council's Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy, in a statement. "With climate change reshaping our environment and posing a threat to public health, we must identify innovative and creative ways to encourage and prioritize non-individual car travel. I call on the Illinois Department of Transportation to listen to the growing voices calling for the implementation of sustainable engineering practices to reimagine North Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive."

Tweet about the campaign from Lakeview alder Bennett Lawson, which also included a link to the Chicago, Bike Grid Now! press release.

Read more statements from the alders participating in the campaign on the Chicago, Bike Grid Now! news release.

According to the Better Lakefront Initiaitive, Chicago Police Department data shows that NDLSD is currently one of Illinois' most crash-prone roads, with over 15,000 collisions since 2018, an average of seven per day. These crashes, which have sometimes endangered Lakefront Trail users, resulted in 3,900 injuries and 49 deaths. The collisions are estimated to have cost over $500 million. Even IDOT, which has been pushing for an even more car-centric redesign, has found that when traffic congestion isn't slowing them down, 95 percent of drivers on DLSD are speeding.

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

The advocates and alders noted that on May 2, the Illinois House unanimously passed legislation opposing IDOT's Redefine the Drive plans. And later that month the state Senate approved a bill urging the transportation departments to go back to the drawing board to create a more environmentally friendly highway redesign.

State Rep. Kam Buckner (D-25th), who sponsored the house legislation, celebrates the release of Friday's letter on Twitter.

"For years, IDOT has asked for input from the public and citizen task force members, but then put forth designs that did not respond to the majority of comments," NDLSD stakeholder task force member and Lincoln Park resident Michelle Stenzel told Streetsblog. "The decision-making process has also been fairly opaque. At one point the IDOT project team unilaterally tried to eliminate the only option that included a dedicated lane for public transit, and it was only after an uproar by advocates that it was reinstated." 

"I’m thankful for the work of  grassroots groups like Chicago, Bike Grid Now! and Better Streets Chicago, which are working diligently to make sure that our elected officials are fully aware of the unfortunate direction that the project was heading," Stenzel added. "DuSable Lake Shore Drive is an overly wide, noisy, noxious highway that encourages more driving and is a terrible use of our precious lakefront and park space. We deserve better than that, and we can do better than that. Given the recent statements by many of our electeds, I’m feeling optimistic for the first time in a while."

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