PI Original Anthony Burke Boylan Wednesday July 9th, 2014, 2:12pm

Transportation Officials, Chicagoans Discuss Ways To 'Redefine' Lake Shore Drive

North Lake Shore Drive, one of the most iconic stretches of road in America, needs major updates and improvements to accommodate increased use, according to local planning officials. Progress Illinois details the happenings at a meeting held Tuesday to discuss ways to "Redefine The Drive." 

North Lake Shore Drive, one of the most iconic stretches of road in America, needs major updates and improvements to match growth, increase safety and maintain the original character it was meant to offer, according to local planning officials.

Improving the roadway was the subject at a Redefine The Drive - North Lake Shore Drive workshop held jointly by the Chicago and Illinois departments of transportation Tuesday. Chicagoans were invited to learn about the seven-mile stretch of Lake Shore Drive (LSD) from Grand Avenue to Hollywood Avenue and suggest changes they would like to see. Invoking the famous Daniel Burnham quote to “make no little plan,’’ the process asks people to be as bold as their imagination allows.

Suggestions included lowering and raising the road, adding light rail or a dedicated bus lane, creating multiple bike paths — one for serious commuters, one for recreational riders, another for rollerbladers and such — and even adding more landfill to the lake's shore in order to push the road further to the east.

“As engineers we can come up with a plan,’’ said John J. Sadler, assistant chief highway engineer for the Chicago Department Of Transportation (CDOT). “But it may not look anything like the plan the people who live work and play on Lake Shore Drive every day would come up with.’’

Even those who spend the most time on and around Lake Shore Drive, however, were surprised with some of the data collected in advance of the meeting. The famous drive sees as many as a quarter million passengers a day in all the modes of transportation it supports — car, bus and bike. And as traffic has boomed, so have speeds and collisions with an average of three accidents a day.

Research related to the project shows as many as 95 percent of northbound and 78 percent of southbound drivers speed outside of high-traffic periods. That, along with narrow lanes and congestion points, put it in the top 5 percent of roadway accidents in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

As much or more in need of updating are the parks, trails, beaches and landscape surrounding Lake Shore Drive, originally meant to be more of a grand urban boulevard than the near super-highway it has become. Burnham’s original vision for Lake Shore Drive in 1909 was of a “boulevard in the park,’’ and both the 1972 Lakefront Plan of Chicago and the 1973 Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance established a policy to strengthen LSD’s parkway characteristics and not allow it to become an expressway.

Tuesday’s event at the Drake Hotel was the second such public workshop. The first one, held last year, garnered more than 1,200 suggestions from 400 people. Another workshop is not expected until the summer of 2015, but anyone interested in offering input on the plan can visit this webpage and click on specific areas of the Drive to make suggestions on just about any part of the project.

Suggestions received by August 1 will be included in the next update planners release sometime in mid-August, but input and comments are invited throughout the process. The plan calls for all of the commentary from the public, task forces and planning bodies to be distilled into a final proposal in 2018 that would then start the approval and planning process.

The current $19 million study phase stems from the Illinois Jobs Now program, but money for the development and construction phases has not been secured. The cost is unknown, though estimates range from several hundred million to $1 billion, and money would come from a variety of sources: local, state and federal.

If things go smoothly, construction could begin as early as 2020 or 2021, but there are no guarantees on the timing, said John A. Baczek, the project and environmental studies section chief for IDOT. Because of the broad scope of the improvements, a significant number of agencies, from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Chicago City Council to the Illinois General Assembly, would likely have to sign off on it, Baczek added.

The Redefine The Drive project starts just north of, but does not include, the Navy Pier Flyover, where construction began earlier this year.

Some areas of focus include:

  • The infamous S-curve and the entrance and exit areas from Fullerton to Irving Park Road, all which rank in the state’s "top 5% for traffic accidents,’’ said Baczek. That stretch of LSD had more than 5,800 accidents in the last five years, 17 of them fatalities. The S-curve could be straightened by having the road extended east past where Oak Street Beach sits now and replacing the beach, it could be put underground, it could be another solution entirely, or it could prove too difficult to accomplish in this development.
  • The bike path, which experts and users alike recognize is overwhelmed on weekends. According to studies done for this project the bike path from Oak Street to LaSalle Street sees more than 14,000 users on a typical summer weekday, but that number swells to 31,000 on weekends. One suggestion includes putting a dedicated bike lane on Lake Shore Drive or just along its eastern edge, and leaving the lakefront path for recreational use and tourists.
  • Including bus traffic in a way that allows it to move faster for the nearly 40,000 commuters every weekday, while causing less congestion at the points where they enter and exit. A plan could call for a dedicated bus lane, perhaps even one that is isolated from car traffic.
  • Some of the current underpasses for pedestrians and cyclists are 80 years old, subject to flooding when the lake turns stormy, no longer allow for the capacity required, nor are they compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This problem could be resolved by LSD being raised, having more tunnels that allow more crossing points, or by various other designs.

“Lake Shore Drive is one of the greatest assets we have in Chicago,’’ said Charles Johnson, 39, a long-time Lakeview resident who was marking up worksheets at the meeting. “I use Lake Shore Drive every day as a driver, I run year round, and I’m a cyclist.’’

“My primary concerns involve making sure the transportation hub grows proportionally in a way that includes more room for biking as a mode of commuter transit as well as a form of recreation.’’

Image: AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

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