Experts expected to steer Lake Shore Drive away from being a superhighway

Proposals in the platform include reducing the drive's maximum speed limit to 35 mph with no increase in the number of lanes; introducing bus-only lanes on North Lake Shore Drive and possibly expanding the city's experiment with bus rapid transit to the drive; building boardwalks along beaches and a new path on the lakefront trail to separate different types of trail users, such as cyclists and walkers; and increasing green space, especially between Ohio Street and North Avenue, and widening lakefront access points while also reducing conflict points between cars and trail users.

"We drafted the statement in a way that does not make specific design recommendations," said Tim Jeffries, director of planning and policy at Friends of the Parks. "We want to see the process include as many opinions as possible so that the result is improving the road and livability without sacrificing the drive's utility as a transportation corridor."

Daily traffic along North Lake Shore Drive ranges from about 70,000 to 155,000 vehicles, depending on the section, according to IDOT.

Transportation engineers as well as advocates for people who prefer to ride mass transit or cycle or who enjoy walking, running or skating along the lakefront all seem to agree that it's time to hit the brakes on Lake Shore Drive's slide toward becoming a superhighway.

About 70,000 transit commuters using nine CTA bus routes travel on North Lake Shore Drive each weekday, and the lakefront trails are used by more than 25,000 people daily, IDOT said.

The north section also ranks among the top 5 percent of roadways in the state for serious injury-causing crashes, according to IDOT statistics. An average of three crashes a day, or more than 1,100 annually, has occurred over the last five years, IDOT said.

Officials at IDOT and CDOT have previously provided ideas that are on their priority list for reconstruction. They include adding lakefill to reconfigure the Oak Street curve to prevent spinouts and crashes; improving traffic flow at pinch points, such as the Hollywood and Belmont Avenue exits, where traffic frequently backs up; and possibly consolidating some of the ramps to reduce dangerous merge and weaving patterns, said Luann Hamilton, CDOT deputy commissioner. New ramps elsewhere might also be added, she said.

But as the preliminary engineering and environmental assessment process kicks off, officials are now saying that they will look at many options to solve the complex problems.

Those options could include dedicated lanes for CTA buses and bypass lanes on the ramps to give buses priority to exit the drive; and new lakefront paths that provide safer, more comfortable options for both recreational users as well as bicycling commuters who are in a hurry, officials said.

"We won't pre-determine what the solutions will be," Hamilton said. "There are certainly going to be folks who already know what they want to see out there, but we need to take a neutral position and let the process unfold."

From the perspective of the civic groups, Chrissy Mancini Nichols, a director at the Metropolitan Planning Council, said: "The No. 1 thing we can do is to stop the movement toward a superhighway. This is about livability and attracting more economic growth to our neighborhoods."

Contact Getting Around at jhilkevitch@tribune.com or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround.

North Lake Shore Drive public meeting schedule

Three public meetings will be held about how to improve travel on North Lake Shore Drive and enhance access to the lakefront. Each meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m.:

On Aug. 6 at Gill Park, third-floor meeting room, 825 W. Sheridan Road

On Aug. 7 in the atrium of Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave.

On Aug. 8 in the South Gallery of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2340 N. Cannon Drive

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