In the future, North Lake Shore Drive could have a dedicated CTA bus lane, a light rail, or miles of extra parks along the lakefront. At the very least.
Over the next four years, city and state officials will be collecting, refining and studying suggestions for how to transform the 80-year-old Drive north of Navy Pier.
The redevelopment of North Lake Shore Drive could cost up to $1 billion and take more than a decade to complete, officials say. The city and state departments of transportation are collaborating on the nascent project with more than a dozen local community and urban planning organizations, including the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Congress for New Urbanism.
So far, the Illinois Department of Transportation has received several hundred submissions on paper and about 70 more online, and will be accepting suggestions for this planning phase until Aug. 1. About 340 people attended its second public meeting on the project earlier this month. The next public meeting is slated for summer 2015.
John Baczek, IDOT’s chief of project and environmental studies, said IDOT is open to all suggestions, from hyperlocal complaints about a neighborhood’s particular lakefront path entrance to pie-in-the-sky ideas, such as relocating Lake Shore Drive entirely.
“We've gotten very specific comments, like, provide a roundabout at Bryn Mawr, to bigger picture things like adding more green space along the lakefront,” he said. “Everything is on the table at this point.”
The Drive sees nearly 69,000 transit users and 161,000 motorists per day, and the lakefront trail sees 31,000. Users often complain about vehicle congestion on the on/off ramps, hard to navigate curves and the sometimes disastrous co-mingling of pedestrians, leisure cyclists and commuters on the trail.
Chrissy Mancini Nichols, director of research at the Metropolitan Planning Council said the project must be planned for not just what would improve the lakefront today, but still function a century from now.
“We're going to spend up to a billion dollars on this, maybe, so we need to make sure that we're designing this road to work for the next 50 or 100 years, and take into account how people 50 years from now are going to travel,” she said.
Among other changes, Mancini Nichols said the redevelopment should focus on how to reduce the three-a-day crash rate on the Drive, regional plans to double transit ridership by 2040 and the potential use of infill to increase green space and widen the lakefront trail and beaches.
In the shorter term, Jessica Feld, 26, of Wicker Park, wants to see parts of the lakefront path, where she goes running, become safer for people on foot, who currently have to share a single lane with cyclists and rollerbladers.
“It’s like playing Frogger,” she said.
The Drive was originally conceived as a boulevard in a park, more like Logan Square Boulevard than the Edens Expressway. And John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee and former president of the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, is most concerned that North Lake Shore Drive not be sped up beyond its 40-to-45 mile per hour speed limit.
Speeding the drive up, according to Norquist, would likely involve widening the lanes and lengthening the exit roads to be more freeway-like. These changes would do a disservice to the lakefront, increasing traffic and failing to make it easier to travel between North Side neighborhoods, he said.
“Edens is a freeway, it doesn't have any social duty like Lake Shore Drive,” he said. “[The Drive is] meant to be aesthetically beautiful. It's meant to be connected to the neighborhoods. The more they try to accommodate traffic on Lake Shore Drive, the more traffic they'll get.”
Increasing the speed limit is also not likely to benefit neighborhood economies, Norquist said. He pointed to Bronzeville as an example. It resides along a more freeway-like stretch of the Drive on the South Side but still exhibits slow economic development, he said.
John Krause, an architect and the founder of Chicago Streetcar Renaissance, a nonprofit that advocates for modern streetcar infrastructure, believes that adding a light rail line to the Drive would be safer and potentially cost-effective.
“It's pretty clear we want to discourage people from just driving through our town, but we don't want to discourage people from working here. So instead of measuring how many vehicles the roadway can move, it should be how many people it can move,” he said. “It's very expensive to operate a transit system slowly.”
Krause, a member of the project’s task force, also formally suggested redesigning the Drive’s pedestrian crossings so they rise up over the drive rather than tunnel under it, and shifting the location of the drive between North and Belmont avenues to west of the Lagoon behind the Lincoln Park Zoo, among other ideas.
Jennifer Jung, 39, of the West Loop, who was recently cycling near Ohio Street Beach with her husband and two-year-old daughter, said whatever the changes, she hopes they will mean less long-term construction along the lakefront.
“If they have to rehab it every few years, think of how much more of an annoyance that’s going to be,” she said. “It should be long-lasting change.”
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