THREATENED: IDOT Releases New Redefine the Drive Renderings (Chicago 7 2022)

“New renderings have been released of the potential future condition of the northern lakefront as part of the Redefine the Drive efforts currently underway. Led by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), the study of North Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive encompasses the area between Grand Avenue and Hollywood Avenue along the corridor.

“With extensive community engagement and design development underway, the team has released the new renders to help answer some of the questions from the public and better illustrate the potential user experience along the north lakefront. These views incorporate input from the Summer 2022 Access and Experience at the Lakefront Survey, along with the Public Life Study. (Kugler, Urbanize Chicago, 3/27/23)

“Transportation officials have released 20 new visuals as part of an ongoing study being done to revamp the northern leg of DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

“The ‘Redefine the Drive’ study aims to overhaul many parts of Lake Shore Drive, covering the seven-mile stretch from Grand Avenue to Hollywood Avenue. The newly released visuals – which do not represent the final designs – show what the changes to the roadway could look like.

“The agencies released the new visuals this month to show the proposed changes to the lakefront parks and pedestrian and bike pathways that flank Lake Shore Drive, in addition to roadway improvements.

“For example, one visualization shows adding more green space and expanding the beachfront next to Oak Street Beach. Another proposes expanding the Chicago Avenue Lakefront Plaza.

“The project also focuses on improving the eight-lane Lake Shore Drive, evaluating the condition of the 22 bridges and tunnels and making the roadway and surrounding areas more accessible. The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation have been leading the project since 2013.

“As a part of the study, city and state officials last year unveiled five redesign proposals: keep the existing system and giving buses “priority junction;” maintain four lanes of traffic with a new fifth lane only for buses; convert an existing lane into a bus-only lane; make an existing lane a shared lane for buses and toll drivers; or convert two of the four lanes for bus and tolls.

“The agencies will continue soliciting input from Chicago residents this year through public meetings with the community. Anyone interested in submitting feedback can email” (Washburn, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/31/23)

Preservation Chicago is concerned that the plans for the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive appear to be heavy-handed and will adversely and negatively impact the historic winding, tree-lined nature of both the park greenspace and lakefront, extending from Navy Pier to Hollywood Avenue. Lake Shore Drive, which is part of the Chicago Boulevard System, will look and feel less like a parkway boulevard when plans are developed and much more like an interstate highway, as sections of Lake Shore Drive will inevitably be forced to comply with current highway grade standards. If these changes are made, perhaps it will come to be thought of as the Lake Shore Highway or Lake Shore Tollway.

It seems that each time Lake Shore Drive is rethought, it takes on an increasingly Interstate-quality, rather than a park-like boulevard effect. This seems to occur whenever sections of Lake Shore Drive are considered for ‘improvement’. For example, the area around the old “S Curve” near Navy Pier, where traffic lanes were expanded, portions of the drive now have confusing, dark, visually unpleasant, series of upper and lower ramps. The near Another example is near McCormick Place, where the soaring flyovers ramps and viaduct-like structures have been totally rebuilt, and they look much like the Interstate highway ramps that were implemented in the 1960s, modifying the previous pastoral Lake Shore Drive.

That experience is completely different from the pleasant tree-lined boulevard which one experiences when driving past Grant Park or Lincoln Park and along one of Chicago’s most beautiful boulevards. The “improvements” near Navy Pier in the past have resulted in a highway style tangle that is discouraging to pedestrians, bike riders and even cars, trying to both enter and exit Lake Shore Drive from below.

On a variety of metrics, most of these ‘heavy-handed solutions’ have proved unsuccessful and many ‘great improvements’ have resulted in expensive ongoing maintenance. Now we are forced to spend millions of dollars to correct the bike paths that were ignored during the reconfiguration 25 years ago. That plan “pitted” cars, pedestrians and bike riders in the same path for decades. And even this project is only partially complete and is stalled at this time. This project was so poorly designed that the iconic Lake Shore Drive Art-Moderne Bridge towers are now being considered for demolition to allow the bike path to continue southward across the Chicago River.

If the currently proposed North Lake Shore Drive ‘improvement’ studies are accepted, it will likely result in the loss of acres of parkland in Lincoln Park, the cutting of hundreds of trees, including many bordering the Drive with a mature tree canopy to make space for extra lane expansions and straightening. Additional landfill parkland is proposed to compensate for the loss, but there is a real concern that this wildly costly new parkland will never be built.

The North Lake Shore Drive ‘Improvement’ proposals will also require the destruction of the thirty years ago tree-lined and flower-planted median which have now matured nicely, and are a source of pride for many Chicagoans. These mature trees and planting will all be cut down completely and destroyed.


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