Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Our suggestions for a better Lake Shore Drive Need Statement

by Michelle Stenzel

Last week, a number of citizens concerned about the future of North Lake Shore Drive met to discuss the Purpose and Need Statement draft released recently by the North Lake Shore Drive project team. We found much to like in the draft statement, but also many opportunities for improvement to better frame the current problems and futures needs of people walking, bicycling and using public transit through this corridor. As we said in this prior post, the Purpose and Need Statement is very important because if a problem is not well-described in the P&N statement, then no solutions that are proposed later on can be considered. 
The Chicago Avenue pedestrian underpass on the Lakefront Trail. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
You can read the Draft Purpose and Need Statement here.

The full letter we've submitted as feedback to the project team is reprinted below (and viewable at this link as well). Some of the suggestions we made:

  • We request that the Problem Statement in the draft be replaced with the more precise and all-encompassing Problem Statement that the seven task forces worked to produce.
  • We ask that the final Purpose and Need Statement provide more data and detail about problems facing people walking, bicycling and using public transit.
  • We ask the team to explicitly recognize that there is a need to move an increased number of people through the North Lake Shore Drive corridor through more efficient methods of traveling.
  • We ask that the focus remain on Lake Shore Drive's status as a boulevard and not a freeway.

Do you agree with what you're reading? Don't stop there. You can fulfill your civic duty of the day by writing a quick e-mail (just do it RIGHT NOW:  info@northlakeshoredrive.org ) directly to the project team that says something in support. You can copy the entire letter from below into your e-mail, or just the parts you feel very strongly about, or compose your own input. Just take five minutes to express your opinion and show your support. Every comment is read and considered and becomes part of the public record that reflects what the public is requesting in the redesign process. 

Thanks in advance for your effort!!!
The Lakefront Trail at the chess pavilion at North Boulevard pedestrian underpass. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Bike Walk Lincoln Park's letter:

Dear North Lake Shore Drive Project Team,

We are writing today in response to your recent release of the Draft Purpose and Need Statement. We hope that you’ll take the following into consideration in the course of preparing the final version of the statement.


We are pleased that you included important projections about the future needs for Lake Shore Drive, including Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s projection that there will only be an increase of 4% of car traffic by 2040, but a 23% increase in public transit use and 12-19% increase in Lakefront Trail users. We recognize this data reflects the need for a fundamental mind shift in terms of solutions. Specifically, that the resources devoted to the redesign must concentrate heavily on increasing capacity to move many more people. The most efficient way to accomplish this reality is to focus on design and functional solutions that include public transit and non-motorized transportation. 

Thank you for including a great deal of data about the high number of motor vehicle crashes on North Lake Shore Drive and the excessive speeds that are norm for drivers. We believe that these figures support the strong need for a redesign of the roadway that leads to more moderate driving speeds and fewer crashes.

In the discussion of how inadequate the Lakefront Trail is in terms of serving the volume of users, we appreciate that you included that when measured by Level of Service criteria for a Shared-Use Path, the entire northern section of the Lakefront Trail would be rated as an “F”, and that some sections would be given a failing grade even if the current volume of users were cut in half. It’s very clear that the levels of use of the LFT as an important commuting, traveling and recreational corridor could be increased enormously by increasing capacity, improving and adding access points, etc.

We would like to reiterate the statements that you quoted from the 1972 Lakefront Plan of Chicago, including that the Plan set forth certain mandates, including that all future changes should:

Strengthen the parkway characteristics of Lake Shore Drive and prohibit any roadway of expressway standards. Lake Shore Drive is a parkway which should retain its parkway nature.

Similarly, we would like to reiterate two of the points quoted from the 1973 Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance. Two of the ordinance’s stated purposes were:

To promote and provide for continuous pedestrian movement along the shoreline; 

To promote and provide for pedestrian access to the Lake and Lakefront Parks through areas adjacent thereto at regular intervals of one-fourth mile and additional places whenever possible...

Improving the pedestrian movement along the shoreline and increasing the number of access points to minimums of one-fourth mile intervals should be a very important part of the North LSD redesign.

“Project Purpose” Statement

The Draft Purpose and Need Statement includes the following as the Project Purpose (1.1):

The purpose of the project is to improve the NLSD multi-modal transportation facility. The specific needs to be addressed through the study include: improve mobility for automobiles, buses an non-motorized modes of travel, improve safety, improve facility deficiencies, improve modal connections and opportunities, and improve accessibility to and from Lincoln Park, the Lakefront Trail and the adjacent communities.

As you know, during the numerous Task Force meetings, we spent a good deal of time working to carefully craft a Problem Statement, and we ask you to include the final Problem Statement below instead of the single paragraph currently in the Draft. The Problem Statement as written from feedback of the seven Task Forces that we would like to be included is:

Problem Statement 

The North Lake Shore Drive study area is a corridor that contains roadway, public transit, and lakefront trail facilities situated entirely within parkland along Chicago’s lakefront. The majority of the parkland is located within Lincoln Park, which extends from the Ohio Street beach to N. Ardmore Ave. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The corridor study limits extend from Grand Avenue to Hollywood Avenue and include bordering parkland areas.
The North Lake Shore Drive study area is more than a heavily used transportation corridor that facilitates movement of thousands of people each day by multiple modes of travel. The corridor also provides critical connections to the park and lakefront for recreational use and circulation. These connections, however, are constrained and inadequate for today’s user demands which vary widely by time of day, day of the week and the schedule of special events on the lakefront. Overall, the North Lake Shore Drive infrastructure lacks sustainable design features and requires burdensome maintenance efforts.
The pedestrian and lakefront trail issues include safety, capacity, conflicts between user types, connectivity, access, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, lack of wayfinding, and suitability of facilities. Public transit issues include capacity to meet existing and future demands, speed, reliability, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of service to the lakefront. Roadway related issues include vehicular safety, congestion on North Lake Shore Drive, junction intersections and adjacent neighborhood streets, lack of driver information signing, excessive speeds and infrastructure condition and functionality.
(If necessary, the first paragraph can be omitted since it is already discussed in 1.0 of the statement, but the second and third paragraphs should be used as the Project Purpose statement.)
Lack of Balance
The Draft Purpose and Need Statement provides a great deal of data and specific detail about the problems encountered by motorized vehicle users, but much less about the problems encountered by public transit users and non-motorized vehicle users. For example, the section “Improve Vehicular Safety” is 4.5 pages of charts, photographs, data and descriptions, whereas the “Improve Safety for Non-Motorized Modes of Travel” is only about one page of description.  Similarly, the section on “Improve Vehicular Mobility” is nearly 4 pages of charts, photos and specific intersection analysis, the section called “Improve Transit Mobility” is less than half of on page in length. 
While we recognize that this imbalance is potentially due to the greater amount of motor-vehicle-related data that is gathered and therefore available to be used, we believe that there is much more detail that should nonetheless be included, about poor access points and facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit users. The joint Chicago Park District - Active Transportation Alliance’s 2011 report “Chicago Park District Lakefront Trail Counts” contains much data that could be incorporated. Bike Walk Lincoln Park provided a list of 47 specific problems that we identified just on the Grand- to Diversey stretch. The CTA likely has a wealth of data that could be used to help make a stronger case that public transit riders are underserved both in terms of capacity and facilities, on Outer Lake Shore Drive as well as Inner Lake Shore Drive. We encourage you to provide more balance in the Purpose and Need Statement for the issues that are of high importance to people using the Lakefront Trail and public transit.
Move More People
We encourage you to more explicitly recognize the future needs of the North Lake Shore Drive Corridor and the likely methods to meet those needs. The real focus and goals should be to move more people through this travel corridor, and making more accommodations for private motor vehicles will not help achieve that goal. 
You recognize in the Draft statement that at peak times, the volume of motor vehicles causes bottlenecks at various intersections, ramps and on LSD lanes. As you stated, regardless of  projected or actual future volumes of motor vehicles, adding more travel lanes on LSD is not an option. Therefore, we ask you to state explicitly that the most efficient way for Lake Shore Drive to carry higher volumes of people without increasing the amount of bottlenecks and vehicle congestion is to design the roadway to encourage many more people to choose more efficient methods of traveling, via public transit, sharing vehicles with others, walking or bicycling. Every design change that results in making public transit or active transportation a more convenient, attractive choice will increase the number of people who decide to leave their cars at home, thereby helping achieve the project goal of moving a higher number of people safely and efficiently.
Lake Shore Drive is part of Chicago’s beloved boulevard system, and remains classified as a boulevard. It used to look much like Midway Plaisance, Humboldt Boulevard, and others; unfortunately, it was changed over the decades to add many elements that made it look and feel more like a highway than the boulevard-through-the-park that it should be. Therefore, many drivers envision it to be a high-speed, high-volume expressway and treat it as such; however, that is not what Lake Shore Drive is currently defined as legally, and not what it was ever meant to be. Lake Shore Drive remains a boulevard and any changes should enhance its boulevard characteristics.
From the US DOT Federal Highway Administration website (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/qandas/qatap.cfm):
A boulevard is defined as a:
Walkable, low-speed (35 mph or less) divided arterial thoroughfare in urban environments designed to carry both through and local traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists. Boulevards may be long corridors, typically four lanes but sometimes wider, serve longer trips and provide pedestrian access to land. Boulevards may be high-ridership transit corridors. Boulevards are primary goods movement and emergency response routes and use vehicular and pedestrian access management techniques. Curb parking is encouraged on boulevards.

An eligible "boulevard" project should demonstrate some of the following elements:

1. Traffic calming measures.
2.  Context-sensitive bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
3.     Compliance with accessibility requirements and guidelines.
4.     Promotion of transit corridor through additional protected stops and routes. 
5.     Environmentally efficient lighting, landscaping, and water-saving systems.

We encourage you to emphasize in the Purpose and Need Statement the need to add all five of these boulevard characteristics to the future LSD during the design process.
Because Lake Shore Drive is a boulevard and not a freeway, the use of the Level of Service criteria for freeways as a way to measure how well LSD is serving motorized vehicle traffic is wholly inappropriate, and should not be included in the Purpose and Need Statement. 
Other Comments
We ask you to add an explicit statement addressing the lack of north-south public transit circulation within the corridor. While there are numerous bus lines that use LSD to transport people from the Central Business District to the lakefront neighborhoods, none of the north-south bus routes stop directly on the lake so that people may enjoy the park amenities along the lake shore.

We would like to reiterate the dire need for better east-west bike lanes and transit service to and from the parks, zoo, beaches and other amenities along the lakefront. Efficient, reliable bus service and safe bike lanes leading from the L stops to the lakefront amenities are especially needed.

We believe it’s important to note that the high volume of Lakefront Trail users is made up of people using a mix of modes at various speeds. 

We believe an important point not stated in the Draft is the lack of adequate wayfinding to and from the Lakefront Trail and nearby points of interest. Signage that helps users find their way to the trail increases usage of the corridor via non-motorized means, and signs that help Trail users find nearby amenities is a way to increase economic development in the nearby neighborhoods.


Thank you for the work you have put into the Purpose and Need Statement Draft. We hope that you find our input to be of value, and that you incorporate it into the final statement. We look forward to continuing to work with you during the course of the project.


Michelle Kairies Stenzel
Michael Reynolds

Bike Walk Lincoln Park


Lori Brown, IDOT

Jeff Sriver, CDOT


  1. E-mail to the team sent! Thank you for putting this together. I hope they listen!

    1. Thanks for reading and providing the North LSD project team your input, Scott! -- MS