Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thinking big for a better Lake Shore Drive

by Michelle Stenzel

Readers of this blog know that the North Lake Shore Drive re-design process is well underway. (Links for background reading are provided at the end of this post.) The process of identifying problems with the current state is now concluded, and the next step is submitting specific ideas for how to solve the problems.

John Krause, an architect and long-time supporter of Bike Walk Lincoln Park, has laid out his vision for how we can make this important part of our city work better for all users, and he's looking for feedback. You can see his entire proposal for North Lake Shore Drive at this link to a PDF. (John is the  Executive Director of Chicago Streetcar Renaissance, and he'll be presenting his plan for streetcars in Chicago at the Transport Chicago conference at UIC on June 6th.)
Redefine The Drive vision for North Lake Shore Drive by John Krause of Chicago Streetcar Renaissance.
John doesn't think small. And why should he? If we do it right, this project has the real potential to transform the way Chicago residents interact with our lakeside parks, to enhance the natural beauty of the shoreline, and at the same time to improve the way we transport ourselves to and through the corridor.

I've posted screen shots of the four North Lake Shore Drive segments below from John's proposal. Some of the highlights of the plan include:

  • LSD dips downward at most junctions to allow the cross street to cross at grade;
  • New junctions at Division, Diversey and Addison to relieve motor vehicle backups at the existing junctions;
  • Lakefront light rail runs through the middle of the corridor from Michigan Avenue and Oak Street all the way to Hollywood;
  • East-west buses connect to the lakefront and the light rail stations;
  • LSD is re-routed north of LaSalle Drive onto Cannon Drive and then onto "inner North Lake Shore Drive", all the way to Belmont.

Grand Avenue to North Boulevard segment of North Lake Shore Drive (Segment A), by John Krause/Chicago Streetcar Renaissance.
LaSalle Drive to Diversey Parkway segment of North Lake Shore Drive (Segment B), by John Krause/Chicago Streetcar Renaissance.
Diversey Parkway to Montrose Avenue segment of North Lake Shore Drive (Segment C), by John Krause/Chicago Streetcar Renaissance.
Montrose Avenue to Hollywood segment of North Lake Shore Drive (Segment D), by John Krause/Chicago Streetcar Renaissance.
Detail showing how Inner Lake Shore Drive/Marine Drive could be integrated with "outer" Lake Shore Drive.
We think this is a beautifully laid out vision of all the changes that are key to the redesign: We have to make Lake Shore Drive less of a barrier, because in essence, that's what it is. The only people who love Lake Shore Drive the way it is, are those who don't live anywhere close to it, but instead only use it as a highway to get somewhere else. That's not what we want in our front yard. The changes depicted in John's drawings would allow us to have better access via walking, bicycling and public transit to get to the lakefront area in a convenient and stress-free way. It would reclaim parkland to provide a more natural shoreline and additional parks and beaches for residents and visitors. The dedicated streetcar lanes would provide fast, reliable service to the tens of thousands of people every day. 

What do you think of the plans? Beautiful? Crazy? So crazy it just might work? Comment below! Or e-mail us at or e-mail John directly at


Bike Walk Lincoln Park provided the North Lake Shore Drive project team with a list of 47 ways to improve Lake Shore Drive.

After a disappointing Purpose and Need Statement Draft was published by the North Lake Shore Drive project team, Bike Walk Lincoln Park provided further feedback asking for changes and improvements.

The North Lake Shore Drive project team published its updated Purpose and Need Statement Draft with many of the changes suggested by us and many other citizens (thank you, Illinois Department of Transportation!), and it was summarized in this post on Streetsblog Chicago, "Small steps for IDOT add up to giant leap for North Lake Shore Drive"

The architecture firm VOA Associates has a vision for the lakefront from Ohio Street to North Avenue, and it was covered in this DNA Info Chicago article, "Lake Shore Drive island? $177M plan aims to embrace Burnham's vision"

The Chicago Sun-Times provided an overview of the project on May 30, "Lakeshore Drive plan aims for big-picture, not patchwork approach"

The North Lake Shore Drive project team will have another round of public meetings in July in which you'll have a chance to provide your own ideas, but the website is already accepting electronic submissions. You can attach pictures, PDFs, or whatever you wish to your submissions. Check it out on the website under the hyperlink "Mapping Application".


  1. Build these improvements as BRT in the short term in order to have route flexibility, and a larger catchment area. It will be less costly up front and serve far more people through a mixture of neighborhood routes turning into express routes like the 147 & 135 (only with new capacity for routes directly between neighborhoods like Andersonville or route 84 & downtown), along side a bi-articulated routes making stops only on LSD, with some routes heading downtown via Michigan ave, some via LSD & Wacker, and even others continuing down to the Museum Campus, McCormick Place, and the near south side.

    Either way, the volume of transit users who rely on this corridor demands dedicated transit infrastructure as laid out by John Krause.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jake.

      Remember, the doors of the BRT buses open on the left to board from the median; they can’t go into the neighborhood as you suggest and pick up people at regular sidewalk stops. In that sense, BRT is no more flexible than light rail. Plus: the disadvantage of the express buses going into the neighborhood to pick people up is that then the east-west buses stop short of the drive, and well short of the lakefront, which is why you can’t take the family to the beach in Chicago without driving.

      Starting with BRT now and upgrading to light rail later sounds like a good conservative approach, except (a) we’re rebuilding the drive now, (b) shutting down the service later (when?) to upgrade to light rail would be very inconvenient and expensive, and (c) there’s already plenty of ridership for rail. This is the busiest light rail line (boardings per mile) in North America. Why wait?

    2. "Remember, the doors of the BRT buses open on the left to board from the median; they can’t go into the neighborhood as you suggest and pick up people at regular sidewalk stops."

      I believe the buses the CTA is purchasing for BRT service on Ashland will have doors on both sides, with the intention for the first phase of the BRT that buses will run local north of Armitage and south of 31st, but in the BRT lanes between those streets. The same could potentially work for BRT service on Lake Shore Drive.

      My gut says that once Ashland BRT gets fully built out, it will be converted to light rail as the local/BRT flexibility won't be needed anymore. So Jake's suggestion could work as well for LSD.

      That being said, if rail is built through the LSD corridor, I'd prefer it be as an extension of the existing Metra Electric rail line (at least for South Chicago trains), so as to permit through routing along nearly the entire length of the lakefront, as far south as 79th, all on one rail line. This also would prevent there being duplicative infrastructure between Randolph Street and McCormick Place, assuming I'm reading your proposal correctly.

    3. Thanks, Brian. I think you're right about the BRT bus doors. It would be crazy if they didn't open on both sides.

      It's not so easy converting from BRT to light rail. Especially if the ridership explodes when you give the bus a dedicated lane. You have to shut the whole thing down again to rebuild the infrastructure. I'm not sure there will be enough ridership on Ashland for rail anyway. It's only 14th among CTA bus routes in terms of ridership per mile. It's ridership per mile that counts because you want to maximize the ridership, revenue, and benefit while minimizing the expensive cost of the infrastructure. I can think of several corridors that are more ripe for rail.

  2. I'd love to see transit improve on the West side of the city and have East to West transit be just as easy as getting downtown before we try to envision light rail on LSD.
    The CTA is woefully underfunded and I'd rather see us improve what we have before we start expanding the system any further with light rail that will serve lakefront residents.