Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Update on the Redesign North Lake Shore Drive project

by Michelle Stenzel

The Illinois Department of Transportation is continuing the massive Redesign North Lake Shore Drive project. Task force members recently got an update from the project team, and you can view the presentation and all accompanying materials on the project web page at this link. You'll see: It's 117 slides, and a lot of information. I am a huge fan of infrastructure and an enthusiastic participant in a residents task force for the project, but I still found it somewhat overwhelming. Think of how much thought and discussion by engineers, city planners and neighborhood residents goes into changes at a single intersection or building site, and this project corridor is a full seven miles long. Nevertheless, I'll try to provide a brief general summary in this post.

Keep in mind that I'm on the Grand to Diversey Residents' Task Force and that's Bike Walk Lincoln Park's primary (although not sole) area of interest, so that's what I'll focus on in this post. However, there is plenty of information available about the four-mile stretch from Diversey to Hollywood as well, and I encourage you to view all the project documents yourself for those details.

We're already about three years into the project, and Bike Walk Lincoln Park supporters previously submitted our list of problems that we believe should be addressed during the redesign process.

At the recent update meeting, the project team provided illustrations of three alternative concepts:

Much more after the jump ----->

And to give you a better look at detail on one of the three alternatives, Alternative 1 from Ohio to Fullerton, I broke it up into more easily viewable sections:

Alternative 1, section from Ohio Street Beach to Oak Street Beach. The yellow, tan and brown reflect bike/ped paths or bridges/tunnels.
Alternative 1, section from Oak Street Beach to North Avenue Beach. The yellow, tan and brown reflect bike/ped paths or bridges/tunnels. 
Alternative 1, section from North Avenue Beach to Fullerton. The yellow, tan and brown reflect bike/ped paths or bridges/tunnels.
So where is the project right now on the timeline? They're currently in the phase of looking at all the initial alternatives and doing a primary analysis and recommendation as to whether to continue an element for further study and consideration.

And what did the project team recommend against already? Only a few options: a tunnel going under Lake Shore Drive for its entire length to create an "express lane"; an offshore tunnel going under Lake Michigan; a huge bridge or causeway going over Lake Michigan; and streetcar/tram/light rail.

The reasons given for the eliminations included high expense when compared to alternatives, and for streetcar, inflexibility of the system, slow speeds, and need for east/west connections to other transit. I think only the elimination of the streetcar will be disappointing to some supporters .
Summary of the four alternatives that have been dismissed, from the project presentation.
What appears to have a strong chance of being among the future final recommendations, according to my reading of the alternatives presented? 

1/ Reclaiming of land from the lake through infill

All of the alternatives show large-scale creation of new land the entire length from Ohio Street Beach to the southern end of North Avenue Beach area, near the North Boulevard underpass chess pavilion. Much of this new land would be used to add greenery and parkland on that entire stretch, which is sorely needed, as it is currently just windswept concrete.

Imagine how beautiful the lake front from Ohio St to North Avenue will be once it is not just impermeable, sun-baked, wind-swept concrete. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
This reclamation project would be a much bigger version of the just-completed Fullerton Avenue revetment project, in which six acres of new green space was created, and which has been very well received.

New acres of green lawn recently completed through infill at Fullerton was hugely popular this past summer.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
The new reclaimed land along the shoreline would also provide space to create ....

2/ Separate Lakefront Trail paths for bicycle traffic and pedestrian traffic

This has been the number one request of Lakefront Trail users on every survey, and in the input received by the LSD project team, and it will certainly happen as part of this project. 

A high-level illustration of the project plan to provide separate Lakefront Trails for pedestrians and "commuters", meaning faster moving users, mostly bicyclists but also in-line skaters, skateboarders, etc.  Image from the NLSD project presentation.
As a matter of fact, a Chicago Park District representative spoke at the meeting and said that they are planning to work on separating the Lakefront Trail even prior to the Lake Shore Drive project (which will take 5 years or more according to the official timeline, but my money is on 10 years). He said they will hold public meetings in late winter 2017 or spring 2017 to get public input on that.

The wider Lakefront Trail through the new Fullerton area provides a nice preview of more to come in a similar vein through the Lake Shore Drive redesign. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
The additional reclaimed land will also provide space for ....

3/ Moving Lake Shore Drive eastward

Yes, the alternatives generally reflect that Outer Lake Shore Drive would be moved outward toward the lake, onto newly reclaimed land. One benefit of this is to put more distance between Outer LSD and the residences from Ohio Street to North Boulevard. The outward move is certainly needed in order to allow room for ...

4/ A completely new junction configuration at Chicago Avenue

Currently, the intersection is controlled by a traffic signal and allows turns at some times of the day and not others. The intersection causes long back ups in car (and bus) traffic every day and all three alternatives presented includes a new design that uses grade separation and ramps instead of a traffic signal in order to address the problem. 

5/ Straightening Lake Shore Drive at the Oak Street curve

Right now, outer LSD makes two fairly sharp turns at Oak Street beach, and because drivers ignore the posted speed limit and take it far too fast, there are many crashes in this section; therefore, it appears that all the design plans include using reclaimed land to straighten out the curve. 
Four wide-open lanes, silky smooth asphalt, no speed cameras allowed, no police enforcement possible, no stop lights for the next six miles... and you expect drivers to follow the suggestion of 25 MPH? Just before the Oak Street curve.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park) 
I know what you're thinking: Straightening the roadway will make drivers feel that it's safe for them to drive even faster, so won't that just lead to an equal number of crashes in the longer run? That's my thought, too.

Lake Shore Drive is part of Chicago's boulevard system and under the 1972 Lakefront Plan of Chicago, any changes must be consistent with its retaining its parkway nature. It should not be redesigned or re-built to highway standards that encourage high speeds. We discussed this issue at length in our follow up input letter to the project team, which you can read on this post, and we will definitely be revisiting those issues in the future.

6/ Some level of prioritization for buses

When Bike Walk Lincoln Park provided our list of problems that we believe should be tackled in the redesign project, our very first comment was that buses are stuck in traffic with other motor vehicles, and they should be be given priority, in order to encourage more people to shift to this highly efficient way of transportation in the corridor. 

Indeed, it looks like solving that issue will be an important part of the redesign. The alternatives that were presented included: a lane configuration that would allow buses to ride on the right shoulder during peak traffic times; a separate but dedicated busway off of Lake Shore Drive, closer to the urban edge; and "managed lanes" either on the left or right.

The "managed lanes" would be a lane either for buses only, or always for use by buses, but also other vehicles if they have a certain number of passengers (HOV high-occupancy vehicle), or if they pay money (toll lane); or if they have a certain number of passengers and also pay a toll (HOT high-occupancy toll). 

Much more detail on all these options is on the project website, and there will be more discussion and opportunity to weigh in in the future. 

7/ New access points for pedestrians/bicyclists via new bridges and tunnels

This is one of the most exciting parts of the project to me. The current Lake Shore Drive design is not in compliance with the 1973 Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection law requiring pedestrian access points every 1/4 mile. Furthermore, many of the existing ones are in terrible shape and not in compliance with laws requiring universal accessibility. The proposed alternatives all reflect improvements for all these issues.

The current access point tunnel at Chicago Avenue is crumbly, rusty, dirty, dark, often flooded, and does not allow access by people with mobility issues due to six total sets of stairs between the lake and the sidewalk on the other side of Lake Shore Drive.  (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
The proposals include newly designed bike and pedestrian tunnels and bridges that replace the current ones at Chicago Avenue, Oak Street, and Division Street. (Some would be one or two blocks from their current location.) 

The alternatives also reflect the addition of not just one, but two proposed new access points between Fullerton Parkway Bridge and the North Avenue Pedestrian bridge (you can view this in the above image "Alternative 1, section from North Avenue Beach to Fullerton").  Fullerton and North Avenue are two of the city's three Lakefront Trail access points with the highest volume of users, and the additional ways to get people from the Lincoln Park Zoo area to the Lakefront Trail and beach would be most welcome. 

As you can see from the Alternative 1 drawings above, one of the proposed access points would be just south of the Fullerton Parkway bridge, and another one half way down the South Lagoon. In both cases, they would consist of a tunnel under LSD, and then a bridge over the lagoon. Also interesting to see is that the current North Avenue pedestrian bridge would be converted into a tunnel, although I'm not sure why.

Illustration of a new bike/peds access point, including green space and separate paths for slower and faster
Lakefront Trail users. Image from project presentation.
Again, there are also plenty of illustrations of possible changes further north, and I encourage you to view all those in the numerous documents on the project website.

So, what do you think of all this? In 2017, there will be another meeting for the task force members as well as another public meeting, so stay tuned for that.

The project team is not officially soliciting input at this time; however, if you have any comments that you're burning to share, I encourage you to send them to the project anyway via e-mail to (in spite of the anonymous-sounding e-mail address, I assure you that those e-mails are read and not just sent to some virtual garbage bin) or by using their online comment form

And of course, we'd like to hear what you say in the comments below as well! Or e-mail us at and tweet us @BikeWalkLP .


  1. link to the presentation documents is broken

    1. I just tested it and it seems to be working. -- MS

    2. For starters, I grew up using this stretch of lakefront since when Nixon was in the White House. The massive amount of landfill is costly and unneeded. Specific features for a rebuilt in-place LSD to address current congestion and transit issues include:
      1) Partial interchange at Chicago to allow left turns NB on LSD. A raised bridge for the SB lanes like at 47th St. & LSD can do this.
      All other traffic can use the interchange at Grand/Illinois since weekday rush-hour traffic for Navy Pier is minimal.
      2) Shoulder lanes for buses offer speedier express service to the North Side for rush hours. Now...about the current crawl southbound
      in the evening which delays returning express buses going downtown to reload.... Get Rid of the Stop Light at Chicago !! Its un-needed for the small amount of traffic from NU and NMH. Again, that traffic can used Grand-IL. or the Michigan ramp NB to LSD.

      Increased LSD express bus service also lessens the need for a flyover rail bridge for the Brown Line at Belmont. The current CTA express bus scheme can be tweaked for rush hour as demand changes, i.e. express lines from LSD west on Fullerton, Belmont,.... Devon, etc.
      3) The bike and sidewalk paths can be split between Oak and North on separate routes. Imagine grass and trees placed in the current sand area of Oak beach adjoining the current sidewalk/bike path. Maybe a 150 ft wide raised grassy strip with a low wall for flood control next to the sand beach. The bike path stays as is, and a ped. sidewalk follows the flood wall between the grass and sand. Again all within the current land area. Any taming of the current wave action of Oak beach would make the water experience boring. It would become a kids pool like at North Ave.

      4) The current ped. tunnels are rebuilt and made wider. Maybe a new tunnel or bridge for peds at the East Oak curve. New above ground restrooms at Oak beach replace the embarrassing dank underground dungeons. North Avenue Pedestrian bridge stays in place.

      All the massive landfill and road additions sound like a trojan horse to install tolling on LSD. First for the "managed lanes" and then for everyone in a decade or two. Not enough clean fill exists anywhere to push LSD into the lake, unless you go with the questionable Water Reclaimation "bio-solids".

    3. Thank you for sharing your input. I hope you've forwarded this to the project team. -- MS

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