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CDOT Shares Ideas, Priorities for Lake Shore Drive Overhaul

Things like rapid transit, larger pedestrian tunnels and redeveloping high-trafficked exits are on the organization’s radar to “Redefine the Drive.”

Residents point out trouble areas on Lake Shore Drive at the "Redefine the Drive" meeting.
Residents point out trouble areas on Lake Shore Drive at the "Redefine the Drive" meeting.
The Chicago and Illinois departments of transportation say the opportunity to redevelop Lake Shore Drive’s north end hasn’t existed for 80 years, but now it’s time to think big.

Officials met for the first time with residents Tuesday evening to generate feedback for their “Redefine the Drive” campaign, a plan to overhaul the high-trafficked, 7-mile artery between Grand and Hollywood avenues.

It’s one of three meetings this week where neighbors are asked to share how they use Lake Shore Drive, as well as where the trouble areas are, from critical safety issues to congestion hotspots. Using the feedback, researchers plan to create ideas to vastly improve the corridor. 

Luann Hamilton, CDOT’s Deputy Commissioner, says presenting her team’s initial findings to the public is a big step, but there are already clear ways to make improvements.

“I would say safety in general (is an issue),” Hamilton told Patch. “There are three crashes a day on Lake Shore Drive. That’s over 1,000 a year, and that’s on the northern portion only, from Grand to Hollywood. In the past five years there’s been 17 fatalities, and at the (Oak Street) s-bend alone there have been more than 800 crashes in five years.”

Also on Hamilton’s radar includes the Belmont Avenue exit which is congested with traffic every day during rush hour. Reconfiguring that ramp, along with the Chicago Avenue interchange and the sharp Oak Street s-curve are all issues that come to her mind straight away.

The same goes for the 22 bridges and tunnels pedestrians use to access Lake Michigan and the lakefront trail. Hamilton says they “very substandard,” too narrow, not up to code for those with disabilities and not biker-friendly.

But one of the hottest talking points for those at Tuesday’s meeting was in regards to transit. More than a dozen civic organizations joined forces and recently released an in-depth report of what they hope Lake Shore Drive and the adjacent trail will look like one day, including ideas for a bus rapid transit system.

“I’m sure we’ll be looking at ways to change transit for core users,” Hamilton said. “It could be something like dedicated lanes for buses. It could be queue bypasses on ramps. For example, at Belmont, there could be an exclusive lane for the buses to move ahead of traffic and off the drive faster. And, it could be something like a BRT.”

Hamilton says a large portion of the redevelopment will focus on the lakefront trail, as well, making it more appealing to pedestrians and bikers. It’s a move organizations like the Active Transportation Alliance and Friends of the Parks have been pushing for.

“The lakefront trail is the Lake Shore Drive for pedestrians and bicyclists, so it will be a part of this process,” Hamilton said. “We’ll definitely be looking at ways to make it safer and better during this process.”

“Redefine the Drive,” which is currently in Phase I, is being funded by Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now program. This process will wrap in late 2016 or early 2017, Hamilton says, with construction potentially moving forward in 2018.

As for official plans, nothing is set in stone yet, but Lake View and Uptown Alderman James Cappleman (46th) says he hopes residents will think big in hopes of big changes.

“We were told to just keep dreaming and get a lot of ideas out there,” Cappleman said. “So I’m hoping people will really dream wild dreams, and from there we can come up with something realistic. Let’s get our dreams out there and see where it goes.”

The next public meeting is slated for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Truman College, located at 1145 W. Wilson Avenue. The final open house meeting will take place on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, sitting at 2430 N. Cannon Drive.

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