Groups Call for People-Friendly Lake Shore Drive Overhaul in Chicago

City Terrain, Midwest
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
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(Greene & Proppe Design Inc)

(Greene & Proppe Design Inc)

Lake Shore Drive could look a lot different if a local design alliance gets its way.

The “Our Lakefront” plan, commissioned by 15 different organizations including the Active Transportation Alliance, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the Chicago Architecture Foundation, would reduce the speed limit on the north branch of Lake Shore Drive from 40 to 35 miles per hour; carve out lanes for bicycles and either bus rapid transit or rail; and replace parking spaces with greenery.

Connectivity is a hallmark of the concept. The plan calls for increased lakefront access for both vehicles and pedestrians, perhaps through programmed parks and plazas “serving as access points across Lake Shore Drive and as iconic gateways between the city and the lakefront.”

Unlike the southern segment of Lake Shore Drive, which was rebuilt about 10 years ago, this seven-mile stretch of highway is between of 60 and 80 years old. The “Our Lakefront” team says as long as Illinois Department of Transportation officials are considering restoring infrastructure along the road, including several ailing bridges, they may as well as look at restoring the iconic Drive’s original design. “Redefine the Drive,” as they put it. From the Sun-Times:

Lake Shore Drive was originally designed as “a boulevard. It was a pleasure drive early on,’’ said Lee Crandell of the Active Transportation Alliance, among the 15 groups that helped to write the “Our Lakefront” plan.

“It’s slowly turned into a freeway,’’ Crandell said. “We want it to feel like a boulevard.’’

Read the full conceptual plan here.

Three public hearings are scheduled this week:

  • Aug. 6, 6 – 8 p.m., Gill Park, 825 W. Sheridan Road, 3rd Floor
  • Aug. 7, 6 – 8 p.m., Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Avenue, Atrium
  • Aug. 8, 6 – 8 p.m., Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, South Gallery

After the meetings, a formal design team will convene to hash out details. If anything is built, it won’t be for years.

Daniel Burnham’s vision for Chicago is often evoked here to lend credibility for urban planning proposals. Amid both shrinking budgets and an urban reawakening, landscape and infrastructure projects have become increasingly common and closely watched.

UPDATE Aug. 7: This story originally said the plan considered high-speed rail. That was not accurate. From Lee Crandell, director of campaigns for Active Transportation Alliance:

The platform calls for separating transit from car traffic with bus-only lanes and other public transit enhancements, such as Bus Rapid Transit. BRT vehicles are often designed to look similar to light rail vehicles (this is why BRT is sometimes referred to as light rail with rubber wheels), and the drawing does intentionally leave it open to interpretation whether LSD could include something like BRT or light rail.

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