The aldermen behind the effort to rename Lake Shore Drive aren’t backing down despite the mayor pushing an alternative proposal and remaining opposed to renaming one of the city’s best-known roads.
Southwest side Ald. David Moore, 17th District and South Side Ald. Sophia King, 4th Ward, fought to rename the promenade “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Drive” in honor of the man who was Chicago’s first non-native resident and known to many as the city’s founding father .
The effort to honor DuSable was fraught with difficulties between the aldermen and the mayor’s office which came to a head at a dramatic committee meeting in Apriland a full board meeting last week where an opposing alderman used a last-minute parliamentary maneuver to abruptly stop and delay any debate or vote on the measure.
But the prescription is not going away, promise his supporters. And the aldermen are expected to vote on it at a council meeting in a few weeks. Yet questions remain about the cost of the proposal and who it would affect.
Here’s what WBEZ found.
How much would it cost to rename Lake Shore Drive?
This is the question many have asked, but the answer has been somewhat elusive.
According to a February analysis shared with aldermen from the three transit agencies believed to be involved, renaming Lake Shore Drive would cost at least $853,500.
But the analysis only included costs related to signage and, in the case of the CTA, related to re-recording announcements for buses traveling along Lake Shore Drive. This is a rough estimate, agencies warn.
“This estimate can significantly increase the cost if larger signage and new overhead signage structures are required, as may be the case with the longer legend required to display ‘Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Drive,'” reads- on in a memo from the Illinois Department of Transportation. .
Moore said he was wrong about a $2.5 million estimate he originally gave to some media outlets. The Chicago Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for clarifications related to DuSable, including potential address changes.
An alternative proposal from the mayor, in which she proposed to improve the existing DuSable Park and rename the Riverwalk after the Explorer, among other things, would cost $40 million. The mayor estimated that three-quarters of that money would be public funds from the Park District budget, with the rest coming from corporate funding.
Would the change affect residential or business addresses?
This is perhaps the trickiest question of all.
Proponents have repeatedly argued that the name change will not impact residents along Lake Shore Drive, as the change would only affect the exterior non-residential portion. Most of the residential buildings along Lake Shore Drive are on an interior fronted street.
An analysis shared with Chicago Department of Transportation aldermen confirms this, indicating that only buildings on the Museum Campus, McCormick Place and a few locations in the Park District are expected to change addresses.
But downtown Ald. 2nd Ward Brian Hopkins, who opposes the measure and helped delay it in council last week, points to at least five residential buildings along Lake Shore Drive that are not on the residential frontage road.
Promoters like King tried unsuccessfully to assure Hopkins that these residents could keep Lake Shore Drive as their mailing address, even though the name of the road would be DuSable Drive.
“To say that they are unaffected by the loss of the road for which their address is named is simply nonsense,” retorted Hopkins. “It affects deliveries. It affects GPS directions, it affects telling people where you live and how to get to you. It would have a profound impact if your mailing address did not reflect the road you live on.
What would the mayor’s alternative proposal do?
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was careful not to state that she opposed the name change, but reiterated that she wanted a more interactive and educational tribute to DuSable.
His proposal, which she announced last week a day after the name change proposal was delayed at council, includes the local public art commission that lines Chicago’s Riverwalk (which will be dubbed the DuSable Riverwalk); the completion of the unfinished DuSable Park near Navy Pier; and the creation of an annual DuSable Fest.
“Having something permanent is really, for me, important. But the difference between what we are proposing and just renaming a street is that we intend to activate these areas of the Riverwalk with year-round programming to educate tourists but also our residents about who DuSable was,” recently said the mayor.
It’s unclear if the aldermen will favor Lightfoot’s proposal over DuSable Drive, or if they even have to choose. King and Moore said they viewed Lightfoot’s plan as a complement, not an opposite, to theirs.
Hopkins said he didn’t see much excitement around the mayor of Riverwalk’s proposal.
“The mayor’s idea of renaming the Riverwalk doesn’t really seem to get a lot of excitement,” he said. “But she has the right idea in terms of coming up with an alternative that would accomplish the goal of honoring both DuSable and his wife. … We can achieve this goal, and we can do so without changing the name of an iconic road.
What happens next?
The parliamentary maneuver used by Hopkins at the May council meeting allows two aldermen to “defer and publish” an ordinance, delaying an immediate vote, but ensuring the measure will be voted on at the next council meeting.
Both King and Moore say they are confident they have the necessary number of votes to pass the ordinance, which they claim they got at the council’s first meeting in May. If passed, the mayor could still veto the measure.
Lightfoot said some elements of her proposal will need to be approved by the board, but her office did not respond to questions about which elements she is referring to or when she will attach a formal order to her plan.
It remains to be seen whether the mayor’s proposal represents the will of the people. But a recent poll by WGN sheds light on where Chicagoans stand on the drive’s name change. According to the outlet, only 36.6% of respondents said they were in favor, compared to 41.5% who said the street should remain Lake Shore Drive.
The results of this survey show that opposition is highest among white Chicagoans — with 55% of white respondents opposed, compared to 31% of black respondents and 36% of Hispanic or Latino respondents.
This story has been updated to include the racial breakdown of the WGN survey results.
Mariah Woelfel covers municipal government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.