Emergency barriers are good and necessary, but let’s show a little vision.
Work crews were back on Lake Shore Drive earlier this month, putting up temporary barriers as a steadily growing Lake Michigan threatened to flood the road.
It was a great reminder, like Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) argued Thursday that the whole future of Lake Shore Drive should be redesigned – a safer road, with more green space and beaches. It is not enough to prevent it from collapsing.
Chicago is at its best when it thinks like this. This is what gave us the Drive in the first place, one of America’s most scenic urban arteries.
All kinds of proposals for improving North Lake Shore Drive have been around for years, some more imaginative than practical. They come and go. The best ideas, however, were generated with substantial public input and would improve on a lakefront that Chicagoans have always been proud of.
South Lake Shore Drive has already undergone a $ 90 million rehabilitation.
Clearly, as Hopkins said, the city should finally straighten out the famous S-curve around Oak Street Beach – which has been a problem with drivers for years – and at the same time add 70 acres of parkland to it. east of the Drive. This could lead to a significant expansion of Oak Street Beach.
Our most important point is that Chicago has thought too defensively, putting up barriers like Lego blocks and even shutting off parts of the Drive when the lake’s waves are particularly high.
Every problem is also an opportunity, and Chicago’s problems with Lake Shore Drive should be taken as an opportunity to create a faster road, with safer driveways and bike lanes, and, of course, more flooding.
Some of it could have been done a lot better in the 1930s, when the Drive was rolling off the drawing boards, but no one could have foreseen all the ramifications of building a boulevard through a series of waterfront parks. Lake. No one could see how the traffic on the exit ramps would back up into the passageways, causing regular rear collisions. Or that increased congestion would discourage many future Chicagoans from even using the lakefront amenities – beaches, parks, and trails.
On a bright summer day, up to 31,000 people use the Lakefront Trail near Oak Street. But the trail was closed this summer on days storm-blown waves inundated it.
Parts of the original promenade, including the bridges and lower levels of the causeway, have exceeded their expected useful life of 30 years. Earlier this year, the northbound lanes of the Drive on the Chicago River were closed due to cracked steel support beams, an example of what can happen if roads deteriorate.
Due to the high water, the beaches retreated and the breakwaters collapsed. And the US Army Corps of Engineers says that, based on current water levels, Lake Michigan could reach an all-time high in 2020 because it will start above the level it reached this year.
The city should no longer ignore the longer-term needs of the Drive – and its possibilities. Approximately 161,000 cars and 3,300 CTA bus trips, carrying some 69,000 people, rely on the Drive every working day. Repairs to the boardwalk could be done as part of a larger plan, a vision, to dramatically improve the entire lakeside for generations to come.
Hopkins says he spoke with Gov. JB Pritzker to get money to rebuild the Drive from the state’s new $ 45 billion investment bill. It’s a tall order this late in the budgeting process, and we know every city in Illinois is looking for a piece of the pie.
But yes. Hopkins is on to something.
Illinois’ most stellar stretch of road deserves a healthy cut in funding, and we urge other city officials to join Hopkins in making this cause.
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