Improve Lake Shore Drive, but not at the expense of its charm | Editorial


Lake Shore Drive, Chicago’s most scenic thoroughfare, is going through an identity crisis.

The 16-mile road was envisioned by its original builders as a pleasant meandering ribbon through the city’s lakeside parks. But after more than 40 years of straightening, widening and other adjustments to accommodate traffic, the road often feels more like a freeway than a parkway.

That’s why a careful design hand is crucial to ensure that two new improvements planned for the Drive – one aimed at overhauling North Lake Shore Drive, the other tied to the Obama Presidential Center – don’t further erode its character and historic space of the park. through which it flows.

“Redefining” Lake Shore Drive

There’s no doubt that Lake Shore Drive, which handles 100,000 cars and buses every day, needs a makeover. For all its remarkable views of sky, water, architecture and – in warmer months – green space, it’s an aging and crumbling roadway, with unsightly Jersey concrete barriers protecting it from the weather. erosion at the edge of the lake, especially at the northern end.

And there are other quirks. There is, obviously, this Oak Street traffic stop curve. And there’s that traffic light on Chicago Avenue that stays red for so long that a toddler sitting in the back could reach adulthood and take the wheel by the time the light turns green again.

Many of Lake Shore Drive’s current limitations could be resolved as part of a $3 billion city, state, and federal plan to upgrade and rebuild the road from Grand Avenue to Hollywood Avenue. Called “Redefining the Road,” the yet-to-be-funded proposal would include straightening the curve of Oak Street, creating park space to protect the shoreline from erosion, and improving bike paths in the park.

Public hearings on the project have been taking place since 2013, resulting in five design scenarios for improvements. Public feedback collected was used to help shape what could eventually be built. The planning process will continue this year.

Among the improvement scenarios are proposals to create bus-only lanes where cars now travel, further enhancing transit without widening the Drive. That might be a good thing, but only if those bus lanes are properly balanced with green space and additional green space — and only if the lane accesses don’t end up looking like interstate highway ramps.

So are the proposed solutions to the endlessly long Chicago Avenue traffic light. One idea is to replace the entire intersection with a vehicle overpass or underpass which would require a lot of concrete, space and structure. Here too, we call for caution.

In a separate project from Lake Shore Drive nearly 8 miles further south, city officials want to add a southbound third lane between 57th Street and Hayes Drive. The nearly mile-long lane would be part of $175 million in road improvements that traffic engineers say will improve car access in and around Obama’s future presidential hub.

We’re fans of the Obama Center, but we’re not fans of spending so much money on public roads in one place for one project. And we don’t want South Lake Shore Drive to widen.

A special place

We don’t seek to trap Lake Shore Drive in amber or treat it as an untouchable legacy. The Drive has always had to evolve with the times.

But Lake Shore Drive is a special street. Above all, we have to keep it that way.

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