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Hannah Girardeau’s Blog

North Lake Shore Drive Redesign: A New Lakefront for all Chicagoans

Hannah Girardeau

Posted August 6, 2013

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When my youngest sister came to visit over Fourth of July weekend, I knew exactly what we would do to make this a memorable trip. Yes, there would be celery salted hot dogs and a trip to “the Bean.” But as many of you who have interacted with a 15 year old recently might know, they are not easily impressed. We signed up for a fantastic boat tour and visited the Art Institute but the real event would be patriotic fireworks on the beach of Lake Michigan.  Ask any group that has spent a summer in Chicago and they will give you ten answers on where to catch the best fireworks in the city. Deciding to wing it, we began hiking to the lakeshore with a blanket and snacks—picking up friends, passing barbeques, and dodging fireworks shooting out of alleys. We joined the masses under the overpass at Montrose and struggled to stay together in a crowd of cyclists, rollerblade packs, and families searching for the best spot on the beach. Finally, Grace and I parked ourselves on a small hill near the harbor- watching sailboats leave their docks for an eventful evening on the lake.


On its busiest weekends, over 30,000 Chicagoans can be found utilizing the 18-mile Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan. No matter your destination, you will meet an array of people on the lakefront. Whether enjoying a pleasant stroll to the all-local farmers market, playing volleyball at the closest beach, or commuting to work, the trail is an intersection of our city’s practical thoroughfares and recreational hotspots. In a city of tall buildings and concrete, it is an escape from the stresses of urban life.

However, the Lakefront Trail is also crowded, full of holes, and occasionally dangerous (keep an eye out for wandering babies, friendly dogs, and cyclists with a need for speed). While it is a gorgeous venue for weekend outings and a free trip to nature for those that live far from the lake, it can be difficult to get to from outlying neighborhoods. When planning its redesign, NRDC and our coalition partners support a bold vision for North Lake Shore Drive’s reconstruction to meet the needs of all Chicagoans. 


NRDC sees the following as integral to the future of North Lake Shore Drive (see our platform here):

  • Safety: Redesign and widen lakefront access points, add separate bike facilities for higher speed traffic, reduce conflict points between cars and trail users, and design Lake Shore Drive with a maximum 35mph speed with no increase in the number of lanes;
  • Mobility: Separate transit from  automobile traffic, upgrade the Lakefront Trail to meet Chicago Park District standards, create boardwalks along beaches to improve pedestrian access and reduce congestion;
  • Connectivity: Increase lakefront access points, increase vehicular connections to reduce congested bottlenecks, redesign roadway connections to provide a seamless park experience, and create iconic gateways between the city and the lakefront;
  • Livability: Increase park land and green space, emphasize the boulevard character of Lake Shore Drive, reduce the amount of land dedicated to parking within the park, and minimize the impact of construction on the historic Lincoln Park neighborhood;
  • Sustainability: Use park land to improve storm water run-off between the city and Lake Michigan and soften the shoreline to improve ecology and foster habitat restoration.


As all locals know, our lakefront and the paths that connect it to our neighborhoods are resources we all share. As the fireworks (both professional and Indiana-smuggled) began to light the sky on the Fourth, my sister Grace and I sat with hundreds of others on the lakefront to take in the wonder of our skyline, the boats offshore, and the lake that gives Chicago character. Sure, we had gone to an outdoor concert, shopped in Wicker Park, and had three trendy brunches, but my little sister thought our experience at the lake was “totally awesome.” We packed up and rejoined the crowds making the yearly pilgrimage back to the parking lots, bus stops, and nearest El platform. Chicagoans from different neighborhoods and different backgrounds come together each day in a community that appreciates our ability to be outside and enjoy Lake Michigan. As we discuss the redesign of Lake Shore Drive, it is crucial to remember what this area means to our city. It is not only a quick driving route downtown. It is a vital link to nature, a venue for community gathering, and a necessary stretch of green in our global city.

Join us on August 6th, 7th, and 8th to make your voice heard and share your ideas on the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive!

For more information, please visit

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Chester KosAug 8 2013 08:06 PM

'A New Lakefront for all Chicagoans' ? Ezcuze me! The SW-side (Halsted to Harlem along Archer Ave) has NO bicycle path. In my lifetime, I have seen the lakefront path modified and fixed up real nice at least three times. What about us? NRDC, you guys usually do good. But this time you blew it. Chicago is more than Lincoln Park and Lake View. I want my donations back. Ever hear of Archer Heights? Garfield Ridge? Thought so.

Josh MogermanAug 8 2013 08:49 PM

Chester--as a fellow South Sider, I hear you. It does seem that this town is slanted towards a few North Side neighborhoods. But lets not forget that the City just spent millions on the South Side lakeshore and Lake Shore Drive after a similar scoping process. New bridges, new parks, a harbor, a swath of prairie (and as a dad, I can tell you, one of the best play lots in all of Chicago) all have come into existence south of McCormick Place recently.

The entire city uses the lakefront as an amenity. It is a magnet for all sorts of people, so an investment there on both the north and south sides makes a ton of sense.

Just to be clear, this is a City initiative--not NRDC's process. We are just joining an array of likeminded and forward thinking coalition to advocate for the transportation and park infrastructure that will be built to be something that is great for all Chicagoans. We hope to do the same elsewhere in Chicago as the City makes those investments too.

Chester KosAug 9 2013 07:07 PM

South West side. I wasn't a South Sider, but a South West Sider. Big difference. Maybe this is why. The SW-side is distinctly different from the S-side. Please, take a trip down the Orange Line, or down Archer Ave to Cicero or Pulaski. There's nothing to do except travel to/from Midway Airport.

The I&M Canal was the major transportation route from which Chgo was built. It went from Bridgeport SW to the Illinois RIver. From Bridgeport to 1st Ave, it was covered by the Stevenson Expy. It still exists beginning at 1st Ave in back of Summit, and really exists and is made into a beautiful bicycle path in WIllow Springs.

The SW-side is home to about 25% of Chicagoans. It's easy to be green along the Lake Front, N & S. We need an organization to be green where it is needed, the SW-side. Doing yet more to the North lake front path DOES NOT apply to 'all Chicagoans'. FIne, a Chgo effort not a NRDC effort. Then call it what it is ... another handout to the only part of Chgo that matters.

Josh MorganAug 9 2013 11:45 PM

Why would you lower the speed limit on LSD to 35 MPH? What purpose would that serve, other than give Chicago Police easier speed traps? 45 MPH is slow enough, let's not get silly.

Josh MogermanAug 13 2013 03:33 PM


Shuttling between my mother-in-law's place at 95th and Throop and my old employers at Brookfield Zoo, I've spent plenty of time around the SW Side--and again, I get it. Agreed, the Chicago River and Chicago Area Waterways should be the same sort of amenity as the Lake. But a LOT of work needs to be done to make that happen--which has been a huge part of the work that NRDC has done in Chicago. It started with leading the legal fight to force MWRD to disinfect the effluent it dumps into the waterways and continues as we advocate for a river renaissance in this town. That is work we are committed to and continue to engage on--but it will take a while.

In the meantime, advocating to ensure that money the City has committed to invest in transportation projects being spent in a way that can help inform/push future investments in being more sustainable and people friendly is something that helps all Chicagoans, even if the project is far from their neighborhood.

Chester KosAug 13 2013 09:28 PM

From say Archer & Pulaski, how does one get to either the lake front bicycle paths or the other way to the bicycle paths beginning at Harlem Ave.? Why isn't there an off-road path linking the path at Halsted with the Chicago Portage at Harlem & the Stevenson?

Before any more $$ gets spent on the lake front trails, I would like to see a trail provided for the SW-side communities of Archer Heights, Clearing, Brighton Park, West Elsden, Garfield Ridge.

Chester KosAug 13 2013 11:22 PM

It could be a Path for all Chicagoans.

Comments are closed for this post.


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