North Lake Shore Drive Redesign: A New Lakefront for all Chicagoans
Posted August 6, 2013
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 http://www.northlakeshoredrive.org/involved_meetings.html.
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