Chrissy Mancini Nichols
Chicagoans and visitors enjoy the beautiful lakefront
I love to end the day biking home on the lakefront path. I’m lucky to live in a city where I can both commute and workout at the same time (especially on a windy day!) all the while enjoying Chicago’s masterpiece, Lake Michigan. And I’m not alone: Up to 31,000 people compete for the 20-foot-wide lakefront path every day. That’s a lot of walkers, bikers, joggers, parents with children and strollers, tourists, dog walkers and rollerbladers navigating such a narrow space. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to look out at the peaceful blue waters of Lake Michigan surrounded by the chaos of the path.
With my first-hand experience of all things amazing about the lakefront (as well as the things that need improvement), I was excited to join the North Lake Shore Drive re-design Corridor Planning Committee, which kicked off last year. The northern stretch of Lake Shore Drive, between Grand and Hollywood avenues, is at the end of its useful life and needs to be re-built. This is a once-in–a-generation-opportunity to think beyond simply repaving the road to better meet the needs of everyone who uses the lakefront, including people 50 years from now.
Last week the North Lake Shore Drive project team (Ill. Dept. of Transportation, Chicago Dept. of Transportation and Chicago Park District) released the top 20 ideas (compiled from 2,000 total) from a July public meeting. To no surprise, 14 of the top 20 related to walking, biking or riding transit. Ideas included separate bike and pedestrian lakefront trails, installing Bus Rapid Transit and adding more access points to the lakefront for cyclists, pedestrians and people who just want to hang out by the lake. The project team will use this information to develop a wide range of alternatives for re-building this stretch of Lake Shore Drive.
MPC is also part of a coalition of 15 organizations that released a civic platform, calling for a bold vision for the North Lake Shore Drive re-design. Our coalition wanted to seize the opportunity to pursue bold plans in the tradition of Chicago's great visionaries who hoped for a more livable city instead of reinforcing the slow shift toward a superhighway that serves as an ever-widening barrier between the people and their lakefront. The coalition called for more accessibility to the lakefront, improving the safety and comfort of all people traveling along its shores—including the 70,000 riders on public transportation each day— and cyclists and pedestrians—and bringing Lake Shore Drive into conformity with the Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance by restoring the road as a major boulevard in order to improve safety—there are three vehicle crashes a day on North Lake Shore Drive—and spill-over congestion in neighborhoods.
North Lake Shore Drive rebuild schedule
While the re-build is years in the making, it’s important the government project team understand how Chicagoans want to use their lakefront. There’s still plenty of time to speak up on the project team website and at one of the many public meetings still to come. Now is the time to be bold and voice your ideas!