Small Plans, Very Small Plans

I’ve been a member of the Residential Task Force for the Redesign North Lake Shore Drive project and I’ve been, frankly, disappointed in the process. At meetings, I heard many residents express that the Drive is a barrier between the city and the Lakefront and plenty of comments that it’s a blight on the Lakefront. I heard many people suggest that a bold re-visioning which emphasizes transit and foot-traffic is due. I ever heard some voices advocating for a need for infrastructure to distinguish between transportation cycling and recreational cycling. None of that is referenced in the current plan [.pdf].

As I saw on twitter:

As I attended the meetings, and read through the documents presented us, I felt very disappointed in the attitude toward transit improvement, transportation cycling and pedestrian use of the Lakefront. In short, my general sense of the process was that the focus and presumed goal was increasing auto capacity and improving safety at higher speeds.

At the second meeting, one gentleman who was a representative of one of the agencies involved in the process spoke to the assembled crowd. He noted that increasing capacity leads to increased congestion and then pointed out that the only times drivers were observed not dramatically exceeding the speed limits were when traffic conditions forced them to slow down. Our small group suggested that the road be engineered to enforce the speed limit at all times, in keeping with its legal designation as a Boulevard and not a freeway. This is not reflected in the draft documents which were circulated at the third meeting and which are referenced in the tweet above.

IMAG3939Throughout the process, “transportation” was assumed to mean “personal car” which means that the plan will do very little to alleviate the problems of the Drive: congestion, pollution, traffic accidents, inefficient use of space, corruption of the beauty of the shoreline, barriers between Lincoln Park and the water, and the safety of human beings trying to get to the Lake or use the magnificent Park.

That “vehicular access” is first on every list is emblematic of the problem. This committee is viewing this as a “car problem” to solve, not a “quality of life” problem to solve. Prioritizing transit and creating infrastructure for transportation cyclists will improve conditions on the Lakefront.

I don’t know what the solutions are–I have no civil engineering background. But when the transportation professionals admit that increasing capacity increases congestion, but do not suggest creating incentives for transit use or transportation cycling, it feels like they are not listening to themselves. When the transportation professionals say that drivers will obey speed limits and travel at safe speeds only when it is physically impossible to speed, and yet do not discuss the need to engineer the road for slower speeds, it feels like they are doing it wrong.

This is a wonderful opportunity for a bold plan to reclaim the lakefront. But the purpose and need statement simply does not express that priority.

Auto traffic on the Drive exceeds safe capacity. Yet expanding the road space must not be an option.Increased road space will exacerbate conditions as traffic expands to capacity, creating more congestion, more pollution, more noise. Increased road capacity will lead to higher speeds during the ever-more-rare times when traffic flows are low.

Expanding road capacity will further enlarge the barrier between Chicago and the Lake. It will erode the charm and utility of the Lincoln Park.

Of course, my choice for commuting is my bicycle and I find the failure to treat transportation cycling with any respect particularly vexing. It’s not meaningful to lump transportation cycling in with pedestrians using the lakefront as a destination or cyclists touring around the park because it’s lovely. The Plan needs to meaningfully distinguish the uses and it needs to encourage transportation cycling through safe, dedicated infrastructure.

The Plan also needs greater emphasis on mass transit, especially (again) as distinguished from persons using transit to get to to the Lakefront.

There is a fundamental conflict in how the Drive currently functions, which seem to me to stem from the Drive’s increased role as a N-S superhighway. There are through-users (bus passengers, transportation cyclists–yes, year round–, some pedestrians–yes, people walk to and from work–and drivers) and there are non-through-users (again, bus passengers, cyclists, drivers and many more pedestrians). The transportation needs of the through-users seriously conflict with the needs of the non-through-users. Emphasizing ease for through-cars does not help.

You can add specific comments to the map: Map App

Or you can send general comments about the Purpose and Need Statement to

They want those comments by April 24 and there will be a public meeting in June. Right now, the voices of transit users, transportation cyclists, recreational users of the Park and the Lakefront, and pedestrians near access points to the Drive are just not represented in the project.


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