A ‘redefine’ of DuSable Lake Shore Drive must make the iconic street more special, not less

Any revamp of this signature road must be done with care. The iconic roadway is much too significant to continue devolving into a lakeside highway.

SHARE A ‘redefine’ of DuSable Lake Shore Drive must make the iconic street more special, not less

This conceptual rendering shows how DuSable Lake Shore Drive’s revised Oak Street curve might look with additional lanes, beachfront abd shoreline protection.

City of Chicago

There is no doubt that DuSable Lake Shore Drive needs a revamp, particularly its northern half, which is bedeviled by traffic jams, shoreline erosion and sketchy pedestrian access.

The results of a proposed study to overhaul DLSD — called Redefine the Drive — were released last month, showing how the roadway between Grand Avenue and Hollywood could look if improved.

In theory, there is much to like about the study’s results. The document proposes straightening out DLSD traffic pinch points, improving shoreline protection, substantially increasing beach and public areas at Oak Street and North Avenue, and adding parks and pathways with more access points throughout the seven-mile length of the north Drive.

Still, the proposed measures trouble us as an editorial board.

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That’s because many of the proposed changes would continue DLSD’s decades-long march toward becoming a landscaped highway — kind of a lakeside Edens Expressway — instead of the picturesque, one-of-kind parkway it was originally meant to be.

A higher purpose

Redefine the Drive is the brainchild of the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation. Both agencies have led the project since 2013.

The effort seeks to improve the eight-lane DLSD north of Grand Avenue and put fresh eyes on the condition of the 22 bridges and tunnels connecting the roadway and shoreline to the city.

We like the idea of adding more green space and expanding the beachfront. Another proposal to create a public plaza at Chicago Avenue isn’t bad either.

A bus-only lane could be created by adding width to the road or converting an existing lane. Also discussed is the possibility of creating a shared lane for buses and passenger vehicles — with the private cars paying a toll for the privilege — or even turning two lanes in each direction into bus and toll only. All of this stands the chance of making the Drive more efficient as a traffic-mover.

But is that all there is to DLSD?

Or does the city’s signature road also have a higher purpose?

A Drive that’s more special, not less

This Editorial Board has looked at cities across the continent, from Quebec to Boston, that have either ripped up or tunnelized high-speed roadways and turned the old spaces into public parks and gardens.

It’s hard not to wonder if our own lakeside roadway — or some significant portion of it — deserves the same fate.

But DLSD is too important and too much a part of the city’s history and identity to just get rid of.

And yet the iconic roadway is much too significant to continue its devolution into a lakeside highway. And design-wise, the proposed Redefine the Drive images show a DLSD that would presumably work better but looks anonymous enough to be built anywhere.

The proposed bus lanes are a good idea, but not if lanes are added to the existing thoroughfare. And improved pedestrian and bike path and connections are also warranted along with a rebuilt shoreline and more lakeside public spaces.

Admittedly, what’s being discussed by transportation officials is better than what’s currently there. But it’s still miles from where it should be.

Luckily, the Redefine the Drive renderings are only conceptual, meaning none of the proposed changes are set in concrete and asphalt.

IDOT and CDOT are continuing to seek public input this year from Chicagoans via email (send to info@ndlsd.org), leading up to a community meeting in the fall.

We hope the public tells the agencies that any improvements to DLSD must return the Drive to its roots as a scenic roadway through a park.

Any redesign must make the Drive more special, rather than less.

We welcome letters to the editor and op-eds. Check out our guidelines for both.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com


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