Public, officials to meet on redefining North Lake Shore Drive

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Ninety-five percent of weekday drivers headed out of the city on North Lake Shore Drive were clocked as speeding — one of many problems officials hope to gather solutions to at a public meeting Tuesday.

Other weak spots to be tackled in a joint city-state “Redefine the Drive” project include reducing crashes on the drive, from Hollywood to Grand; improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians; and boosting transit ridership to meet a projected growing demand.

All that and more is expected to be outlined and discussed Tuesday at an open house hosted by Illinois and Chicago Department of Transportation officials from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Drake Hotel, Gold Coast Ballroom, 140 E. Walton Place.

Jeffrey Sriver, the Chicago Department of Transportation point man on the project, noted that officials have already solicited public input on North Lake Shore Drive’s problem spots. Now, Sriver said, “we are advancing to potential solutions.’’

City and state officials contend the Drive’s bridges and lower pavement areas are nearly 80 years old and have exceeded their expected service lives by 30 or more years. A rebuild of North Lake Shore Drive, rather than a resurfacing, has been recommended.

A coalition of 15 civic groups has urged officials to think boldly, and take advantage of the plans to rebuild the drive to create a plan that will last another 50 years. They are urging that North Lake Shore Drive be returned to the “boulevard in a park” concept envisioned by city planner Daniel Burnham in 1909.

Their ideas include lowering the speed limit to 35 mph, creating bus-only or high-speed rail lanes, separating high-speed cyclists from more leisurely bikers or walkers and creating more park space.

A “Draft Purpose and Need Statement” — a study examining problem areas on a 7-mile stretch of North Lake Shore Drive — posted recently by CDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation indicates 95 percent of northbound North Lake Shore Drive vehicles were clocked as speeding during a 48-hour weekday period.

Southbound, heading into the city, another 78 percent were speeding, the report said.

Currently, Sriver said, “Most of the compliance is occurring only at periods of heavy congestion.”

Enforcing the speed limit “is definitely an issue “ on North Lake Shore Drive, Sriver said. One of the Drive’s “shortcomings” is that it does not have adequate locations for police cars to park and track speeders, Sriver said.

State law prohibits use of speed cameras on Lake Shore Drive. However, the Chicago Police Department does possess and use “Stalk Radar” equipment that allows police to clock speeders from moving police vehicles, said Chicago Police spokesman Martin Maloney.

Even so, speeding persists as a problem, and when high speeds — as much as 30 mph over the 40 mph limit — are combined with North Lake Shore Drive’s narrow 10-foot lane widths, the result is “reduced safety margins,’’ according to the Purpose and Need statement, which makes the case for federal funding.

The study also noted that a 1972 Lakefront Plan of Chicago and the 1973 Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance established a policy to “strengthen the parkway characteristics of Lake Shore Drive and prohibit any roadway of expressway standards.’’

Chrissy Mancini Nichols of the Metropolitan Planning Council noted there are three accidents a day on North Lake Shore Drive. Bad signage, confusing on and off ramps and a narrow s-curve only add to the problems, Nichols said.

“One of the reasons there’s so many accidents on Lake Shore Drive is that so many people drive on it like it’s a highway, when it’s supposed to be a boulevard, “ Nichols said.

Some urged officials to remember the drivers in their plans. Joseph Schofer, a Northwestern University transportation expert, said LSD is currently absorbing traffic that would otherwise create extra congestion on side streets, the Kennedy and other expressways.

“You have a very large number of people using this as a commuter route,’’ Schofer said. “The drivers are a huge part of the market here and you don’t want to forget that.’’

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