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City Council poised to rename outer Lake Shore Drive in honor of DuSable — at a cost of $2.5 million

Substitutes offered by Lightfoot’s administration, such as renaming the Dan Ryan Expressway, had “racial overtones,” Ald. David Moore said, characterizing the attitude as, “Keep it on the South Side. South of like 35th Street. Let’s be honest: Keep it in the Black community.”

South Lake Shore Drive at East 31st Street, looking north.
South Lake Shore Drive at East 31st Street, looking north. The entire outer drive would be renamed to honor Chicago’s first permanent non-native settler, a Black man named Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Barring an eleventh-hour parliamentary maneuver, the Chicago City Council is poised Wednesday to rename Outer Lake Shore Drive in honor of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable at a cost pegged at $2.5 million.

Ald. David Moore (17th), the Council’s champion for DuSable Drive, said Tuesday Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration tried to block the ordinance with an alternative he views as having “racial overtones” — renaming the Dan Ryan Expressway in honor of Chicago first permanent, non-indigenous settler.

Lightfoot has also offered to complete DuSable Park, create an exhibit honoring DuSable at the “most traveled part” of the downtown Riverwalk and rename the entire Riverwalk in honor of DuSable.

“We were offered to rename the Dan Ryan. …. Keep it on the South Side. South of like 35th Street. Let’s be honest: Keep it in the Black community,” Moore told the Sun-Times.

“Those are racial overtones and ones that we have to move beyond in this city. We’re better than that.”

Moore refused to name the person who made the offer to rename the Dan Ryan. “I’ll just say the [Lightfoot] administration and leave it at that.”

The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on the matter Tuesday.

Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th) has said he’s gotten an earful about the name change from “people who actually live on Lake Shore Drive.” They fear it would be “somewhat of a nightmare in terms of mailing addresses and everything else they would have to re-arrange,” Tunney has said.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has similarly warned the name change will require a “time-consuming and costly fix” for “tens of thousands” of Chicago voters and have “costly implications” for businesses, police and fire.

Lake Shore Drive, seen from the northbound on-ramp entrance at East 18th Drive.
Ald. David Moore, sponsor of an ordinance to rename Lake Shore Drive, said Tuesday the combined cost to the city, state and CTA to change signs, maps and schedules totals $2.5 million. That’s far less than the alternatives offered by the Lightfoot administration. Here, the road’s current name is cast into the overpass at 18th Drive.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

But on the eve of the showdown vote, Moore disclosed the combined cost to the city, state and CTA to change signs, maps and schedules pales by comparison to the cost of Lightfoot’s alternative proposal to honor DuSable.

“The state gave their numbers. The city gave their numbers. And it came out to less than $2.5 million to make the street change, signs and everything,” Moore said of the estimate delivered in recent months at Reilly’s request.

“But yet, the administration came back with a proposal of $40 million: $25 million for the park and $15 million for the Riverwalk and also threw in there the possibility of changing the Chicago River to DuSable. But they would have to go through the Department of Interior. All that heavy lifting just to not rename the Outer Drive? That’s an issue for me.”

In 1993, then-aldermen Toni Preckwinkle and Madeline Haithcock proposed renaming Lake Shore Drive to honor DuSable. Mayor Richard M. Daley put the kibosh on the idea.

Then, 18 years later, then-Ald. Ed Smith proposed a different honor — naming City Hall after DuSable. It met the same fate.

Since then, the political landscape has changed dramatically.

The Council is now majority-minority, with 20 Black aldermen and 13 Hispanic members.

More importantly, the death of George Floyd a year ago Tuesday at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has triggered a racial reckoning in Chicago and across the nation. It prompted the Council to create a reparations subcommittee charged with finding a way to make amends to “descendants of enslaved Africans” living in Chicago.

Against that backdrop, an ordinance that has languished in committee since October 2019 appears to have too much political momentum to stop.

“The peoples’ voices are louder. … I don’t think it’s as much political awareness as it is social conscience. People are raising their voice and knowing the significance of certain statues, certain recognitions and how that plays a role in our lives,” Moore said.

Aerial view looking south of the East 31st Street bridge crossing South Lake Shore Drive, Tuesday afternoon, May 4, 2021.
Looking south on Lake Shore Drive, at the East 31st Street bridge.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Moore, whose ordinance needs a technical fix to define the “Outer Drive,” said he has been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring from “students and young people” in the two years since he introduced the name change.

“I didn’t think it would happen at the rate that it did. That’s why it’s important to me. It raised awareness among young people to learn about DuSable and learn about … him finding Chicago. And not only just Black kids. It’s all our children across this city,” he said.

“When we talk about immigrants, people think of either European immigrants or Mexican immigrants. But we have a lot of immigrants from Haiti and from the African diaspora. Their voices are finally being heard in this. It means a lot to them to see this happen.”

Any two aldermen can move to “defer and publish,” which delays consideration of any matter for one meeting. Tunney said he has no plans to use that parliamentary maneuver. Reilly could not be reached.

Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) was asked whether he has any plans to delay the vote.

“Not sure. Under discussion,” Hopkins wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times.

Lightfoot also has the option of vetoing the name change. But allies say Lightfoot would be better served by letting it go and saving her energy for the more important battles ahead, such as doling out federal relief funds, passing some form of civilian police oversight and crafting a city budget, just to name a few.