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Alderman ridicules barriers, pushes for massive rebuilding of Lake Shore Drive

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) says the ‘crumbling’ Drive ‘needs to be replaced.’ And that presents a golden opportunity to straighten the ‘S’ curve and add park space.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) opposes Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s planned $94 million property tax increase.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) says installing hundreds of Jersey barriers at eight locations along the lakefront to mitigate potential flooding won’t work. The city needs to rebuild Lake Shore Drive and use the opportunity to add more park space.
Sun-Times file photo

An influential alderman on Thursday ridiculed the city’s decision to install temporary barriers to stave off lakefront flooding and pushed, instead, for a massive rebuilding of a “crumbling” Lake Shore Drive — a project that would create an opportunity to add more park space.

In a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) beat the drum for the ambitious and costly plan he has championed for years: rebuild the Drive, straightening a notorious S-curve around Oak Street Beach and paving the way for a new, 70-acre park.

“Lake Shore Drive is crumbling. It needs to be replaced. The road bed is beyond its useful service life. And as long as we’re rebuilding Lake Shore Drive, it would be a tragic waste of opportunity if we don’t also expand the parkland there and rebuild this intersection, which is every bit as problematic as Ashland and Elston is,” Hopkins said.

“If you were a traffic engineer, you would be fired for proposing this today. It’s that bad,” he added.

“I’ve talked to Gov. Pritzker about the $45 billion capital bill that’s out there. We don’t know what that is gonna be spent on. I’m pushing for this plan to finally come to fruition and get it off the drawing board.”

Earlier this month, the city responded to record-high Lake Michigan water levels with a plan to install temporary barriers along the lakefront to mitigate the potential for flooding at eight locations.

Workmen install temporary barriers along Lake Shore Drive in 1987.
Chicago has been using temporary barriers to mitigate flooding along Lake Shore Drive for years. This photo was taken in 1987.
Sun-Times file photo

Hopkins ridiculed the barriers as a Band-Aid on a cancer.

“We’re gonna put Jersey walls up to try and hold Lake Michigan back? It’s not gonna work,” he told the City Club audience.

“Who here has a house in Grand Beach [Michigan]? I know some of you do. Where is Grand Beach lately? It’s gone. You’ve lost your beach. The types of erosion we’re seeing due to climate change. Fluctuating lake levels. We can’t get our way out of this with Jersey walls.”

Besides touting the Lake Shore Drive project, Hopkins spent much of his City Club speech defending his support for the $6 billion Lincoln Yards project and it’s $1.3 billion tax-increment-financing subsidy that, he said, has “consumed my life” for years.

Hopkins also plunged head-first into another political minefield — advocating more video enforcement when motorists are fed up with speed cameras and red-light cameras.

“We have the bus lanes downtown. They’re not working properly. People block it. Traffic is no longer flowing the way it was intended to, partially because of the popularity of ride share. We have to fix this. Changing driver behavior is gonna be key to doing that. Video enforcement could be a big part of the solution,” Hopkins said.

“I’m not looking for revenue when I say that. Ideally, we’d have a video enforcement system that really wouldn’t generate any revenue at all because everyone would be afraid of it. They wouldn’t want to park their car in a bike lane. They wouldn’t want to turn the curb into their loading zone because they know that they’ll be fined.”

Hopkins acknowledged the $2 million bribery scandal cast a giant shadow over Chicago’s red-light camera program and soured public opinion about video enforcement, “but that was years ago,” he said. “It’s time for us to get over our stigma about camera enforcement.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to audit the city’s network of red-light cameras and “sunset those cameras that are only being used for revenue — not safety.”

Earlier this month, the mayor was asked if she is giving any thought to adding speed cameras.

“We’re looking comprehensively at the speed cameras. There’s a lot of, I think, cynicism as to whether or not the cameras are installed for speed or simply as a revenue-generating exercise,” she said after announcing a $6 million plan to improve traffic safety on the West Side.

“Speed cameras are not something that’s loved universally across the city...Speed cameras are not something that’s universally loved by me, either.”