Basis of design for reconstructing North Lake Shore Drive


With input from a number of experts and stakeholders, we've been developing this schematic design and promoting the following guiding concepts:


The north lakefront is the busiest transit corridor in the city. A lot has happened in Chicago since the Red Line was laid out in the 1890s, and some of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods have developed right along the lakefront— beyond walking distance of the L. Making matters worse, the Red and Brown Lines are already badly overcrowded at rush hour.


CMAP projects a 15–20% increase in population along the north lakefront and no increase in driving. That is going to require a massive expansion of transit capacity along the north lakefront and a substantial mode shift from driving to transit.


What’s the most efficient and cost-effective way to move all those people by transit? The design process for North Lake Shore Drive must include a thorough study to identify the optimal transit strategy for the north lakefront corridor. That study must consider upgrading from buses stuck in traffic to light rail and bus rapid transit.


The design of the transit system and roadway taken together should increase the flow of people and reduce the flow of cars into downtown. Increasing the flow of people is essential to the growth of the economy. But increasing the flow of cars would backfire because encouraging more people to drive only worsens congestion both downtown and in our neighborhoods. If the design alleviates congestion in the project area only to worsen it in the surrounding city, it will have failed.

The only way to both increase the flow of people and reduce the flow of cars is to design for mode shift—to encourage more people to choose transit over driving and parking. The transit system must become good enough to attract enough new riders to transit to accommodate the projected growth in population without exacerbating congestion. 


If upgrading the transit system makes it possible to reduce the Drive from six lanes to eight while still increasing the capacity and flow of people, then it should be done because the narrower roadway would (a) be less expensive to build and maintain, (b) reduce the footprint of the highway in the park, and (c) reduce the congestion of cars driving into and parking downtown.


If the Drive could be built in a new location, the existing roadway could remain in use during construction, minimizing costly temporary measures and travel delays. If the upgraded transit system is separate from the new roadway, it could absorb many of the people who would otherwise be delayed by roadway construction.


The design and location of the roadway should seize the opportunity to improve the lakefront parks as a gorgeous natural environment, local neighborhood amenity, and international tourist attraction.

A lot has happened in Chicago since the Red Line was laid out in the 1890s