If you’re a fan of public parks and bike trails, a new proposal to expand the city’s lakefront is welcome news.
Crain’s Greg Hinz unveiled a series of renderings this morning in advance of a public forum at DePaul University, where state and city transportation officials will discuss ideas for altering North Lake Shore Drive, one of which allows for an expansion of public access in areas that are currently well populated.
Among the highlights from the Crain’s story is a significant alteration of Oak Street Beach, using lakefill to expand the beachfront hundreds of feet northeast. Running parallel to the beach would be a major new park that extends a mile past North Avenue. A bike path and a pedestrian path are also featured in the renderings and a proposed pedestrian/bike ramp connecting Lake Shore Drive to the Lincoln Park Boat Club.
Two prospective (and welcome) features: A retaining wall at the Belmont Avenue exit ramp, where auto and pedestrian traffic often intersect; and an overpass at Chicago Avenue that would replace a stop light to improve traffic flow.
More from Crain’s:
Two different versions of the plan feature a formal pedestrian promenade from the nearby Streeterville neighborhood to the beach, or a combined entrance for those on foot and on bicycles. Under either scenario, the current at-grade Chicago Avenue entrance to the drive would be replaced with an overpass, eliminating a stop light that slows traffic.
Remaining on the table are either expanding or shrinking the drive, likely with some lanes set aside for buses or other high-occupancy vehicles.
Hinz reports that officials are hoping to finalize a concept by 2020, then figure out how to pay for it. It’s already drumming up lots of chatter among readers, a lot of whom are non-too-pleased with the prospect of planning for renovations without figuring out how to pay for it first. But as always, we believe that improving the safety and security of pedestrians is worth considering, even as the city and state struggle with many lingering budgetary problems.
Why the makeover matters: While some clamor for the planning and the prospective money to be used for things like the pension crisis and Chicago Public Schools, there’s something to be said for improving and maintaining the city’s infrastructure. These are long-term plans with potentially long-term benefits, and while the CPS is certainly a matter that needs attention, so too are the oft-traveled roads and public parks that keep the city functioning on a basic level. As more Illinois residents leave for ostensibly greener pastures, we need to find ways to keep people here. And keep them safe. That includes all neighborhoods—not just the north side.
This is just a concept plan: It’s important to remember that anything discussed at DePaul later this afternoon is a preliminary discussion of what the city hopes to accomplish. There’s certainly a chance that nothing gets done quickly because, as we said above, more pressing matters come to a head and the subject of money becomes a heated point of contention. As we’re seeing from the Crain’s story, the majority commenters believe any makeover of lakeshore—whether for monetary reasons or aesthetic reasons—is a bad idea.
We’re here to say, give it a chance: The public sometimes woefully underestimates the need to improve our city’s infrastructure for the sake of tradition or what we’ve become accustomed to. A few commenters mentioned that people “love Oak Street Beach” and don’t want to see it changed. But if the reason is strictly because people love playing volleyball and the buildings make for a nice backdrop, the rationale rings a tad shallow. Seems the argument for the status quo needs to be stronger than that.
Voice your opinion: The meeting takes place today at DePaul University’s Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield, between 3-10 p.m.