As Chicago begins a long process to reconstruct North Lake Shore Drive, one of our city’s most iconic streets, the Active Transportation Alliance and a coalition of 15 civic organizations in the city of Chicago are calling for a bold vision to better meet the needs of everyone who uses the lakefront.
Next week Active Trans will partner with the Chicago Architecture Foundation to give a lunchtime lecture about our vision to improve transit along the lakefront, build a people-friendly roadway and provide better access to our parks.
Leading up to that event, we’re working with guest blogger Ian Adams to share a series of stories of how other cities are rethinking their waterfronts. Please enjoy these examples from other cities, which we hope offer inspiration for how Chicago could better tap our lakefront’s full potential and transform our waterfront into a people-friendly place.
Portland’s visionary approach to waterfront parks
As a transportation advocate, I frequently find myself looking to Portland, Oregon for inspiration. From its infectious bike culture and walkable downtown to its investment in BRT, the city has established itself as a leader in active transportation.
Portland -- a city known for thinking ahead -- was one of the first cities to re-imagine what its waterfront could be. The city decided to replace a waterfront highway and develop a large park space flanked by a wide boulevard for vehicle traffic.
Portland thought outside the box and created a people-friendly space and increased nearby property values in the process, helping the entire downtown area become more pleasant and accessible.
Perhaps a similar change could be made to Chicago’s waterfront to better connect residents to Lake Michigan and to prepare us for a future of more active transportation as travel trends in our city continue to change.
Portland's Harbor Drive was the first limited access highway in Portland when it was constructed in 1950. However, it wasn’t long before Oregonians re-imagined a more balanced use for the space.
Portland eventually removed its waterfront highway, established a large park (named after the governor, who was a leader in the effort) and developed a boulevard to provide a thoroughfare for vehicles. Instead of a loud elevated highway cutting the waterfront in two, this tree-lined street is much more aesthetically pleasing, with calmer traffic and bike lanes in each direction.
Even today the city continues to make the area more pedestrian friendly by redesigning sections of the parkway. It’s a lesson that even after a roadway has been built it can benefit from redesign that improves its use and access.
This park space now allows for a wide variety of uses, from casual dog walking and joggers to beer festivals and symphony concerts. Portland created a space where all its citizens can feel welcome.
Infrastructure lasts for generations once it is built. As Chicagoans consider the city’s future of Lake Shore Drive, it is important that we consider trends that will help shape the future.
People are driving less, while using public transit and bicycles more. Shouldn't we have a lakefront that reflects this rich transportation diversity? Imagine dedicated lanes for the numerous buses which run along the drive, improving the commutes for the over 60,000 passengers a day that use these routes.
Across the nation, cities are reinventing their waterfront areas. Will Chicago take the next step to make itself a more vibrant and livable city?
For more, please check out these links:
This is a guest blog by Ian Adams. He is a volunteer with the Active Transportation Alliance