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Only 11 percent of Chicagoland residents ride transit to work.

Redefine the drive for real

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When you’re rebuilding a transportation corridor in one of the densest parts of Chicago, where already more than 20 percent of people are travelling by bus, it stands to reason that the project should include major upgrades to transit service.  

Unfortunately, in the case of North Lake Shore Drive, the jury is still out.

The project team for reconstructing Lake Shore Drive from Grand to Hollywood – led by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) in collaboration with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the park district – will soon present different design alternatives for how to Redefine the Drive as they call it. 

Problem is, they could redefine the drive in name only, without actually changing the fundamental problems with Lake Shore Drive. It's a highway where a parkway should be that compliments the lakefront instead of blocking access to it and showering the parks with noise and pollution. It’s often clogged with cars carrying just one person that force people traveling efficiently on buses to be stuck in the same traffic.

With IDOT leading the charge, there’s reason to be worried that moving cars – rather than moving people – will be the priority. Already IDOT has decided to eliminate light rail from consideration because there is insufficient funding for it. That was shortsighted because this project is still many years away, so the funding environment could change. Even today, cities across the country are funding light rail expansion with strong public support. 

It is essential that redefining Lake Shore Drive include dedicated bus lanes that can provide similar service to light rail at a lower cost, and can be upgraded later to light rail should that be warranted. At the same time, Active Trans does not support IDOT proposals to have buses share lanes with carpools or cars that pay tolls. That’s because, over time, these lanes are likely to become congested with cars again, and it will be politically difficult for the state to keep raising tolls.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to prioritize transit along the densely populated lakefront where better transit service is a no-brainer. New, dedicated transit service on Lake Shore Drive is especially important on the North Side of Chicago where many trains and buses are overcrowded, and there is no plan to accommodate projected long-term transit growth that is vital to the city’s economy.

Active Trans encouraged supporters to attend a public meeting on Wednesday July 12 at DePaul University and tell IDOT that Lake Shore Drive needs upgraded transit service with dedicated bus lanes. People who couldn't make the meeting can still submit written comments through the online comment form. In advance of the July 12 meeting, Active Trans canvassed at popular bus stops along the drive to encourage transit riders to turn out. 

After the meeting the state launched an online survey about project priorities, which will be open until August 9th.  

Background Information on North Lake Shore Drive

According to the project team, there are 3,300 bus trips in the corridor per day moving 69,000 people. In comparison to the 161,000 car trips, most of which are carrying just one passenger, bus riders account for 21 percent of all users on the roadway every day.

There’s potential for even greater transit ridership. Housing development is dense in the corridor and still growing, and most residents prefer to ride transit. In the surrounding neighborhoods, 35 percent of households own zero automobiles and transit is the most popular commute choice. 

Improving transit service was the second biggest priority residents shared with IDOT at the first two public meetings held as part of this project. Separating people walking and biking on the trail was first, and the state has already said that will be included in the final design.

If there was ever a roadway in the Chicago region that merited giving transit vehicles priority, North Lake Shore Drive is it. However, to achieve this, it may be necessary to reduce the number of lanes available to personal automobiles, and that is likely to result in push back due to concerns about worsening congestion.

In reality, studies show that people will drive more when given more roadway capacity and less when given less roadway capacity, which means congestion levels will stay about the same within the Lake Shore Drive corridor regardless of how many lanes are available to cars. This is the phenomenon of “induced demand” at work.