A long-percolating (and not universally popular) effort to straighten out part of Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive along Lake Michigan was given new life recently in a series of detailed renderings.
The images, published by DNAInfo in February, show the drive’s pesky S-curve straightening out as it disappears briefly underground. The most striking feature of the project, however, is a new 70-acre park that would stretch out into the lake. Apparently straightening the S-curve would require that beaches be pushed into the lake and buffered with new parkland.
The North Lake Shore Drive project, as it is formally known, was begun in 2013 as a joint effort of neighborhood groups, the Chicago and Illinois departments of transportation, and several other agencies. As Next City reported at the time, any efforts around the beloved road (known locally as LSD), were likely to “get raucous.”
“There is a lot to be lost — or gained — in any changes to this well-trafficked thruway,” Lori Rotenberk wrote. “Local civic leaders fear that [Illinois Department of Transportation], which owns the road, wants to modernize LSD in ways that will turn it into something more highway and less idyllic. They fear that IDOT will straighten the drive to encourage safety and speed at the cost of increasing the overall number of cars on the route.”
The beautiful new renderings certainly don’t look less “idyllic” but the changes they propose also wouldn’t be cheap. In 2014, the project was given an estimated price tag of $177 million, though according to DNAInfo, “it would certainly command more than that based on the latest renderings.”
And the political will may not be there. According to Chicagoist, the “vision of a Chicago lakefront entirely lined by parkland” originated in the early 20th century, with architect Daniel Burnham. But when that vision got in the way of George Lucas’ plans to build a museum on the waterfront, Mayor Rahm Emanuel didn’t exactly seem like its biggest fan.
The before and after images can be viewed here.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian