GOLD COAST — From adding a light rail system to slowing down traffic, Chicagoans offered a variety of ideas Tuesday on how to carry out the planned $1 billion revamp of North Lake Shore Drive.
The open house at the Drake Hotel allowed the public to voice their opinion on improvements to the roadway and surrounding parkway no matter how big or small.
Some ideas included building a light rail system along the drive, slowing down traffic on the roadway, creating bus-only lanes and improving access to the lakefront and lakefront trail.
The project to reconstruct the roughly seven-mile stretch of the drive between Grand and Hollywood avenues remains in the early planning stages, but both residents and city and state transportation officials are thinking big.
"Chicago needs to move into the next century and be sustainable transportation-wise," said Old Irving Park resident Nancy Hirsch.
Hirsch, a 56-year-old Los Angeles transplant who is studying sustainable transportation at Northeastern Illinois University, said there is not enough public transportation along the stretch of the lakeshore as well as the dangers of an overcrowded lakefront path.
The seven-mile portion of the roadway carries 970 Chicago Transit Authority buses with 69,000 passengers per day as well as 161,000 cars per day, according to an IDOT report.
The lakefront trail, which the study calls an important element of transportation in the corridor, sees as many as 31,000 daily users on peak summer days.
North Lake Shore Drive has an average of three crashes per day, according to the study.
The stated goals of the project are to improve safety for all users, improve mobility for all users, address infrastructure deficiencies, improve access and circulation, and improve model connections and opportunities.
The 80-year-old roadway was originally constructed as a "boulevard" through a park, but has since grown to be a major eight-lane roadway, although trucks are still prohibited.
Tuesday's public meeting was the second held by IDOT and the Chicago Department of Transportation.
John Baczek, project and environmental studies chief at IDOT, called the public comments the building blocks that will help shape the future of the drive.
"We have multiple modes of transportation whether it's walking, biking, rollerblading or taking a bus or driving a car," he said. "All those issues need to be addressed."
The timeline on the project suggests the earliest construction would start would be 2019 or 2020, while the funding has not yet been addressed.
The project, which is expected to cost more than $1 billion, will likely draw on a variety of sources, according Baczek, including federal, state and local funding.
The Active Transportation Alliance called on Chicagoans to voice their support for a bold vision for the project.
"This is a rare opportunity for us to stop Lake Shore Drive's slow shift toward a superhighway that serves as an ever-widening barrier between Chicago and its lakefront," the group said in a statement following Tuesday's open house.
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