Chicago Aldermen and Transit Advocates Demand Mass Transit on North DuSable Lake Shore Drive

Illinois Department of Transportation urged to halt process and meet with Chicago City Council

June 7, 2024

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CHICAGO – Chicago aldermen and safety advocates announced on Friday the Better Lakefront Initiative, an alternative vision for the multi-billion dollar highway project being considered for North Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive (NDLSD), the surrounding parkland, and adjacent North Side communities.

The Better Lakefront Initiative is organized by Chicago, Bike Grid Now! and backed by 14 members of the Chicago City Council, including Alds. Daniel La Spata, Ward 1; Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Ward 25; Ruth Cruz, Ward 30; Scott Waguespack, Ward 32; Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Ward 35; Jr., Andre Vasquez, Ward 40; Brendan Reilly, Ward 42; Timothy R. Knudsen, Ward 43; Bennett R. Lawson, Ward 44; Angela Clay, Ward 46; Matthew J. Martin, Ward 47; Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, Ward 48; Maria E. Hadden, Ward 49; and Debra L. Silverstein, Ward 50. Ald. 

Hadden, Clay, Manaa-Hoppenworth, Lawson and Knudsen all represent wards in the project area for “Redefine The Drive.”

Chicago, Bike Grid Now! Is also joined by a growing coalition of advocates including Commuters Take Action, a member of IDOT’s Redefine the Drive Geographic Stakeholder Task Force, Urban Environmentalists Illinois, The Southwest Collective, Active Transportation Alliance, Better Streets Chicago, ​​Chicago BIPOC Birders, The Freshwater Lab at UIC, and the Edgewater Environmental Coalition.

The coalition is asking the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to halt its “Redefine The Drive” project before it moves out of the planning phase. This is the first time Council members have come together to speak out against the IDOT plan and they join a growing number of elected officials from the Illinois General Assembly seeking to reboot the NDLSD plans. 

“We want a greener, smaller NDLSD that includes multi-modal transportation solutions such as light rail or bus rapid transit and better access to parks and beaches. IDOT’s vision is an urban highway next to our City’s greatest resource – Lake Michigan. All of us want to see less traffic and more efficiency. More lanes won’t accomplish that but mass transit will,” said Chicago, Bike Grid Now! organizer Rony Islam.

“We don’t see IDOT’s current proposal as viable when it comes to the interests of our communities, long-term viability, accessibility, and value of our neighborhoods and lakefront,” Islam said. “Together, the Better Lakefront coalition represents hundreds of thousands of Chicago residents.”

Alderman Bennett Lawson, who is a member of the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, said, “I’m proud to join together with my fellow Alderpeople to call on the Illinois Department of Transportation to revise their current plans for North Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive to ensure it’s reflective of the diverse transit needs of Chicagoans across the city. This project should prioritize public transit users, cyclists, pedestrians, recreationalists, and all residents so we can build a safer, cleaner future for Chicago.”

Alderwoman Hadden, who chairs the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy, added, “The NDLSD Study and Redefine The Drive project presents a unique opportunity to reimagine how we utilize this essential artery that fuels the economic engine of Chicago. With climate change reshaping our environment and posing a threat to public health, we must identify innovative and creative ways to encourage and prioritize non-individual car travel.” 

Hadden went on to say, “I call on the Illinois Department of Transportation to listen to the growing voices calling for the implementation of sustainable engineering practices to reimagine North Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive.” 

Faced with opportunities to remake urban roadways, cities across the United States are downsizing and implementing modern and sustainable engineering practices to re-imagine, overhaul, and dramatically improve existing conditions. 

Kyle Lucas, co-founder of Better Streets Chicago and a coalition partner, says, “We love to say ‘make no little plans,’ – but big plans are not the same as good plans, and IDOT’s plans to turn DuSable Lake Shore Drive into an interstate-grade highway are simply unacceptable. They’ve systematically rejected their own data and community input in favor of repeating planning mistakes from the 1950s.”

As currently configured, NDLSD is among the State of Illinois’ most dangerous roadways. CPD data shows that since 2018, DLSD has been the scene of more than 15,000 crashes, or about seven crashes every single day. These crashes – which have even included victims on the lakefront trail – resulted in more than 3,900 injuries, including 537 incapacitating injuries, and 49 fatalities. The economic cost of these crashes is estimated at more than half a billion dollars. According to IDOT’s own analysis, 95 percent of drivers exceed speed limits when DLSD is not congested.

In 2020, the City Council declared Chicago is facing a climate crisis, a status that is well supported by experts. Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has stated Chicago needs to take a “strong stand to mitigate climate disaster” and be a “leader in sustainability.” Redefine the Drive fails when it comes to contemporary environmental standards for emissions, noise, green infrastructure, and sustainability. 

While construction on the unfunded, multi-billion dollar Redefine The Drive project is years away, options that include mass transit elements have been categorically eliminated from consideration by IDOT. 

It is also worth noting that NDLSD is not a commercial roadway. Trucks are banned and it is primarily used for intercity passenger vehicle trips. Modern, reliable mass transit is vastly superior at moving people than cars.

Chicago, Bike Grid Now! is a local organization committed to safe streets. Chicago, Bike Grid Now! works with elected officials and stakeholders for equitable access and infrastructure that prioritizes the most vulnerable, such as children and seniors.

Better Lakefront also stands with the sponsors of legislation approved by the Illinois House opposing IDOT’s Redefine The Drive project, including Illinois State Reps. Kam Buckner, D-26th; Ann M. Williams, D-11th; Margaret Croke, D-12th; Will Guzzardi, D-39th; Lindsey LaPointe, D-19th; Kelly M. Cassidy, D-14th; Hoan Huynh, D-13th; and Camille Y. Lilly, D-78h; and the other 101 members who unanimously supported HR0438 on May 2. 

In late May, the Illinois Senate approved SR0825 sponsored by Illinois Sens. Ram Villivalam, D-8th; Robert Peters,D-13th District; Mike Simmons, D-7th; and Sara Feigenholtz, D-6th. The legislation urges CDOT and IDOT to pursue a forward-thinking redesign of NDLSD.