The NDLSD planning process is an opportunity to create a better future. Will the IDOT do it? – Streetblog Chicago

Complete the North DuSable Lake Shore Drive Access and Experience at the Lakefront survey here through April 22.

On March 24, the Illinois Department of Transportation hosted the thirteenth meeting of the agency’s Redefine the Drive Planning Project Task Force. the goal of the project is “to improve the North [DuSable] Lake Shore Drive Multimodal Transportation Facility” because the infrastructure has exceeded its structural life. The meeting, streamed live on Zoom, outlined next steps and major announcements. This included urban design firm Gehl, famous for its focus on centering people in urban space, joining the planning team. The team also announced a goal of choosing a preferred alternative by the end of the year.

The working group meetings raised many questions about the planning process, public engagement, and public influence on project outcomes. Although open to the public, the working group meeting did not allow the public to ask questions or engage in any conversation. In fact, since the project began in 2013, there have only been four public meetings and a handful of resident surveys. Overall, the Redefine the Drive team’s planning process could be described as opaque. If this lack of transparency is intentional, it is even more worrying.

Molly Fleck, a Lincoln Park resident who primarily uses public transit to get around, expressed frustration with the public engagement process. “Communication with the public is very poor, she said, noting that the March task force meeting was not made public. Many public witnesses (members of the public who could see the meetings but who are not members of the working group) learned of this after a slide from the meeting was shown. shared on Twitter by Kate Lowe, professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Once I managed to find out about [the task force meetings], the two scheduled meetings were at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., which interfered with my work schedule,” Fleck said. “I was able to join the 9 a.m. meeting, but Zoom chat was disabled for members of the public, so we were unable to ask questions during the meeting. Transparency and openness to public opinion have is sorely lacking.

It’s a sentiment shared by Cheryl Zalenski, a Northwest Side resident who previously lived in Roscoe Village. Zalenski also used the word “opaque” to describe the process. She pointed out that most of her information about the project also came from friends on social media and not from the project’s management.

The process was not very open at all,” Zalesnki said. “It’s very risky when I discover that there are engagement opportunities.” On top of that, Zalenski believes that even when the project team engages with audiences, they are pushing audiences toward predetermined outcomes rather than trying to gather real feedback and make decisions based on that.

The behind-the-scenes nature of the planning process has not only frustrated members of the public, it has raised concerns that it is preventing better outcomes from being considered and pursued. Zalenski mentioned that when his friends and family learn about this process, they are “quite shocked and horrified when they learn how little feedback is being collected and how focused they are on creating greater accessibility for [vehicle] there seems to be traffic.

Fleck also expressed frustration with the lack of vision on the part of IDOT, the agency responsible for the planning project. She pointed out the irony of quoting famed Chicago city planner Daniel Burnham on the project’s website: “Don’t make small plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood,” noting on Twitter“The vision is basically to reallocate a few lanes on a freeway. Is that really the best we can do in Chicago? I don’t think that’s the case.

The rapidly worsening climate crisis has added an additional stress point for individuals and organizations concerned about the project and the current redesign proposals for the northern segment of the road, all of which include maintaining a quality road highway. Only one of the recommended alternatives, “The Flex,” is to convert existing mixed-traffic lanes to transit-only lanes.

Alone "The Flex" The scenario calls for adding dedicated transit lanes without widening the drive.  Image: IDOT / CDOT
Only “The Flex” scenario provides for the addition of lanes reserved for public transit without widening the route. Image: IDOT / CDOT

Michelle Stenzel, a Lincoln Park resident and longtime advocate for sustainable transportation, has been a member of the Redefine the Drive Task Force since its inception. The working group, which is made up of members of the public and representatives of stakeholder organizations, advises and provides feedback to the planning team.

Stenzel wrote a letter to the planning team and several local elected officials, which she shared with Streetsblog Chicago. It opens by asking where the climate change discussion is at. She writes:

The public part of this project began in 2013, including the formulation of its statement of purpose and need in 2014, which makes no mention of climate change, an existential crisis we now face globally and local. In recent years, climate change has contributed to increasingly severe and widespread weather events causing harm to humans and all life forms. It will probably be at least 15 years before the entire DLSD project is approved, designed and built, by which time climate change will only worsen, without action being taken to mitigate it.

Stenzel adds, “The importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing better access to public transit are major themes. In fact, the city has stated an explicit goal to increase CTA ridership by 20% by 2030.”

Reducing vehicle miles traveled and reducing reliance on vehicles (regardless of fuel source) must be a major component of all attempts to reduce climate change induced greenhouse gas emissions. The easiest way to achieve this is to provide more alternative transportation choices to the public and to design infrastructure that makes these choices convenient and safe. IDOT’s plans for the reader would do the exact opposite. They would lock in a dangerous degree of auto addiction in one of the few parts of the country where people can actually have viable alternatives to driving.

And that’s not to mention the impacts of a highway road on our park and the edge of the lake. Fleck and Zalenski view the drive as a barrier to lakeside access. It also disrupts people’s experience of the lakefront, which would ideally provide a green respite from city life, access to which is widely accepted as vital to the physical and mental well-being of residents.

Additionally, the need to cross an eight-lane highway not only disrupts public enjoyment of the lakefront, but also makes access to it unsafe. For pedestrians and cyclists, the car is a dangerous barrier. For transit users, their buses are stuck in traffic, reducing the viability of transit as a transportation option. This is only exacerbated by road design standards. It’s a problem that Stenzel calls out in his letter.

The posted speed limit on the North DLSD is 40 or 45 MPH, but few drivers follow this limit…an earlier two-day vehicle speed study showed that 78-95% of drivers exceeded the speed limit at any time. She goes on to say that “the geometry of the DLSD is not compatible with these driving speeds. Unfortunately, the current design of the DLSD pavement… looks like an interstate highway to the average driver, and so the design tells them it’s okay to travel at highway speeds of 55, 60, or 65 MPH. Due to the current design, accidents happen and people die. This is unacceptable.

In effect.

All of this is a serious indictment of the planning process, the planning team’s public commitment, and IDOT’s worldview, especially when applied to dense urban spaces with a high degree multimodal life. Fleck was quick to criticize the planning team’s leadership. “Government agencies are not rewarded for good ideas ([although] it’s their job!); but they are heavily penalized when projects fail, so the incentive structure is inherently conservative. »

Rendering of an alternate layout for DuSable Drive from the Better Streets Chicago website.
Rendering of an alternate layout for DuSable Drive from the Better Streets Chicago website.

Fleck doesn’t believe it has to be that way. “I think IDOT could advocate with the public for a bold and visionary plan, but that would require them to bend over backwards and spend political capital. Turning the NDLSD into a real boulevard with transit priority would be a huge risk, and the incentive structure does not encourage risk taking. Every element of the project, from public approval to funding, would be more difficult, as they would have to make their case and convince stakeholders at every stage. It’s a lot harder than presenting the kinds of plans they present now, which essentially preserve the status quo with a few small tweaks.

Despite the work that IDOT should put in to present a bold and visionary plan for the road and, by extension, the northern lakeside, the times demand it. “Given this opportunity and given the climate crisis we are living through as a world and a city, it is really disappointing that we are not more creative in our thinking,” Zalenski said. She concluded by saying, “We really are at a pivotal moment in human history where we can make a really bold decision to have a better future. You have to seize the moment. Whether IDOT and other decision makers are willing to do so remains to be seen.

Complete the North DuSable Lake Shore Drive Access and Experience at the Lakefront survey here through April 22.

Louisa R. Loomis