It’s Been a While, But Downtown Lake Shore Drive Reconfig Still “Has a Chance”

Lake Shore Drive reconstruction proposal

Lake Shore Drive reconstruction proposal

It’s been over five years since we first heard about city plans to re-configure Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago.  A lot of work has been done on the Drive in other parts of the city, but the downtown portion remains congested, dangerous, and falling apart.  But according to 2nd Ward Adlerman Brian Hopkins, “This is a bold, visionary project that has a chance to come to fruition.”  It’s been a long time since we’ve heard of any progress on this plan, so it’s worth recapping.

Hopkins made his remarks earlier this month during a speech he gave at the City Club of Chicago (full video here).  During the address, he talked about the two biggest problems along LSD downtown — The Oak Street S-curve, and the Chicago Avenue intersection.

The $500 million plan, drawn up by VOA (now Stantec) includes straightening out the Oak Street problem by sinking Lake Shore Drive below a massive 70-acre lakefront park reclaimed from Lake Michigan.  The Chicago Avenue intersection would remain above ground, but be a full-fledged interchange, with through traffic able to glide through straight and true, undisturbed by traffic signals.

Lake Shore Drive reconstruction proposal

Chicago Avenue Interchange portion of the Lake Shore Drive reconstruction proposal

Access to the lakefront from Lakeshore Park would no longer be through the scary pedestrian tunnel, but via an elevated, gently sloping walkway that also connects to a parklet parked on top of Lake Shore Drive’s through lanes.

Once you’re on the beach, you’ll be tempted to swim to the new offshore island.  It’s kind of a sandy atol that fulfills part of the old Burnham Plan for Chicago.  Its main purpose is protecting the city’s shoreline from angry waves, but will very likely be dubbed “Makeout Point” by the big kids who can swim there and leave their little brothers and sisters behind.  Or, at least that’s how it worked where I grew up.

Lake Shore Drive reconstruction proposalIt’s all very leafy, very green, and very expensive.  But also very doable, according to Mr. Hopkins who notes that Chicago has a history of eastward expansion, most recently in the Fullerton area where a new park was recently completed.

It’s also kinda complicated.  The stretch of Lake Shore Drive involved goes through Hopkin’s Lobster Ward, and also Alderman Brendan Reilly’s 42nd Ward, and Alderman Smith’s 43rd Ward.  Hopkins says his pol pals are on board with the plan.  But where’s the money going to come from?

Lake Shore Drive is a federal road (U.S. 41), but the land under it is owned by IDOT, and maintained by CDOT.  Hopkins says the half-billion dollars required will come from a combination of federal and state dollars.  It makes sense that the feds would jump in line because LSD is deteriorating faster than previously predicted.  But money from Springfield?  He might have a better shot paying for the project if he took the federal funding and used it to buy Powerball tickets.  In Indiana. Where the state lottery doesn’t have trouble paying its winners.

Lake Shore Drive reconstruction proposal

Lake Shore Drive reconstruction proposal

We’d like to thank Alderman Brian Hopkins for being a fan-of-the-blog.  Yes, we saw you lifted one of our photographs for use in your presentation at the City Club.  But that’s OK.  Crain’s does it, too.


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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  1. Don’t hold your breath. This will NEVER, EVER happen. The Federal Government can’t agree on infrastructure fundng; the State of Illinois can’t agree on an budget and the City of Chicago is broke…..Set your sites much, much lower. Patch and repair is the best we can hope for these days. There is no leadership (Fed, State or City) to get this done.

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  2. Better chance of pigs flying then this project ever progressing.

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  3. This plan is very one sided in its attempt to solve the traffic problem, but doesn’t do much to enhance the experience and connectivity at street level from the neighborhoods to the lakefront. Throwing park space around a major freeway expansion plan doesn’t suffice as making the most of a great urban lakefront location in the city. A lot of heavy infrastructure is added that will act as a barrier to the lake and adversely affect any of the greenwash park space that is shown to disguise the proposed increase in roadway infrastructure. I’m all for downplaying LSD through this part of the city, but first we have to stop treating it like a sacred highway and realize it is a vestige of bad infrastructure planning akin to the pre-big dig in Boston or the Cahill Expressway in Sydney Harbour.

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