Earlier this year, Las Vegas-based planner and engineer (“planengineer”) and YouTuber Ray Delehanty, aka CityNerd, did a great job of identifying exactly what makes Chicago a great place to live. In the video “Affordable Cities: 10 U.S. Metro Areas With Underrated Livability, Walkability, and Transportation,” he looked at “which are the most affordable [cities over 250,000 people] to live in the US, but where good prices intersect with things city lovers care about: public amenities, culture, sports, walkability, bikeability and transit service.” He put Chicago first.
However, in a new clip, Delehanty is equally astute to identify one of the very ones worst things about living in Chicago: the fact that we walled off our beautiful waterfront with an eight-lane freeway. In the video “Highway Engineering Madness: 10 Waterfront Freeways That Need to Go (North America Edition),” he presents a rogue’s gallery of cities that squandered their coastlines to make driving more convenient, and Chicago once again tops the list.
“Waterfronts and riverfronts: In the world’s truly great cities, these are super-valued, unique locations, places where you’ll find incredible views, great recreation, dense housing, tourism (perhaps too much tourism), but really you’ll find everything,” says City Nerd and wise inspiring images of Rio and (I think) Copenhagen.
“However, for some cities, it’s just a very convenient place to put a freeway,” he adds. “From a highway engineering perspective, locating highways along waterfronts and riverfronts just makes sense: coastlines are typically flat, require no structures or tunnels, and the natural barriers of a river, lake or ocean mean fewer crossing conflicts. It’s a highway engineer’s dream. But traffic engineering does not always (or usually) take into account competing goals we may have for waterfronts, such as active and recreational uses or dense mixed-use development.”
Here is his hall of shame in this department:
- Gardiner Expressway (Toronto)
- I-278/Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) (Brooklyn Heights)
- I-5 (Portland)
- Storrow Drive (Boston)
- I-5 (Sacramento)
- I-787 (Albania)
- I-64 (Louisville)
- I-76 (Philadelphia)
- I-95 (Philly)
- I-5 (San Diego)
- I-705 (Tacoma)
- FDR Drive (New York)
- I-190 (Buffalo)
- I-580 (Berkeley / East Bay)
- I-376 (Pittsburgh)
- DuSable Lake Shore Drive (Chicago)
- I-91 (Hartford)
- I-293 (Manchester)
- I-25 (Denver)
- Hwy 315 (Columbus)
Delehany saves the worst for last, DuSable Lake Shore Drive. “It sounds like it could be some kind of tree-lined boulevard,” he says. “Er, it’s a drive, not a highway. But make no mistake, outside of a short segment where it runs [by] Millenium and Grant parks, it’s a highway. What sit [Dusable] Lake Shore Drive above is just the land use. A great green strip of beaches and parks, up and down the bank on the east side of the road, and tons of density and great views on the west side. It practically runs the length of the city, almost all on grade, as if to maximize the noise, the air pollution and the physical barrier of the lakefront.”
He notes that occasional tunnels under the highway do provide access to the coastline for people on foot and by bicycle. “I don’t know who’s going to be excited to use it.”
“Chicagoans, weigh in, do the existence of [DuSable] Lake Shore Drive bothers you?” asked Delehany. “Or have you just sort of convinced yourself it’s not that bad? I’m interested in hearing from people who have to live with it.”
The good news is that we do not have to live with eight lanes of car traffic. The North DuSable Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project could very well result in two of the eight lanes being converted to bus-only lanes – if enough residents make it clear that’s our preference. And many advocates insist on a bold vision, to transform the drive into a human-scale surface boulevards, with excess mixed-traffic lanes converted to more space for transportation, walking, cycling, and green space.
It’s time for Chicagoans to stop letting our massive lakefront highway serve as a national embarrassment to our city.