The Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront is a grassroots coalition to remove Lakeshore Drive from Grant Park, and eventually the entire Chicago shoreline.

Corking LSD

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Activists want park over drive

by Mark Lawton, Staff writer, "Skyline". Thursday, June 15, 2000

A group of 50 Chicago bicycling activists have a modest proposal for the city: Tear up Lake Shore Drive.

The Campaign for a Free and Clear Lake-Front aims to first remove LSD from Grant Park so "people can enjoy the space without the noise, danger and pollution associated with having an eight-lane superhighway in the middle of a public park."

The longer-term vision is to remove LSD from the Lakeshore completely. And its supporters date the origin of their adopted vision to the templates of modern Chicago.

"We want to make good on the original vision for the Chicago lake-front as a forever open, clear and free space," said Michael Burton, secretary of the campaign.

That vision started in 1936 when the Canal Commission was trying to raise money for the I and M canal, which would link the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River. The commission was charged with selling parcels of land in Chicago to raise money for the canal. "As a stroke of vision on their first map they wrote that the lakefront shall remain forever open, free and clear space" said Burton, 35, "with the idea it would be for the enjoyment of all Chicagoans as an open space."

Over the years that vision has been largely honered, with such exceptions as McCormick Place, Meigs Field and "perhaps the most egregious intrusion is Lake Shore Drive, which is the placement of an eight lane superhighway in the middle of a park space was to remain ever open, free and clear," said Burton.

The portion of Lake Shore Drive (part of state highway 41) that runs through Grant Park was completed in 1933 as president Franklin Roosevelt gave a foreign-policy address in 1937 at the dedication of the bridge over the Chicago River.

"The people who planned Lake Shore Drive built it more as a recreation drive," Tim Samuelson, curator of architecture at the Chicago Historical Society in Old Town, told Skyline. "It was not intended to be more of a superhighway but one where you could take a drive and see the beauty-scape to the east and the city skyline of the west and enjoy the breezes. Now, many people have forgotten it as a recreation drive and think of it as a commuting drive.

Moving Lake Shore Drive is a concept that isn't without recent precedent. In 1996, a stretch was moved west of the Field Museum, allowing it to form a "museum campus" (completed in 1998) with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. The cost was $90 million to move the roadway, plus another $25 million to construct the campus, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront is currently working on public relations and forming a coalition. Its logo reads "Chicago's Front Lawn/Depave Lake Shore Drive." Members plan to collect signatures for a petition to the City Council and are currently holding a competition for who can design a car free Grant Park. The winner will be announced at the Critical Mass Art Show in Feb 2001. (Critical Mass riders are known here for "corking" streets for en masse bicycle riders that sometimes dominate city streets to raise awareness of cyclists issues. Corking involves cyclists holding bicycles over their heads, which helps block intersections and allows approaching to see what is blocking the way.)

Events are planned, including a two-hour bicycle ride along the lakefront at noon Saturday, June 24, which leaves from Daley Plaza. [The "Burnham Vision Ride"] "We'll have Chicago's premier Daniel Burnham (turn of the century architect and city planner) impersonator, who will guide us through main challenges of the campaign as largely a matter of changing people's mindset. "People have been lulled into a sense of complacency," said Burton, who aims "to get people to see beyond their windshields," and see such negative consequences of driving cars as air pollution, congestion, dangers to pedestrians. A second goal is to develop infrastructure for alternative modes transit. Does Burton think this campaign has a chance to succeed?

"I do, I really do," said Burton. "Right now it may look like a daunting task, but this is an issue that resonates with people. Chicagoans really care about their lakefront. Once we can all coalesce around a vision, I would say Lake Shore Drive's days are numbered."

Craig Wolf, spokesman for city Transportation Department, sees differently.

"There is no compelling reason why we would want to pursue any altered roadway," said Wolfe. "We've taken a lot of measures to enhance the boulevard of Lake Shore Drive through Grant Park and Lincoln Park - with extensive landscaping and low speed limits. We think that balances the needs of the motoring public and park users.

"It's a vital roadway. It carries heavy traffic. It would put a lot of pressure on other streets."

"There will be some traffic diversion that goes west of the lakefront and some traffic abatement as well," says Burton, who suggests that there are better ways of carrying commuters including electric trolleys, bikeways and enhancing current public transport.

In the meantime, the campaign has its work cut out for it. The state recently concluded public hearings for $90 million in rebuilding of south Lake Shore Drive between McCormick Place and 67th street, scheduled to begin in 2002.