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McCaffery Interests rendering of the USX site, including a possible South Shore Drive reconfiguration.

[This piece also appeared in "Checkerboard City", John's weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Earlier this month Mayor Emanuel held a press conference at the former U.S. Steel South Works (USX) site, a weed-strewn piece of vacant land bigger than the central Loop, bulging into Lake Michigan from 79th to 92nd. He was there to herald the construction of a new $21 million, four-lane boulevard that will run two miles through the site, intended as the future main street of the proposed Chicago Lakeside Development.

Real estate developer McCaffery Interests hopes to build this upscale community with roughly 13,575 housing units, 17,500,000 square feet of retail and a 1,500-boat marina on the 589-acre site over the next few decades. “This [roadway] effort is part of a push to connect a forgotten, landlocked section of the Southeast Side of Chicago to the rest of the city, increasing its economic value,” Emanuel said. “What was once an eyesore will become an economic engine.”

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Model of the proposed development at the Lakeside headquarters on the USX site.

In a press release, McCaffery bills the new boulevard as “Lake Shore Drive’s two-mile extension,” a phrase that raised my eyebrows since the eight-lane superhighway actually ends two miles northwest of the USX site. In reality, the roadway project simply involves relocating U.S. Route 41, a signed highway that winds 2,000 miles from Miami to the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The route does include Lake Shore Drive (LSD), but south of the freeway it currently zigzags on smaller surface roads on the way to Indiana. After the boulevard opens to traffic later this year, Route 41 will be moved to the four-lane, simplifying navigation and adding capacity.

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Lakeside project manager Nasutsa Mabwa by the existing roadbed.

Is calling the new roadway an LSD extension just a marketing strategy, implying that future Lakeside residents would be able to zoom all the way up to the Loop on a high-speed freeway? “Not really because if you follow the route from the drive and then on streets down to the site you’ll see signs for U.S. 41 the whole way,” argues Lakeside project manager Nasutsa Mabwa. But she concedes, “We’re calling it that for our project because we need it to be identified with the larger boulevard.”

McCaffery hopes the improved access will encourage retailers to open on the USX site, paving the way for the future housing development. “We’ve had interest from grocers and big-box stores,” says Mabwa. “But they’ve all asked us the same question, ‘We’re ready to go, we like your project, when’s the road going in?’”

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McCaffery rendering showing future transportation routes at Lakeside.

The developer is promoting Lakeside as a high-tech, environmentally friendly community with multiple transportation options. The USX site is located near several existing Metra commuter rail stops, and renderings of the future development show multiple bicycle paths and CTA bus routes, and list streetcars and water taxis as other potential modes. Bike racing enthusiasts led by luxury pet goods mogul Emanuele Bianchi want to build the Chicago Velo Campus, an indoor racetrack and multisport complex, as the centerpiece of the development, and last summer they erected a temporary outdoor track on the site at 8615 S. Burley.

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The temporary velodrome – photo courtesy of Chicago Velo Campus.

At the recent press conference Richard Tomlinson from Lakeside’s architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill promised, “Next generation transit and walkable neighborhoods will make it possible to live in Lakeside without having to own a car.” In keeping with the sustainability goals, the new boulevard will incorporate several green elements. The project includes permeable parking lanes to drain storm water, and a CTA bus turnaround, plus better pedestrian access to Rainbow Park, located just north of the USX site.

There will be conventional bike lanes on the northern section of the boulevard; south of 87th, where a section of roadway was already completed a few years ago with a narrower cross-section, there will instead be an off-street side path for bikes. Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) engineer John Sadler says it’s an interesting project to manage. “Being able to build a roadway where one doesn’t currently exist is an opportunity you don’t often get in Chicago,” he says.

Active Transportation Alliance’s
Lee Crandell says the advocacy group encouraged CDOT to include the bike and pedestrian accommodations and he’s glad McCaffery is proposing a community with good access to sustainable transportation. “That speaks well of the future of the site and we’d like to see them to take it as far as they can,” he says.

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Park #523 was built a few years ago on the USX site at 87th and the lakefront but is not yet open to the public.

On the other hand, the development could bring some 20,000 new residents and thousands of additional cars to the Southeast Side, which might create pressure to actually extend the superhighway. South Shore Drive, the neighborhood street that connects the south end of LSD to the northwest corner of the USX site, is mostly a two-lane roadway. “As the development increases in density you’ll have to make sure you’re addressing all points of access,” says Mabwa. “Right now you have one lane southbound and one lane northbound, so there’s a little bit of a pinch there. That’s a future issue that has to be addressed.”

It would be difficult to add lanes to South Shore without razing dozens of existing structures, including apartments buildings and expensive lakefront homes. That might have been an option during the Urban Renewal era, when Mayor Richard J. Daley bulldozed entire neighborhoods to make room for expressways, but it wouldn’t fly nowadays. However, a McCaffery rendering appears to show South Shore transformed into a two-lane, one-way northbound street, with Exchange Avenue, the next major roadway to the west, converted to a one-way southbound.

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The former shipping canal at the USX site.

Is this a realistic scenario? “There’s a limited right-of-way on South Shore so they’re going to have to come up with some kind of creative concept,” Mabwa says. “So relocating traffic two ways going south and two ways going north definitely has to be explored.” Sadler says he’s unaware of any plans by CDOT to modify South Shore to accommodate more cars, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility. “Any future traffic improvements on South Shore Drive will be dependent upon increased traffic demands,” he says.

Sustainable transportation advocate Michael Burton, whose Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront put out an only-half-joking call for completely “de-paving” LSD in the late 2000s, applauds the green aspects of the Lakeside proposal and says he’s relieved that the new four-lane boulevard won’t literally extend the superhighway to the USX site. But he cautions against changing South Shore to accommodate more motor vehicles in the future. “Urban planning that facilitates increased car traffic is 50 years behind the times,” he says. “Urban landscapes should be cherished, not raced through.”

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  • Jason Marshall

    From a pedestrian point of view:

    I would be interested in learning more about the handful of private parcels that separate the current south end of the lakefront path (by the south shore cultural center / golf course) and rainbow beach.  Their existence is obviously contrary to Burnham’s vision of an uninterrupted public lakefront. 

    If public access was extended through this section I think it might be possible to one day have a passage from the north all the way to Calumet park (once the USS site is redeveloped).

    Is there an president for using eminent domain on issues such as this?

    • Jared Kachelmeyer

      Of course you could just add fill to the lake in front of those parcels like much of the rest of the lakefront was created.

      • Jason Marshall

         or build a fly-over :)

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          Speaking of flyovers, CDOT wants to replace the flyover at Belmont and Western with 6 lanes of surface Western Avenue.

          • Aaron Brown

            A true six lanes or 4 through lanes plus turn lanes? Not saying I’m a fan of either, but the latter isn’t terribly different from the rest of the street.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

       When I spoke to Lee Crandell from Active Trans he said they support extending the Lakefront Trail to the Indiana border in conjunction with the Lakeside development, although it’s not clear yet how this could be accomplished.

      Friends of the Park has been advocating extending the lakefront parks north and south to the city borders: http://fotp.org/programs/the-last-four-miles-completing-chicagos-lakefront-park-system/last-4-miles. There was strong community resistance to this idea in Rogers Park, a lot of it based on worries that LSD would be extended north as part of an infill project, although FOP claims that extending the drive north is off the table.

      Good question. Using eminent domain to create public shoreline, as opposed to building expressways through neighborhoods, seems like an appropriate use of this strategy.

      • http://fotp.org/programs/the-last-four-miles-completing-chicagos-lakefront-park-system/last-4-miles Tim Jeffries

        To add on to what John said:  the Friends of the Parks does NOT recommend extending north Lake Shore Drive as part of the Last Four Miles plan.  While seeing the lakefront park system expanded is one of our top priorities, we would not sacrifice the neighborhood character of Rodgers Park nor the natural beauty of Lake Michigan by shoehorning a northern extension between the existing residences and future lakefill projects.  Our final planning document reflects a vision of uninterrupted park space from Ardmore Avenue to Evanston without an extension of Lake Shore Drive.

        As for a southern extension of Lake Shore, we would need to better understand the potential impact on the existing neighborhoods as well as how it would interface with the lakefront parks that would be created as part of the development.  We would unquestionably reject any proposed extension that would hug the coast of Lake Michigan through the USX site. Tim JeffriesDirector of Planning and PolicyFriends of the Parks

        • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

          Thanks for the additional info Tim.

        • Jason Marshall

          Now that State Line Power plant is closing I would love to see a CPD / Whiting, IN partnership installing a pedestrian path along the railroad tracks there to connect Cal Park with Whiting Beach.   Hell, Maybe the Horseshoe Casino could foot the bill as part of their ‘community involvement’ efforts.

          • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

            Can you draw your path idea on a Google My Map?

          • Jason Marshall

             Those mapping features don’t seem to work on this (locked-down work) computer.  I have attached a static screen shot.  I have used this (probably illegal) route dozens of times.  There is a gravel path that goes along the tracks that dumps you out into the Casino’s parking lot.  If you follow this you will hit Whiting Beach and the Whihala bike trail.
            This is my route to HW 12 for trips to SW Michigan.  I personally prefer this to the more popular Burnham trail.

  • Fbfree

    I really would like to see a public transportation plan for this development.  I don’t see how the bus lines on a map (some spaced less than 1000ft apart) transform into usable frequent transit service.  From a planning perspective, it begs the question whether the densest redevelopment should be moved off of the lakefront and closer to the existing infrastructure around the South Chicago line and on the inland side of the new boulevard.

    Sorry, stronger language is required.  The plans for this development are trying to delude everyone into thinking that this will not be a car dependent development.  The only real transportation plan that has been already made (but not yet thought through) is the construction of a wide fast auto boulevard with straw men being used for the alternatives.

  • guest

    Cynically and as someone who drives South Shore Drive, the two lane straw in this proposal, regularly to get to lsd i dont think this is about a highway. This project will put at least 6 high speed lanes between a crappy… well my crappy neighborhood and the gleaming new boulevards of the lakeside development. Kind of makes me think of this huge street in LA that did the same thing, what was it called, it was on the news in the 90s alot, just cant remember….

    South Shore drive is impossible to get down during certain parts of the day. And there is no way it could handle the stress of another 1,000 driving residents all going the same direction. There are two busy schools at the south end and an equally busy school at its north end. The next street over, Exchange has a metra line passing through it, so unless its getting elevated there’s no room.

    Put a FREE cable car down Commerical(old tracks should still be there), Burley and/or Ave O, and whatever other big NS street your going to build with connecting tracks on big cross streets. All loop to the large and colorful public trans station your going to build on 79th, from here Lakesiders can walk to the metra or take a bus downtown. Its green, its quaint, and you can still exclude the current neighborhood in your plans

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

       No joke, I think frequent ferry service to the Loop might be the most realistic (and fun) transportation solution for Lakeside.

      • joejoejoe

        I don’t think it is feasible for winter work commuting. Chicago Water Taxi and Wendella Boat Rides suspend operations in winter months. NYC water taxis can operate year-round due to salt water having a lower freezing point.

        • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

           Right, thanks for the reality check. Perhaps snowmobile taxi service on the frozen lake?

          • John Wirtz

             hovercraft

          • joejoejoe

             More employers on the far South Side is probably the best solution for all involved. Long commutes are terrible for your health no matter what mode you use.

          • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

             Unless you’ve got a long walking or bike commute – then it’s good for your health.

          • joejoejoe

            Walking and biking commuters get stress from the time associated with the commute. If you have an hour walk to work it is healthy in the abstract but it also makes an 8 hour work day into a 10 hour day with no options. One of the best things you can do for your health is live close to your work.

            Then use the time you save to bike or walk for fun!

          • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

             I beg to differ. When I worked at the Hyde Park Herald newspaper and lived in Wicker Park, having a built-in 45-minute lakefront bike commute each way was one of the things I enjoyed about the job. Being close to work is great, but nowadays when I work at the bicycle shop around the corner from my house in Logan Square, ironically, I often don’t get any bike commuting in.

            Since I like to get some kind of physical activity in every day, this means I usually wind up going for a walk or a jog around the neighborhood, or a gratuitous bike ride to the lake. But if a bike commute was built in, I wouldn’t have to schedule time to get physical activity, let alone pay for a gym membership. So in a sense, having a reasonably long walking or bike commute is a time, money and stress saver.

          • joejoejoe

            I’m happy that is true in your case! I have also had commutes in the past that had positive effects. In general though there is a high correlation between the length of your commute and your happiness. A person that is on their feet all day at work might not need the exercise of a walk or biking commute. Another may have other scheduled activities that would be difficult and stressful to accomplish with a lengthy (by time) commute. Gallup did a survey on commuting time and well being – see link below. It’s a pretty robust survey, with more than 170,000 participants.

            http://www.gallup.com/poll/142142/Wellbeing-Lower-Among-Workers-%20Long-Commutes.aspx

          • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

            Question for the survey (before I take a look): Does it distinguish commute time and commute modes?

          • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

             Unless you’ve got a long walking or bike commute – then it’s good for your health.

          • joejoejoe

             I can’t find the mode breakdown for the large Gallup survey on health and commutes. I think they charge for that information. Below is the breakdown from another Gallup commuter survey that gives you # of commuters by mode but not correlated to health.

            I’m not disputing that a long walk or bike is much healthier than driving. I do believe that even avid healthy walkers or bicyclists would happier having a short commute vs. a long commute.

            http://www.gallup.com/poll/28504/Workers-Average-Commute-RoundTrip-Minutes-Typical-Day.aspx

  • joejoejoe

    The perspective in the McCaffery Interests rendering of the USX site looks warped. That development is a long, long way from downtown. I believe you are closer to Gary, IN from the USX site than you are from the Loop. See attached photograph of the site from the website Forgotten Chicago.http://forgottenchicago.com/articles/south-works/

    • Alison Schenady

      It is warped if Gary looks closer than the Loop. On a good day w/ no traffic, it takes about 25 minutes to get to the Loop from USX down the drive.

      • joejoejoe

         Here is a rough map of all three points. Depending on where you put the map pins the site is about 11 miles as the crow flies from the Loop and from Gary, IN.

        http://g.co/maps/4uyzm

  • John Wirtz

    “Is calling the new roadway an LSD extension just a marketing strategy,
    implying that future Lakeside residents would be able to zoom all the
    way up to the Loop on a high-speed freeway?”

    Yes

  • Kingdufus

    What are they planning for the lakefront.

    I agree with guest that connection to the Illinois Central would be the way to go. Driving north on Lake Shore Drive in the morning is horrible.

  • Janice Minton kutz

    This new development at former US Steel site is a lovely and optimistic approach to that area. With the economy still going down, I think it is going to take many decades to bring it to fruition.  In the meantime, why not clean up a section close to the water and make a temporary park for all to enjoy? The concerts will continue and the land really needs to be remediated…..

    • Jason Marshall

       That sounds pretty sensible to me.

  • lakeside

    take a look at this flier for more info on Lakeside

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

       Interesting. I haven’t heard much about opposition to Lakeside. When was this flyer created?

  • Melb

    Just curious that John Pope, the SE side alderman is the sole alderman appointed to the board to oversee the infastructure  trust fund.  Just wondering how much property the alderman  (or any group he’s affiliated with) has purchased in the last twelve months or so……

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