Earlier this year, Las Vegas-based planner and engineer (“planner”) and YouTuber Ray Delehanty, aka CityNerd, did a great job of pinpointing what makes Chicago a great place to live. In the video “Affordable Cities: 10 Underrated U.S. Metro Areas for Liveability, Walkability, and Transit,” he looked at “which are the most affordable [cities over 250,000 people] to live in the U.S., but where good prices intersect with the things city lovers care about: public amenities, culture, sports, walkability, bikeability, and transit. He ranked Chicago first.
But in the new clip, Delehanty also cleverly identifies one of her own The worst things about living in Chicago: the fact that we’ve enclosed our beautiful lakefront with an eight-lane highway. 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 have squandered their waterfronts to make driving easier, with Chicago once again at the top of the list.
“Coasts and riverfronts: in really great cities around the world, these are great value, unique places, places with incredible views, great recreation, dense housing, tourism (maybe too much tourism), but I’m sure I’ll find it all,” says City Nerd , showing inspiring images of Rio and (I think) Copenhagen.
“But in some cities, they’re just a very convenient place to put a freeway,” he adds. “From a highway engineering perspective, placing highways along waterfronts and rivers makes sense: shorelines are generally flat, require no structures or tunnels, and natural river, lake, or ocean barriers mean fewer crossing conflicts.” It’s a highway engineer’s dream. However, traffic engineering does not always (or usually) take into account the 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 section:
- Gardiner Expressway (Toronto)
- I-278/Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) (Brooklyn Heights)
- I-5 (Portland)
- Storrow Drive (Boston)
- I-5 (Sacramento)
- I-787 (Albany)
- 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 on DuSable’s Lake Shore Drive. “It looks like it could be some sort of tree-lined boulevard,” he says. “Hey, this is a drive, not a highway. But don’t stray beyond the short segment it runs on [by] Millennium and Grant parks, it’s a freeway. Who puts [Dusable] Lake Shore Drive above the top is land use only. A fantastic green belt of beaches and parks, up and down the coast on the east side of the road, and density and great views on the west side. It stretches practically across the city, almost completely level, as if to maximize noise, air pollution and physical barrier from the lake shore.
He notes that sometimes the tunnels under the highway actually provide access to the shore for people on foot and by bike. “I don’t know who will be happy to use it.”
“Chicagoans, weigh in, exist [DuSable] Lake Shore Drive bothering you? Delehany asks. “Or did you just make sure it wasn’t that bad?” I’m interested to hear from people who have to live with it.
The good news is that we don’t do have to live with eight lanes of traffic. A reconstruction project on North DuSable Lake Shore Drive could 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 are pushing for a bolder vision of turning driving into human-scale surface boulevards, turning excess mixed-use lanes into more space for transit, walking, biking and green space.
It’s time for Chicagoans to stop letting our massive lakefront highway become a national embarrassment to our city.