Proposal to bury some of Lake Shore Drive and create more parkland

Chicago’s lakefront parks are impressive and a new plan suggests they could be enhanced even further by putting some of Lake Shore Drive underground:

At its heart, the plan would straighten out and bury Lake Shore Drive’s tight and dangerous Oak Street S-bend and would provide unfettered pedestrian access to 70 acres of newly created lakefront parkland, beaches, trails, and a breakwater island. The improvements would buffer the roadway from the routine abuse dealt by crashing winter waves as well as fix the dysfunctional Chicago Avenue bottleneck by removing traffic signals and adding new interchange ramps.

With a price tag reaching as high as $500 million, the project would be hugely expensive and would require the cooperation of multiple local, state, and federal entities like the various Departments of Transportation and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Provided the massive undertaking is approved and funding can be secured, construction wouldn’t begin until at least the year 2020 and will likely take many years to complete.

The pictures look great (though they also include extending the beach even further into Lake Michigan). This could be a mini version of Boston’s “Big Dig” and that project turned out great for the aboveground landscape (based on several enjoyable experiences there in recent years). Additionally, the efforts to change the path of Lake Shore Drive around the Field Museum and Soldier Field (traffic used to split around these landmarks and now follows a single path further away from the lake) worked out.

While it is often better to do such large projects sooner than later as they only get more expensive and extend current problems, one could reasonably ask why it takes so long to bring up such ideas. Is it simply that it is often cheaper to think primarily of the road? Is it that planners in the past didn’t have sufficient foresight or that our standards of what is acceptable in terms of highways within cities has changed?

Seeing 1940s Chicago in a lost promotional film

Chicago, the #7 global city today, looked quite different in the 1940s in long-lost promotional footage:

In contrast to typical city promotional films, this video offers glimpses of downtown spots like Buckingham Fountain along with the city’s manufacturing plants and meat-packing facilities. The footage also comes with all sorts of statistics and facts. For example, Michigan Boulevard (now Michigan Avenue) carried more than 55,000 automobiles on an average day.

Based on the credits, it appears the video was produced by the Chicago Board of Education, with an assist from United Airlines (for the aerial shots). The release date of the film has also been pinned to between 1945 and 1946. John Howatt, credited as the Business Manager of the Board in the video, was elected on January 8, 1945, and Johnnie Neblett, the narrator, died on September 15, 1946.

Altman writes that he thinks the video was meant to attract people or companies to Chicago, or perhaps as a resource in the classroom. But according to DNAInfo, a spokesman from the Chicago Board of Education said that staff haven’t been able to find any reference to the film in its archives.

A few quick thoughts on seeing this film:

1. The tall buildings are quite different. One, there aren’t as many. Yes, Chicago was dense but it was more due to low-rises. Two, they don’t have the shine that we have come to associate with skyscrapers and instead tend to be covered in stone or masonry and are marked by pollution. (Blame the International Style, which bloomed in Chicago.)

2. The focus on industry is interesting. Manufacturing would have made up more of the economy at the time (Chicago, like many Rust Belt cities, lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the late 20th century) while the emphasis today is more on finance and services.

3. Some of the footage of Lake Shore Drive seems quaint as it appears to sometimes have two lanes each direction without many barriers between each side or the paths and sidewalks nearby. This was the era before major highways as we know them which were not completed in the Chicago region until the mid 1950s.

4. What is missing and can be found in pretty much any major city? Like any growth machine which wants to promote high-quality growth, this film omits the lower-class areas of the city. Chicago at the time had numerous poor neighborhoods including the Black Belt on the South Side which was the only place where blacks could live. These areas somehow didn’t make it in…

5. I wonder at times how much the less-than-high-def footage influences our interpretations of the past. Chicago looks fairly inviting in this film – bustling, beautiful lakefront, lots of nice buildings – yet it all looks so grainy. We’ve reduced this look to a filter on our Instagram accounts but it is hard to find the HD images that might help us make an apples-to-apples comparison of scenes.

Thoughts on plowing intersections, runs on bread, having places to turn around on major roads (like LSD), and more

Now that the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011 has stopped (though arctic wind chills are next), I have a few thoughts about the storm:

1. I drove home yesterday at about 4:45 PM. The roads weren’t too bad and the traffic was light – I assume this meant many people went home earlier. But there a problem in this sort of weather and any snow that always pops up: intersections that are difficult to move through. The roads can be quite passable but then everything bottles up at slushy intersections where people can’t start quickly and have great difficulty in turning. Someone needs to figure out a way to solve this problem. Would it be better to close an intersection for a minute or two so plows could do diagonal runs through the intersection square to clear snow? Are there people concerned about the science of plowing?

2. Why there was a run on bread in times like this is an interesting question to ponder. There are a lot of food one could buy before a storm hits that would be better in bread in that it would last longer and be more fulfilling. When did runs on bread begin and why do people still do this?

3. One of the stories in Chicago was the people who got stuck on in northbound traffic on Lake Shore Drive for hours. Why doesn’t every main road, particularly highways, have a certain number of points where people could turn around if a situation like this (or even a major crash in regular conditions) occurs? Lake Shore Drive has a number of exits in this area but those were blocked with crashes as well. Concrete barriers are helpful in separating traffic but this is an issue that someone should solve.

4. The warnings the police and state officials were giving overnight and this morning were intriguing that they must have to give these warnings because there are people who go out driving in such conditions when they don’t have to. This morning, one official suggested that if people wanted to go out, they needed to consider whether they were willing to risk their lives. This seems like common sense – but perhaps it is not.

5. When I woke up at 7:30 AM, the street in our residential subdivision wasn’t bad – perhaps 5-6 inches of snow. By 12:30 PM, a plow had done several runs on the street and it was clear. I was tempted to go drive and see what everything looks like but see point #4 above.

6. The blizzard is over – the total snowfall was the third biggest storm in Chicago history. Now it is time for the bitter cold. In the grand scheme of things, is the extreme cold more dangerous to more people than the blizzard conditions and the snow?