Despite its popularity, this site is isolated. From Millennium Park, most people walk east on Upper Randolph and hit a dead end. Only the most determined and able-bodied find their way to the lake, down a steep dark staircase several hundred feet behind them and under Lake Shore Drive’s two upper levels. The vast majority give up in confusion and turn back. From Navy Pier and the north, bikers and pedestrians must climb narrow ramps and crowd along a walkway on Outer Drive Bridge, which is both hard to find and the site of daily injuries. Development of New East Side, the site of Chicago’s tallest residential towers, requires an immediate solution to this bottleneck. The city’s current plans, the Flyover and Cascade Park, are band-aids which shy away from the root problem: Lake Shore Drive.
Access to the lake isn’t just a question of better signage. It’s a matter of priority – and right now, residents and visitors in the north harbor are subordinate to commuters speeding through in cars. Lake Shore Drive was redeveloped in 1982, becoming an elevated multi-level expressway in this critical zone. It is both a dangerous obstacle and visual barrier between the lakefront and downtown Chicago.
Our design levels the field for pedestrians in the north harbor. A continuous park and bike trail connects Upper East Randolph and Dusable Park with clear views of Lake Michigan and the downtown skyline. Lake Shore Drive traffic remains on its existing surface level and lower deck of Outer Drive Bridge, while the upper deck is transformed into parkland. (The highway has an open arcade facing the lake, similar to Carl Schurz Park on Manhattans’s Upper East Side.) Cancer Survivors Garden and a new ramp alongside Lake Shore Drive provide accessible routes between the upper and lower park terraces, as well as elevators within the park’s stair towers. We enhanced Cancer Survivors Garden with a Garden Theatre: broad landscaped terraces, reflecting pools, and a colonnade of cypress trees screening Lake Shore Drive’s tunnel entrance. A streetcar line will shuttle visitors along East Randolph, from Millennium Station at Michigan Avenue to a new water taxi and ferry terminal on the lake. The existing tunnel between the Riverwalk and Lakefront trail is preserved. Local residents and tourists will finally have a spacious, intuitive, and beautiful route between downtown, the Museum Campus, and Navy Pier – without the noise and peril of an over-designed expressway blocking their path.