Seeing Red: What’s Up With That Stoplight On North Lake Shore Drive?
Stuck in traffic on North Lake Shore Drive after a long day working in the south suburbs, Erik Wood said he faced a problem that he’d love to eliminate if he ever had the power. The problem? The lone stoplight on North Lake Shore Drive near Chicago Avenue that slows the commutes of hundreds of thousands of drivers every day.
“If I were mayor of Chicago, it’s one of the things I would destroy immediately,” Wood said of his budding political platform.
This single stoplight has inspired a number of questions from Curious City fans who, like Wood, were presumably trapped in traffic thanks to this light. Those questions included: Does the light at LSD and Chicago Ave. cause or prevent more traffic? Others, like Wood, wanted to know why the stoplight operates during the evening rush hour and not during the morning rush hour.
Funny enough, city officials have asked their own questions about the stoplight. They’ve come up with proposed changes, but you might be waiting in traffic for a while.
When we brought these answers to Erik Wood, he seemed less than thrilled.
“Oh great, so by the time we have flying cars and teleportation, the city will have fixed the Chicago Avenue problem on Lake Shore Drive, which we won’t have to use anymore,” he said.
Wood said the city’s rationale for the stoplight — that it helps universities, hospitals, and people who work and live downtown — doesn’t make a lot of sense in a broader context.
“The city is sacrificing people who live and work in neighborhoods, from Old Town to Evanston, for a very small population that lives and works in Streeterville,” he said.
More about our questioners
Erik Wood, who is an auditor for a public accounting firm, grew up in west suburban Villa Park, which he likes to remind people is “home of the Ovaltine factory and Portillo's.”
When he lived in Chicago, he frequently traveled on Lake Shore Drive for work. He now lives in Des Moines, Iowa, where he says “the traffic is much better.”
Elissa Gitlow works at the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, where she researches and evaluates programs for at-risk youth and families. She moved to city 20 years ago and lives with her husband, son, and rescue dog. On most weekdays, Elissa’s commute takes her from the North Side to the South Side along Lake Shore Drive, a route that raised her awareness of the Chicago Avenue stoplight.
She says she loves Chicago’s lakefront, the local theater scene, and all of the great places for biking and dog walking. But she says there’s one thing she’d change to make the city more enjoyable.
“That would be to turn off the light at Lake Shore Drive and Chicago Avenue.”
Corrections: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized which direction of Lake Shore Drive's traffic can exit directly at Chicago Avenue. Only northbound traffic on North Lake Shore Drive can exit at the Chicago Avenue intersection. An earlier version of this article also mischaracterized what is graded by "level of service." A 2014 report refers to drivers' level of service when it comes to getting on or off of Lake Shore Drive at Chicago Avenue.