Here’s Where The Effort To Rename Lake Shore Drive Stands — And What It Could Cost

Lake Shore Drive
Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago's most iconic roadways. Two city aldermen are pushing to rename the road after a Black explorer considered the city's founding father, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable. But the mayor is offering alternative honorariums. R Boed / Flickr
Lake Shore Drive
Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago's most iconic roadways. Two city aldermen are pushing to rename the road after a Black explorer considered the city's founding father, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable. But the mayor is offering alternative honorariums. R Boed / Flickr

Here’s Where The Effort To Rename Lake Shore Drive Stands — And What It Could Cost

The aldermen behind the effort to rename Lake Shore Drive are not backing down despite the fact the mayor is pushing an alternative proposal and remains opposed to renaming one of the city’s most well-known roadways.

Southwest Side Ald. David Moore, 17th Ward, and South Side Ald. Sophia King, 4th Ward, have been fighting to rename the Drive “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Drive” to honor the man who was the first non-Native resident in Chicago, and known to many as the city’s founding father.

The effort to honor DuSable has been fraught with tension between aldermen and the mayor’s office that came to a head at a dramatic committee meeting in April, and a full council meeting last week where an opposing alderman used a last-minute parliamentary maneuver to abruptly stop and delay any debate or vote on the measure.

But the ordinance is not going away, its supporters promise. And aldermen are set to vote on it at a council meeting in a few weeks. Still, questions remain about just what the proposal would cost and who it would affect.

Here’s what WBEZ found.

How much would it cost to rename Lake Shore Drive?

That’s the question many have asked, but the answer’s been somewhat elusive.

According to a February analysis shared with aldermen from the three transportation agencies that would be involved, renaming Lake Shore Drive would cost at least $853,500.

But the analysis only included costs related to signage, and in the case of the CTA, related to re-recording announcements for buses routed along Lake Shore Drive. This is a rough estimate, agencies warn.

“This estimate may significantly increase in cost if larger sign panels and new overhead sign structures are needed, as may be the case with the longer legend required to display ‘Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Drive,’ ” a memo from the Illinois Department of Transportation reads.

Moore said he was mistaken about a $2.5 million estimate he initially gave to some media outlets. The Chicago Department of Transportation has not responded to requests for clarifications related to DuSable, including potential address changes.

An alternative proposal from the mayor, in which she proposed improving the existing DuSable Park and renaming the Riverwalk after the explorer, among other items, would cost $40 million. The mayor estimated three quarters of that money would be public dollars from the Park District’s budget, with the rest from corporate funding.

Would the change affect any residential or commercial addresses?

This is perhaps the stickiest question of all.

Supporters have repeatedly contended that the name change will not impact residents along Lake Shore Drive, because the change would be only to the outer, non-residential portion. Most residential buildings along Lake Shore Drive sit on an inner, frontage street.

An analysis shared with aldermen from the Chicago Department of Transportation confirms this, stating that only buildings on the museum campus, McCormick Place and a few park district locations would have to change their address.

But downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward, who opposes the measure and helped delay it in council last week, points to at least five residential buildings along Lake Shore Drive that are not situated on the residential, frontage road.

Proponents like King have unsuccessfully tried to assure Hopkins that these residents could keep Lake Shore Drive as their mailing address, even though the name of the road would be DuSable Drive.

“To say they’re not affected by losing the roadway that their address is named after is just pure nonsense,” Hopkins retorted. “It affects deliveries. It affects GPS directions, it affects telling people where you live and how to get to your house. It would have a profound impact to have your mailing address not reflect the road that you live on.”

What would the mayor’s alternate proposal do?

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been careful not to declare she’s opposed to the renaming, but has reiterated she wants a more interactive and educational tribute to DuSable.

Her proposal, which she announced last week a day after the renaming proposal was delayed in council, includes commissioning local public art that would line Chicago’s Riverwalk (to be dubbed the DuSable Riverwalk); completing the unfinished DuSable Park near Navy Pier; and creating an annual DuSable Fest.

“Having something permanent is really, to me, important. But the difference between what we’re proposing and just renaming a street is we intend to activate those areas of the Riverwalk with year round programming to educate both tourists but also our residents about who DuSable was,” the mayor said recently.

It’s unclear whether aldermen will prefer Lightfoot’s proposal over DuSable Drive, or if they even have to choose. King and Moore have said they see Lightfoot’s plan as a complement, not opposing plan, to theirs.

Hopkins said he hasn’t seen much excitement around the mayor’s Riverwalk proposal.

“The mayor’s idea about renaming the Riverwalk doesn’t really seem to be generating much enthusiasm,” he said. “But she’s got the right idea as far as proposing an alternative that would accomplish the goal of honoring both DuSable and his wife. … We can accomplish that goal, and we can do it without changing the name of an iconic roadway.”

What happens next?

The parliamentary maneuver that Hopkins used during May’s council meeting allows any two aldermen to “defer and publish” an ordinance, delaying an immediate vote, but assuring the measure will get a vote at the following council meeting.

King and Moore both say they’re confident they hold the number of votes needed to pass the ordinance, which they claim to have had at the initial council meeting in May. If passed, the mayor could still veto the measure.

Lightfoot has said certain pieces of her proposal will need council approval, but her office has not responded to questions about which pieces she’s referring to, or when she will attach an official ordinance to her plan.

Whether the mayor’s proposal represents the will of the people remains to be seen. But a recent poll conducted by WGN does shed some light on where Chicagoans stand on renaming the drive. Just 36.6% of respondents said they’re in favor, compared to 41.5% who said the street should remain Lake Shore Drive, according to the news outlet.

Those survey results show that opposition is highest among white Chicagoans — with 55% of white respondents opposed, compared to 31% of Black respondents and 36% of Hispanic or Latino respondents.

This story has been updated to include the racial breakdown of the WGN survey results.

Mariah Woelfel covers city government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.