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… And How to Make Chicago Even Better

Yes, the city is great—but it has problems too. Good thing it’s bursting with innovative people who have lots of ideas about how to fix them. Here are six. PLUS: Share your views on these ideas—or propose your own—in the comments below

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Interviews by Marcia Froelke Coburn, David Lepeska, Graham Meyer, and Karen Springen

Illustration by Cristiana Couceiro

BIG IDEA 1: Implement creative solutions to Chicago’s traffic headaches.

FOR THE 99 PERCENT: Revamp Lake Shore Drive.
Adding lanes for bus rapid transit, electric vehicles, and bicycles would significantly reduce congestion—and carbon emissions.
THE PROPONENT: Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund, a cycling advocacy foundation set up by the Chicago-based bike part manufacturer SRAM, and a board member of the Active Transportation Alliance
HE SAYS: “Forget billion-dollar megaprojects such as monorails. We don’t need to build an expensive new system to unclog the Drive and give everyone a guaranteed quick ride up and down the lakefront.

“Instead the city could create two specialized lanes at minimal cost. One should be for a bus rapid transit system, which is essentially a train system without rails. Rapid transit buses—already operating in places like Bogotá, Colombia—move rapidly. They don’t bog down in traffic like express buses do. And riders pay at stations instead of as they board, which is more efficient. The bus lane would be closest to the median strip. Then there would be a lane for bikes and for light electric vehicles, such as electric assist cargo bikes and solar-charged scooters. Two traditional car lanes would be on the right, where drivers could use the off ramps easily.

“Just imagine: Chicago could be the first city in the world with an express lane—on our signature road!—dedicated to emerging green urban mobility. There are big economic benefits to a Lake Shore Drive that attracts tourists, that serves residents who choose not to drive, and that is 100 percent reliable, regardless of events and weather. And all this could be done within five years.”

FOR THE 1 PERCENT: Bring back helicopter service.
THE RATIONALE: The best way to beat traffic is to fly over it.
THE PROPONENT: Joseph Schwieterman, professor of public service at DePaul University and author of Beyond Burnham: An Illustrated History of Planning for the Chicago Region
HE SAYS: “New York City has an active downtown heliport, but Chicago hasn’t had one since Meigs Field was shuttered in 2003. From 1956 through the mid-1970s, a company called Chicago Helicopter Airways offered frequent flights from Meigs Field to O’Hare (initially just $5 each way) and to Midway. Choppers also once linked Winnetka and Gary, Indiana, to the airports. Service was suspended because of a spike in fuel prices, a recession, and concerns about safety.

“But helicopters today are quieter and safer; the soon-to-be-available Bell/Agusta AW609, a fast-flying tiltrotor using military technology, will be able to fly longer distances too. So let’s put landing pads at the end of Navy Pier, at McCormick Place, at the Illinois Medical District, and near the Museum Campus’s Northerly Island (once the site of Meigs Field). Then anyone willing to pay $100 to $125 each way (less if traveling with three or more other passengers) could bypass the congestion.”

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