We’ll believe them when we see them: 3 city projects we’re still waiting on

[From The A.V. Club Chicago / August 14, 2009]

After years of discussion, the CTA announced this week it would begin accepting proposals for the long-rumored extensions to the Red, Orange, and Yellow Lines. While this is just the first in a series of increasingly complicated steps toward the project’s completion, the prospect stands to at least partially vindicate the hopes of transit advocates throughout the city. In the spirit of advancing the dialogue, The A.V. Club ponders the fate of some of its own most longed-for municipal improvements.

Raised Bike Lanes

As part of the city’s wide-reaching Bike 2015 Plan, a new kind of road addition was proposed where bike-only lanes would be raised above street level while remaining below sidewalk level. These would effectively create a true dedicated bicycle lane—one theoretically shielded from cars passing to riders’ left, pedestrians, and opening doors to the right, plus buses creeping up from the rear.

First Proposed: September 2005

Likelihood of Completion: Slim. The Chicago Department of Transportation and the Active Transportation Alliance set out to identify three to five potential locations for raised lanes in 2006 and test two or three in 2010; to date, the group has yet to find even one suitable test area.

The Circle Line

To counterbalance the Loop-centric design of the El, the CTA has occasionally floated the idea of fitting a concentric circle of tracks onto its current rail system. The new line would run south from the North/Clybourn “super station,” along Ashland and through the Paulina Connector which currently carries the Pink Line. Trains would then head south and east towards the Ashland Orange Line station, filling out the namesake shape (although really forming more of a crescent moon). Besides easier airport access, the wider-reaching trains would also alleviate much of the dreaded passenger congestion in downtown stations by providing alternate transit routes and spreading out transfer points throughout the system, not to mention cutting down cross-town travel times considerably.

First Proposed: June 2002

Likelihood of Completion: Not impossible, but the estimated $3 billion price tag hasn’t helped it. Chicago’s Olympic dream seemed like the surest way to acquire federal funding for the project, but the bid’s exclusion of the Circle Line suggests someone deemed it unworthy of the investment. This past March, Sen. Dick Durbin wrangled $8 million from the federal stimulus bill to advance the project, but $8 million is still just planning money. It’s the Chinese Democracy of CTA plans—can Durbin be the Buckethead of urban planning?

The New and Improved Lakefront

Chicagoans will argue over nearly anything about their city, but few will dispute the lakefront’s role in making this city worthwhile. The improvised, wood-based design of the flood-preventing walls along the shore left the Lake Michigan coastline in disarray by the mid-’70s, their wood and stone structures crumbling into the water below. With a combined budget between city, state, and federal governments of $301 million for use on repairs and upgrades, the Chicago Department of Environment, Chicago Park District, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled the Chicago Shoreline Protection Project, intended to stem the environmental (and aesthetic) problems caused by the decaying lakefront structures. Evidence of the project-in-progress can be seen in the closed sections of the concrete steps just north of Fullerton and in the ever-present construction equipment between Montrose and Lawrence, their continued existence stemming from federal funding issues pushing project completion out from 2005 to 2010.

First Proposed: October 1996

Likelihood of Completion: Guaranteed, but exactly when is anyone’s guess. Rebuilding a lakeshore is no small task, but 13 years (and counting) feels like a long time to complete anything, regardless of scale.