As evident from our last installment of ‘Lost Legends’ showcasing the Prentice Women’s Hospital, once-celebrated designs may reveal impracticalities as functional demands evolve. While not “legendary” in a traditional sense, the story of the construction and later removal of DuSable Lake Shore Drive’s zig-zag ‘S’ curve conveys a similar notion of a city adapting to changing infrastructural needs.
Introduced in the 1930s, the ‘S’ curve was an inventive response to the era’s slower-paced traffic. It featured two sharp 90-degree turns, fitting for the slower vehicles of the time. However, as traffic speed increased, this once necessary design gradually became a source of congestion and safety concerns. Over time, the drawbacks of the stretch became increasingly apparent, as accidents and delays increased proportionally to faster speeds and greater traffic volume.
In response to growing traffic and safety issues, the city embarked on a redesign of the ‘S’ curve in the 1980s. The sharp turns were transformed into a smoother curve by the engineering firm Benesch. The realignment began in 1982 and officially complete in 1986. Post reconstruction, the now-named DuSable Lake Shore Drive efficiently manages high volumes of traffic while ensuring safety. The redesign revitalized the previously underdeveloped Lakeshore East, now a densely populated neighborhood characterized by glassy skyscrapers and multiple public parks.
Today, the story of Chicago’s built lakefront continues. To the north at Oak Street Beach, an ambitious plan has recently been updated, showcasing massive straightening of the thoroughfare along with an assortment of added outdoor amenities and new landscaping. These plans underscore a trend towards considering the lakefront not solely for vehicles, but rather in a holistic way that prioritizes human enjoyment of the lake.