Chicago S-Curve

Chicago S-Curve

During a recent trip to an antique store, I purchased several old postcards of Chicago. Two cards have images of the Outer Drive Link Bridge, which includes the Lake Shore Drive S-Curve. If you are of a certain age and drove on Lake Shore Drive before 1982, you can attest there was no "S-curve" to those turns!

Let me backtrack. First, don't be deceived by Lake Shore Drive's gentle name; it's a very intense highway in the city's center. It's Chicago driving at its finest, so if you are a faint-of-heart driver, I recommend staying off it!

Lake Shore Drive has several official names, including US-41, but many native Chicagoans refer to it as LSD. In 1973, the band Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah released the song Lake Shore Drive, which uses the nickname LSD in the lyrics. Some believe LSD is a drug reference, but as band members are Chicagoans, I say no; it's not a drug reference, just Chicagoans being Chicagoans!

American Colortype Co

LSD is 16 miles long and, for the most part, is a divided 4-lane highway, meaning eight lanes wide! On its west side is downtown Chicago, while on the east side is Lake Michigan, which has beaches, parks, marinas, and occasionally buildings like the football stadium.

Construction on LSD began in 1882 under the persuasion of Potter Palmer, who, according to Wikipedia, "coerced the city to build the street adjacent to his lakefront property to enhance its value." Palmer built his "castle" at 1350 N Lake Shore Drive in 1882. The Drive was initially intended for leisurely strolls for the wealthy in their carriages, but as the auto age dawned, it took on a different role altogether. (In 1922, Palmer's wife donated a vast art collection to the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, including one of the best Impressionist collections in the world.)

Fast forward to 1929, the construction of the Outer Drive Link Bridge started and was completed eight years later. The Great Depression also began in 1929, which created financial issues for building the bridge. Eventually, it was funded by the Public Works Administration.

The cards I purchased celebrated the Outer Drive Link Bridge. "At the time of its construction (1937), it was considered to be both the widest and longest bascule bridge in the world." (Wikipedia). It was a significant engineering feat at the time. One of the postcards says, "Connecting the north and south outer drives along Lake Michigan shore, making it possible for traffic to travel at a high rate of speed from far northern to the far south sides of the city without being delayed for stop lights." That sums up Chicago drivers to this day--let us drive fast and not need to stop!

C.T. Art-ColorTone

But look at that 1937 "S-Curve"!!! They were designed at ninety-degree angles to "persuade" people to slow down! It may have worked in 1937, but I guarantee not so much by the latter part of the century! By the 70s, there were a lot of severe accidents at the S-Curve. The City of Chicago had to address the issue.

Rerouting of Lake Shore Drive. Photo via CARLI Digital Collection at UIC

Realignment of the S-Curve began in 1982, with official completion in 1986. As compared to the pre-1980s curve, the new alignment appears safer. I say "appears" because, as a reformed "Chicago driver," I'm sure most Chicago drivers consider the speed limit a mere suggestion and are still happy that there are no stops!



Lake Shore Drive, by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah, Video

Lost Legends #8: The Lake Shore Drive ‘S’ Curve Bottleneck, Article

History of Lake Shore Drive, Wikipedia

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.