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Randy Leonard/MEDILL

Crews worked to clear vehicles abandoned along Lake Shore Drive Wednesday.

Critics: Chicago gets ‘F’ for handling of Lake Shore Drive storm fiasco

by Randy Leonard
Feb 03, 2011


Randy Leonard/MEDILL

Mayor Richard M. Daley defended his administration's response to the Blizzard of 2011.

Randy Leonard/MEDILL

Use the city’s website or call 3-1-1 if you:

* Need snow or ice removed
* Have no heat
* Need a ride to a warming center
* Need to find a towed vehicle
* Want to check on someone

City Services affected:

* CTA train lines are operating, but riders should expect delays
* CTA express bus service on Lake Shore Drive is expected open for evening rush Thursday
* O’Hare and Midway airports are fully open Thursday
* Schools will be open Friday, no busing
* Power is expected to be restored Thursday to the last 4,600 of 190,000 affected customers
* 3-1-1 received 6,000 calls Thursday morning. Callers are encouraged to use the city website
A government watchdog group slammed the city Thursday for what it called a lack of communication and laggardly cleanup of cars stranded on Lake Shore Drive in this week’s storm.

At least 600 vehicles were abandoned along the drive early Wednesday morning as a blizzard dumped over 20 inches of snow and blasted the area with gale-force winds. The road was reopened Thursday morning after the last vehicles were removed.

“We’re heading back to normal conditions but we still have a long way to go,” Mayor Richard M. Daley said Thursday at a press conference at the city’s Office of Emergency Management. “We are making every effort to reunite the motorists with their vehicles as soon as possible.”

As the storm bore down Tuesday night, rapidly falling snow and high winds made travel on Lake Shore Drive nearly impossible. Some motorists stayed in their cars while some with health concerns were transported by police or fire fighters on snowmobiles, Daley said. Daley praised the efforts of fire, police, and streets and sanitation workers.

“All of them did a tremendous job,” he said.

But the Illinois Policy Institute, an organization that critiques government efficiency, gave the city a grade of “F” for its handling of the situation on the roadway.

“Lake Shore Drive was a total debacle,” spokesman Daniel Anthony said Thursday.

“Communication to the drivers did not start until too late,” he said, and “it took until 5:30 this morning to clean it up.”

His organization was not commenting on the decision to keep the route open, he said. It originally gave the city a high overall rating, calling Lake Shore Drive an anomaly, but later decided not to overlook that problem.

“Overall, the city did pretty well,” Anthony said Thursday. His group rated the city’s efficiency in cleaning up main roads as a “B” and side streets as a “C.” That could change, he said, as the city continues to clear side streets.

Asked if communication could have been better, Daley sidestepped the question and praised the fire department and police use of snowmobiles.

“They responded very well out there,” he said.

The city dispatched 84 tow trucks to Lake Shore Drive, said Tom Byrne, Streets and Sanitation commissioner, but the whiteout conditions made clearing the road impossible.

“They had the tow trucks there,” said Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff, but the wind and snowdrifts crippled efforts to move the vehicles. The city eventually ordered stranded motorists to abandon their cars.

“The bottom line was there were no serious injuries,” Hoff said.

When the storm cleared, front-end loaders and tow trucks started unsorting the mess. Crews, Byrne said, “worked non-stop under challenging conditions to get Lake Shore Drive open.”

Four hundred plows and tractors started on side streets after midnight Wednesday, he said. He encouraged drivers to still be very careful.

“Keep travel to a minimum and stay inside,” Daley said. “Allow additional time for your commute, as there will be longer waits and greater demand for public transportation.”

He encouraged residents to check on neighbors and family.

As sub-zero wind chills set in, city officials warned Chicagoans to dress warmly, protect exposed pipes and never defrost frozen pipes with an open flame.

Those with storm-related concerns can contact 3-1-1, or use the city’s website because of a high number of calls.