City Defends Lake Shore Drive Decision, Apologizes For Problems

Updated 2/2/11 11:45 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — City officials on Wednesday defended the decision not to close Lake Shore Drive sooner than they did on Tuesday night, when about 900 cars became stranded in whiteout conditions along the roadway.

Raymond Orozco, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff, said it was his decision to keep Lake Shore Drive open as the blizzard rolled in during the Tuesday evening rush hour. It was shut down at 8 p.m. after a series of accidents left hundreds of cars stuck in heavy snow.

“I believe it was the right decision,” he said.

“We understand the frustration many motorists felt. We thank them for their patience and we apologize for any inconvenience,” Orozco said Wednesday afternoon. “We are the city’s first responder community and we are ultimately responsible for this plan in ensuring the public safety of our residents.”

Orozco said that deciding whether or not to close Lake Shore Drive was a “judgment call,” but he said that, at the time, it was better to leave the Drive open to keep drivers from clogging interior city streets.

“Traffic we were monitoring was moving without incident. We should keep Lake Shore Drive open, giving the thousands of people who were trying to get home before the worst storm hits,” Orozco said. “The question was, do we eliminate Lake Shore Drive as an option, which would have required essentially diverting thousands of cars into the downtown and lakefront area … or do we keep close watch and monitor for dangerous situations while allowing the Drive to remain open.”

Orozco said forcing those cars onto other arterial streets would have created a greater risk of accidents on city streets and could have hampered fire and police emergencies in the city.

“In a storm of this magnitude, there is no way to predict from minute to minute what problems may arise, but what we know at this time is that no serious injuries or loss of life [occurred] based upon the option that I chose.” “What we believe is we obtained the best possible income.”

Lake Shore Drive remained closed Wednesday afternoon, as city workers continued removing stranded vehicles from the roadway in an effort to reopen the road as soon as possible. As of 6:45 p.m., 218 cars were still stuck there.

Lake Shore Drive was a disaster area overnight, as motorists found themselves stranded for up to 12 hours and ended up in the hospital.

As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, many motorists were just trying to get home by taking Lake Shore Drive Tuesday night, but the blizzard made that impossible.

Initially, Lake Shore Drive was moving smoothly as the evening rush began, but conditions began to deteriorate following several accidents. There were three accidents between Fullerton Parkway and Belmont Avenue 7:15 and 7:45 p.m., one of them involving a CTA bus. Shortly afterward, there were two more accidents in the northbound lanes just south of North Avenue.

The accidents caused cars and buses to back up, and as the snow piled up, vehicles became immobilized and off-ramps became impassable. Lake Shore Drive was closed at 7:58 p.m., and fire and police personnel worked to move as many cars as possible off the highway and remove people who could not get out on their own.

City officials said 700 to 900 cars were involved in the overnight traffic jam on Lake Shore Drive just south of North Avenue. In response, 13 ambulances were dispatched and remained on the scene all night, along with 26 fire companies with 130 firefighters.

Fire personnel were organized into two task forces with 30 firefighter-medics equipped on snowmobiles.

Police also dispatched 30 officers to the Drive, mayor’s chief of staff Raymond Orozco said.

Orozco said first responders tried to get to stranded motorists as quickly as possible, but winds of 60 to 70 mph and snow falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour made that extremely difficult.

Fire crews were unable to see even one car in front of them for a period of time, Fire Commissioner Bob Hoff said.

Before the city shut down the Drive, traffic had been crawling; it took upwards of an hour to travel only a mile. Many cars were without a full tank of gas, and ended up running out.

WBBM Newsradio 780 was flooded with calls from stranded motorists who said they had been stuck on Lake Shore Drive for over seven hours and saw people abandoning their cars.

Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding reports Sue Baker left her Hyde Park office around 5 p.m. and nearly seven hours later, she remained in the same spot, “We haven’t moved. It’s kinda scary. There are snow drifts on our cars now.”

Evanston attorney Craig Roeder says he got on Lake Shore Drive at 6 p.m. and headed north. He says he crept and crawled until just south of Fullerton Parkway, when traffic ground to a halt around 9:30 pm.

And there he sat, in whiteout conditions for six hours, until 3:20 a.m. when WBBM Newsradio 780’s David Roe was interviewing him on the phone.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s David Roe reports

“There are some emergency people now coming with flashlights between the cars,” Roeder said. “What we had been hearing is that they were taking people out into fire trucks because the buses couldn’t get through, so it looks like this could be our rescue here.”

Jim Glonke was stranded near North Avenue for 11 hours. He told CBS 2 he left his office in Chinatown in the late afternoon Tuesday, and it was backed up. He arrived at North Avenue around 7 p.m., and traffic stopped completely for an hour or two. Glonke was told a jackknifed bus was to blame.

Many cars ran out of gas, and were abandoned, as Glonke sat and exchanged text messages with his girlfriend, sister and mother.

“The next thing you know, it’s 4:15 in the morning, and I was one of the last cars to come off who actually had a few fumes left in his tank to get to the gas station,” Glonke said.

Another driver remained stranded on Lake Shore Drive at 5 a.m., and said he had been all but abandoned.

“We’re at North Avenue right now. It’s a standstill. They told us about an hour and a half ago that we’d be off the exit. There’s a car that ran out of gas, and that was about 1 o’clock and we’ve been sitting here ever since,” he said. “Nobody’s come by. Nobody’s told us anything.”

A CTA bus driver told CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole he had been stranded on Lake Shore Drive since 5:40 p.m. Tuesday. That was at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday.

There were only four or five minor injuries that required transport by ambulance, and none of them involved the effects of the snow, officials said. One was a firefighter who fell on the ice.

But the city ended up being sharply criticized for its response to the emergency on the Drive. On the one hand, they wanted to get people off the roadway, but on the other hand, they wanted them to remain in their cars so plows could attack the snow buildup.

The Fire Department set up a mobile command center along North Lake Shore Drive, and came to each vehicle to check on people with water and granola bars. Windshield wipers were left up for cars that were empty.

As for those who were rescued, many were taken to St. Joseph Hospital for cold exposure. Others were taken to warming centers or placed on warming buses.

St. Joseph Hospital reported that 185 people had been brought in from Lake Shore Drive. Most were cold, and merely needed dry socks, blankets, slippers and towels.

About 137 hospital employees are lodging at the medical facility.

Orozco said all the people who wanted to leave their cars were off the Drive by around 7 a.m. The plan is to reopen Lake Shore Drive when they believe it’s safe to do so, but it’s not known when that will be.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser reports

“We know that hundreds do people were very inconvenienced, and we’re sorry about that,” Orozco said.

But he defended the decision to keep the Drive open as long as the city did.

“Was it a mistake to close Lake Shore Drive? The answer is no,” Orozco said. “We were monitoring Lake Shore Drive, and… there was heavy traffic on Lake Shore Drive, but traffic was moving.”

Orozco emphasized that the city was monitoring Lake Shore Drive from the beginning and responded as swiftly as possible.

“In 31 years with the city, I haven’t experienced anything like we did last night with Lake Shore Drive,” Orozco said.

Cars that were abandoned on Lake Shore Drive have been relocated to three lots, at Wilson Avenue, Belmont Avenue, and Chicago Avenue. Some cars have also been taken to lots at North Avenue and Wells Street, and 47th Street and Cornell Avenue.

Anyone looking for a car that was abandoned on Lake Shore Drive should call 311, Orozco said. A mobile fueling unit is also available.

  • David B. Miller

    Just a Little Snow…. Whats the big deal? ha ha

    • Ed White

      36 and sunny here in vegas! they told those fools to stay home… but no… we had to go out! FOOLS! pee in the snow…

    • Germaine

      OMG, right? Its snow in Chicago! Big deal. The warnings were out for a week ahead of time. Most people with brains left early from work that day, especailly those who use LSD as a daily route. Those stranded were too stupid to plan ahead for what was hyped as the storm of the century. Who in their right mind would enter Lake Shore Drive, a roadway that winds along the very edge of Lake Michigan, two hours after a blizzard warning went into affect, 2 hours after the blizzard started??? Not only are these drivers without a brain, they most definitely should pay the cost of the tow and other emergency services our first responders had to provide for them. I am guessing most of them were from Wisconsin, because I find it hard to believe that any Chicagoan could be that stupid.

      • james

        It is amazing. You can even tell a republican by the Glenn Beck like responses to snow storm. Sad.

      • John

        Ha Ha… blame Wisconsin for stupid Chicagoans. Take a look around, it’s not very difficult to find stupid people here.

      • Frank

        Amen! Although I feel sorry for those people, they asked for it. They had been warned, days in advance of the storm. It was stupid of them to be on that drive during the storm. Now we must pay for their stupidity.

  • Sher Stookey

    I’m glad I don’t live in Chicago now. That is ridiculous. I mean…stuck there for 11/12 hours? Shouldn’t have ever happened. What did people do when they had to go to the bathroom? What did they do when they ran out of gas and keep warm? That really, really sucks.

    • charlie

      What should have never happened? The blizzard? You need to blame mother nature for that, not the city. All of the city employees and all of the rescue personnel are real people with families. Yet they had to risk their lives to go out and help all the stupid people who thought it was ok to drive in a blizzard. Every one of those people need to take responsibility for their decision to drive that day when they knew the storm was coming. They should not be complaining about how long it took to get rescued in a blizzard. I mean really, there is only so much people can do in a disaster like that.

  • Scott

    Lets be fair here… I live on Lake Shore Drive….. winds whipping around at up to 70MPH, I watched CPD and CFD walking in the blizzard looking for people who needed help. When you have weather like this, there’s only so much humans can do. Add to that the sheer number of people needing assistance and things get backed up.

    People didn’t do themselves any favors. Police were called for a person on a motorized wheelchair who decided to go for a loaf of bread in the blizzard to a grocery store many blocks away in her motorized chair. Another person that called 911 found it necessary to run out for a case of pop. That’s something you don’t need during a crisis like this!

  • Anonymous

    Getting stuck had nothing to do with the flood warnings. It was all due to snow and poor driving. As somkeone who was stuck on a bus, and then walked home 2 miles, there was no flooding. There was a bus blocking 3 lanes of traffic, and yes it took much longer than it probably should have to clear the dibris, that is what partially caused the backup.

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  • TOM


    • nikesha

      Well Said. My thoughts exactly. WE were allowed to leave from work at 2pm on Tuesday and I have been home ever since

    • Mike

      It’s the fault of the business who insist that everyone go to work because they are afraid that they miss making another buck to put in their pocket. They don’t care about the people…just get to work. People are afraid of loosing their job and try when everyone knows that everything except emergency services should be shut down. and then there are idiots trying to go to the store for pop or bread and get stuck, and then complain that the city didn’t help them fast enough. PEOPLE…wake up, put your foot down when your safety and/or lives are in danger.

    • John

      Yes, unfortunately some people think rules don’t apply to them. You see it every day! I left my office at 2:30 pm and the roads were already a mess – I can’t imagine being out at 6:30 pm or waiting that long to leave. I hope whatever it was that made people decide to stay at work that long was important enough to be stranded in a blizzard all night, requiring the resources of a cash-strapped city to come to the rescue! Pathetic.

      • Mari D. Hopgood

        Very true! WHy are people so darned irresponsible?

      • devon

        Heck, I left LOS ANGELES a day early, Monday, so I wouldn’t be stuck there until Thursday or Friday. Thanks to SW airlines that was easy, now all I have to do is clean off my driveway.


      AMEN, TOM!

    • Matt z

      Everyone knew it was coming. However many employers are not as generous and made their employees work full shifts. Blame the companies who didn’t let their employes go home early. Some people really need to look at the full picture befor suggesting its the peoples fault and that they should pay for the towes and rescue services.

  • Lake

    Ok but the city knew it was coming and they didn’t shut LSD early enough. OK Daley where are Your CAMERAS now?????

    • terri


    • StupidPeopleFTW

      The idiots that chose to drive on it knew it was coming too…

    • germaine

      WOW, SURELY YOU WERE ONE OF THE IDIOTS WHO LEFT THEIR CAR ON LSD. WHO ELSE COULD MAKE SUCH A STUPID COMMENT? Ever think what would have happened if they did close LSD?? You are a freaking idiot.

      • elise

        On Monday the city warned everybody that they would close Lake Shore Drive because of the possibility of 18 foot waves washing up on the Drive.

        If the City HAD shut down Lake Shore Drive, everybody would be crying just as they are crying right now.

        I feel horribly bad for all who were stuck, watching it on the news, listening to the callers on WGN’s Steve & Johnnie overnight show.

  • Anonymous

    How selfish can you be… People need to get home from work. You may be privileged, but not others who work in stores, hospitals, banks, pharmacies have no choice. They have little kids waiting to be picked up. Worried family trying to hear from loved ones.

    You seems to enjoy when other people suffer. That tells something about you mister.

    • inhashi

      shut up

  • Scott

    “Ok but the city knew it was coming and they didn’t shut LSD early enough. OK Daley where are Your CAMERAS now?????” — ‘Lake’

    Take a step back and think about that statement. Do you really thing that is a viable alternative? Do you know how much traffic uses LSD? Can you imagine the howling if Daley would have shut down LSD at 6p last night when people were trying to get home? What do you think that would have done to streets like Damen, Western, Ashland, etc? Those streets with their stoplights every block and cars struggling to get going at each stop?

    It was a blizzard people… its like blaming a city for an earthquake or tornado. I live on LSD up north. I was out in it last night. I saw it from my windows from my rental. I listened to it online. They did the best they could. Before the accidents clogged up the plowing (you can’t plow a street with hundreds of cars stopped on it), there were 6 plows across going down LSD every 15 or 20 minutes and they COULDN’T KEEP UP. It was a once in 40 year storm! There’s only so much planning you can do for that.

    • Mike

      again…the greed of businesses that kept people at work is to blame. people staying at work for fear of loosing their job and the businesses that don’t care about their people’s safety. Scott, you are right on, you can’t shut down LSD before you allow people a way out that were already downtown…you would trap them down there before anything even began. they were just trying to get home, and that may have been the easiest or only way home for some. the city is not to blame…stupid people and greedy businesses are.

    • JeanSC

      CTA! That’s the right plan.

      • SpellingIzHawrd

        Katrina response? Wow… people really are this stupid…

      • Anonymous

        CTA caused this mess. The city had a “Katrina” response.

  • Zarathrusta

    Everybody with a radio or TV knew about the storm. Flood warnings have everything to do with a road that runs along a waterway (LAKE SHORE Drive – get it?) The goofs on LSD went there anyway and they got stuck. Shocker.

  • Tanya Livingston

    Attorrney Craig Roeder, with the Prudential Plaza based law firm of Baker, McKenzie used his personal car to commute to Evanston from work during the height of the storm. The storm was accurately predicted to begin at 3:00 pm at least 24 hours before Roeder decided to get into his car. Metra and at least two CTA linces serve Evanston from the loop. Not a long walk to either stations. Intersting.

  • George

    My employer was concerned enough about his employees to let us go at noon so everyone was able to get home safely. At this point the roads were in great shape. This allowed me enough time to run a few quick errands and prepare for the storm so I could avoid travelling when the roads became bad as expected.

  • JeanSC

    Didn’t we get the blizzard warning to go into effect at 3 PM? I think a good rule of thumb is, when it’s a blizzard warning, motorists should avoid using Lake Shore Drive and other similarly exposed roads, as soon as it goes into effect, so they don’t get stuck when the blizzard makes it impassable. Yes, some vehicles are more vulnerable to accidents in blizzards, and others need to avoid the hazard. There are many alternate routes which were less windswept yesterday. Possibly, the police should have closed LSD when the blizzard warning went into effect. Officials who whine they haven’t seen anything like this in decades are supposed to have read the history books about The Big Snow in 1967.

  • StupidPeopleFTW

    I’d bet 3/4 of these people were the same idiots walking around yesterday saying “Those weather guys dont know what they’re talking about, we’ll get 3″ of snow and I’ll be fine to drive anywhere.”

    • Devin

      A freind of mine said just that monday night.

  • phil

    di live in iowa and i knew the storm was comingon sunday, ilive on a farm , we always have food on hand, i was to the store on thursday and i am not going out untill next wednesday, thats 10 days, and then all we will need is some milk bread and maybe some other small items, if we had to we could go for three weeks without going to the store.some of these city people amaze me, we have carhart bibs, coveralls, boots gloves mittens, and no14 aluminm scoop shovel, none of those plastic ones for me.

  • Fran22

    Hope city will use modern technology for abandoned car locations. Can they send workers with hand computers to the lots to take down license plates–then feed all the info onto a website so people can check the lots online to find their cars? That way people will stop flooding 311 asking about their cars & will not have to travel in this weather to many lots on a car hunt.

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  • dkc

    CBS local television station needs to get back to regular programming. Local news has stopped the national air-waves all day. You can have emergency banners and info without program interruption. We will see the same news at 5, 6, and 10 that we saw and 7:, 8, 9, 10, 11 this morning – so stop interrupting the regular scheduled programming. I do not want the continued repeats of the same info and photos.

  • Cindy

    Employers are a huge part of the issue!!!! Had employers let their employees leave work at noon yesterday it would have avoided many people being on the streets and getting trapped and/or in accidents in the evening. Leaving work at 4:00 or 5:00 was too late. Our office is open tonight and certain employees are expected to be there. Non-emergency businesses should not be open and putting their employees at risk; it won’t kill them to close for a couple of days.

  • jesse jr.


    • fair-minded

      Daley does need to show his face. Why should he? After all, he is not up for re-election!

      • Terri

        If Daley would have closed schools earlier i would not have been on lakeshore stuck for 12 hours. Trying to get home from work, work for CPS.

  • fair-minded

    The reporter was referring to the southbound LSD NORTH of downtown, the area visible to her from her car. Videos of the same could be seen on the news. Why in the world would one assume that she meant the entire southbound LSD?

  • jsbnew in Chicago

    Every station has avoided coverage of what’s going on south of Roosevelt Rd. What happened, who was rescued from South Shore Drive, near the MS&I? What about near the South Shore Cultural Ctr.? I’m sure those drivers ran into problems, too. Not to mention on I-57, the Bishop Ford and the Ryan. Any coverage?? None at all, as if we don’t exist. Or, for that matter, west of the United Ctr.!

    • StupidPeopleFTW

      If half the people stuck there were media people, like on LSD, you’d hear all about those instead.


    It Snowed? Where? I heard someone say that the city had a Katrina response? Is that why I was told to go spend the night in Soldier Field? I went out at 7:00PM on my Vespa to get a beer got stuck it took 911 almost 3 hours to come get me and when they did we all went for drinks. I said what about all those stranded motorists “well were damned if we help and were damned if we don’t so…” Good point no one is grateful for the help that is provided and when it is… IT should have been better faster and more efficient. I should have stayed home ordered a pizza and then complained when it didn’t get to me within 30 Minutes or less. STOP COMPLAINING AND JUST LIVE WITH THE MISTAKES; OH YEAH AND LEARN FROM THEM. Arrogance is bliss isn’t it?

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  • JM

    I don’t undestand the hostility toward the unfortnate people who found them stuck on LSD. Even with terrible warnings of the snow, it was predicted to be a 24 hour event (Tues 3p – Wed 3p). No one in their right mind thought that within one hour of the snow starting things would become such a mess.

    • Sunshine

      It just sounds like a city like Chicago should have their stuff together…WHY would anyone want to live there anywhere?? You guys are exchanging words over a snow storm. REALLY???

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