Lake Shore Drive Reopens After Blizzard Debacle

UPDATED 02/03/11 8:03 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The scene of Lake Shore Drive as an auto graveyard will go down as one of the most enduring images of the Blizzard of 2011, and at last, the Drive is now back open.

As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, city crews spent the whole night towing the remaining abandoned cars that became stranded in the blizzard, then removing the snow with front-loaders and dump trucks.

Officials confirmed around 5:30 a.m. that Lake Shore Drive had reopened. Traffic in the northbound and southbound lanes was moving as of 5 a.m.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports

Mayor’s chief of staff Raymond Orozco says motorists should be cautious when taking Lake Shore Drive, since snow plows will be out as the city continues to maintain and improve conditions on the road.

Lanes may be narrowed or reduced, Orozco said Thursday morning.

CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl saw an example of a narrowed lane over North Avenue.

The “gore,” a space demarcated by white lines that separates the traffic lanes from the entry ramp, has now become the entry ramp to the southbound Drive. The actual entry ramp is covered with plowed snow.

In the 6 a.m. hour not long after the Drive had reopened, an accident near Fullerton Parkway reduced the northbound side to one lane.

Lake Shore Drive was closed in its entirety for about 33 hours, after a perfect storm of dangerous blowing snow, violent winds, and several accidents left motorists stranded for up to 12 hours.

About 1,000 cars were stuck on Lake Shore Drive at the height of the blizzard. As late as 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, 24 hours afterward, 218 cars remained.

Initially, Lake Shore Drive was moving smoothly as the Tuesday 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. Tuesday, 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. Tuesday, 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.

Ambulances and fire crews quickly responded, but were hampered by 60 to 70 mph winds and snow falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour, city officials said.

Lake Shore Drive Bus

An abandoned bus on Lake Shore Drive (Credit: Steve Miller/WBBM 780)

Several people were taken to St. Joseph Hospital after they were finally removed from their cars – not for a medical emergency, but to warm up with dry socks, blankets, slippers and towels.

After the debacle, city officials took heat for not closing Lake Shore Drive earlier. Mayor’s chief of staff Raymond Orozco explained that before the accidents began piling up, Lake Shore Drive was running reasonably well.

“At the end of the day, the Lake Shore Drive decision was judgment call,” Orozco said Wednesday, “specifically, my judgment call.”

Orozco said in 31 years with the city – mostly with the Fire Department – he had never seen a comparable situation on Lake Shore Drive. But his tone was contrite during several news conferences.

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

Owners of vehicles towed off of Lake Shore Drive can go to and click on “Alerts” at near the top of the page to access a list showing where more than 500 of those vehicles were taken. Several lakefront parking lots and one lot near North Avenue and Wells Street are holding cars as of Thursday morning, and there is no charge to retrieve a vehicle, the website said.

  • Mark

    Why is this a debacle? Because the Press calls it a debacle. It’s only a story if it’s a debacle. You guys amaze me.

  • Gary

    You say “Open at last?” It hasn’t even been two days. IOpen at last? You act like it was closed a week and 2,000 cars were stranded. You guys work hard to lay blame and find fault, and make someone squirm over decision-making. Always second guessing. The Press is such a problem these days. Can never look on the bright side. Got to have a negative story to sell.

  • My thoughts

    sorry my eye, just another lackie in a job above his head, were was daley hiding at home with his army of police bodyguards……fire this lackie!

  • bob

    This was a scheme gone wrong. Daley hoped to collect $100 a pop towing stuck/stranded cars or storing them in lots and charging for it. Instead it became a media feast with every station talking about it. Did you see the uncut videos on NBC news? What a debockle!! It shows Daley dropped the ball since he doesn’t care since he’s leaving. NBC should make a video of it and call it “Chicago Lake Shore Drive 2011 – Daleys Folley.”

  • Orozco's Fault

    The blizzard was supossed to start at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, why was the drive not shut down at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday. At that time whatever cars that were on there could of made their way to their destinations and if conditions proceeded to get unbearable while those cars were on the drive their should have been police to tell them to exit at the next off ramp. The city “planned” for this but if they did not only would the drive have neen closed off at 3:00 p.m. but there should have been cops to block all the on ramps from 67th to Hollywood.

    Orozco is responsible. He doesn’t want to take the blame for a problem that could have been easily avoided. How did he get the position he has when he doesn’t even dress professionally.

    • Greg

      Who did this problem inconvenience other than the stranded? Were there thousands of Chicagoan’s inconvenienced? NO! This was a problem for a handful of people on LSD. Was there anyone dead? Injured? NO! Cars got caught in the snow and you want to fire somebody over it. You divert thousands off LSD on the side streets and then you have 100 accidents, not 3 accidents. All of you are very opinionated, and that’s due to the damn PRESS! Listen to the PRESS and vote. Listen to the PRESS and complain. Listen to the PRESS and live your life according to them. The PRESS are vultures. Period.

      • Joe

        …you do realize you’re complaining on a PRESS website, don’t you/

  • No comment

    It was reported that Mayor Daley was not happy about the Lsd situation and was conveniently unavailable for comment. The mayor left it to Orozco to do the damage control. An assumption can be made that Daley was upset at Orozco’s decision to keep the drive open.

  • Jim

    The city was in the right here. All the idiots that thought they were smarter than the city recommendations and weather reports were in the wrong and got what they deserved. Didn’t they know we were getting a blizzard?!

  • Mayor Daley

    ….it’s the guns ..the guns are the cause, you cannot get around it we have to remove the guns…OH, the snow, nothing to see here business as usual, move along now……

  • Truckerman45


    • bob

      You sound like a road rager. Caps on and a rant. The only one that knows how to drive is you. Find a different job if you can’t hack driving with other people on the road. Professional drivers don’t complain about other drivers this much. It’s part of the job.

      • wiseguy

        been driving around chicago for 45 years. even managed to get to other states. guess what? there’s a lot of people out there who don’t know how to drive. most of them will never know. RANT THAT BOB

  • Dan

    Did you see all the reporters yesterday on the 9 & 10 news swimming around like sharks looking for the big story? They just wouldn’t let it go. Ray said it was his call and due to a series of unfortunate events things went bad, END OF STORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Lets move on, I’m proud of the way my city handled things, of course people are going to have problems in the 3rd worst storm in the city’s history. I could have gone out early yesterday if I lacked common sense due to the city’s hard work. Just saw a plow on my block, I can move around if necessary. What more can you ask for, do people really expects not to be inconvienenced during a major storm? Get real fools!

  • Sgt Friday

    …then you having these poncho’s driving like madmaen it’s not a burro poncho…learn to drive, learn english,…dam illegals

  • Dan

    One more thing, watch everyone start complaining because due to plowing the side streets the city is terrible for burying their cars! Can’t win.

  • old & in the way

    Common sense; we all knew this storm was coming. Stay off the drive! You can’t be holding others responsible for your own ignorance.

    • wiseguy

      i agree. controlled access, where you gonna go. it’s snowing hard, you don’t have snow tires, you’re not able to drive very fast cause you’ll probamly spin out…. one thing i didn’t hear asked, would you still tAKE LSD, if you knew what you do now.

  • I agree with old & in the way above

    Why is it a blizzard debacle? Drivers were iresponsible and made bad decisions, drivers that caused the accidents were irresponsible and made bad decisions, the drivier this morning causing another accident was irresponsble, why does the city have to act like the parent of a crazy teenager constantly cleaning up the mess and trouble they cause, oh wiat a minute, none of the drivers are responsible for their actions the city is, give me a break!

  • Definition of Debacle

    Merriam Webster online internet: “a complete failure or collapse.” Synonyms: disaster, ruin, fiasco, catastrophe, calamity, apocalypse. Nice choice of words Channel 2. I am happy to let all my children and grandchildren know that the blizzard of 2011 went down in history this way. That the City of Chicago should stick it’s head between it’s legs and cower to the news media criticism. Get a life.

    • StupidPeopleFTW

      You’re not very smart.

      • Smart

        I’m smarter than you pal

  • Bella

    Exactly. What part of if you don’t have to travel don’t and if you do just understand that it could be life threatening and bring survival supplies, did they not understand? It’s so not the cities fault.
    1,000 removed in less than two days… Bravo! Maybe they’d could have texted plate numbers as they were removed to 311 so people knew where there cars were. Let’s use technology to help people. Otherwise, what’s all the whining about!

  • John

    The city did an awesome job. Wkat would happen if 1000 + hit Wesrern, Damen Ashland etc. People are morons who complain about everything.

    • wiseguy

      probably the same as if they didn’t. unless of course they were the ones that blocked traffic in the first place

  • Owners Search For Cars Abandoned On Outer Drive « CBS Chicago

    […] (CBS) – Lake Shore Drive is back open, but many of the people who were stuck for hours have yet to be reunited with their […]

  • Beth

    How about all those people who left their cars there Tuesday night came back Wednesday morning with shovels to dig themselves out, if only 750 of the 1500 did that (at least that many of them were home from work Wed anyway), the city would not have had to do all the work for these people until Wed night, maybe if they came back the next day and got in their cars, got them started or with the tow trucks there jumped them, the drive would have been opened earlier, maybe if the drivers took responsibility for themselves and their actions as stated above, the news media would not be circling like sharks waiting for someone from the city to blame, how about asking the drivers and blaming them.

  • Dave

    People were well informed of the storm that was coming and should have made other plans rather than driving this isn’t the citys fault or the mayors fault so come on people next time listen and use your heads

  • Mark

    Thanks Chicago for holding an hour long press conference on the obvious. It’s cold outside, and we had a blizzard on Wed, night. Would you like to tell us the sun is shining now? We live in Chicago, not somewhere south, where they have no idea what to do in a blizzard. Salt and plow the roads, and be done with it. We don’t need to hear every aspect of the cleaning up process.

  • Convicted Ex-Comm. Slams Lake Shore Drive Response « CBS Chicago

    […] Sanchez slammed the city’s decision to close Lake Shore Drive Tuesday evening, and the city’s response to people being trapped in their cars for 12 hours or more. […]

  • I agree with old & in the way above

    To mark,
    The city has to hold hour long press conferences because as most of the news said last night the 5 minute press conference was not enough information, it’s the news media Mark, that’s why the city does that, because the news media makes it seem like the city has something to hide if they only talk for 5 mintues. That’s why they were saying for a day and a half “where is the mayor?, the mayor was not at the press conference?, why did they move the press conference?, Why was it only 5 minutes? and on and on again. If we don’t pay attemtion to the news meida maybe they will stop, but we, as they know are very gullable. Your comment should have been directed at the people who drove on LSD tuesday night, not the city. It’s cold outside, very cold, a blizzard came through tuesday afternoon through wednesday, don’t drive.

  • Joseph

    It is most definitely the city’s fault. Your considerable tax dollars are spent on managers whose job it is to ensure that the roads are safe and driveable, otherwise guidelines say to shut them down precisely because you will always get 1000 people who will drive no matter what and will have to be rescued at considerable cost. At any given moment there are 1,000 drivers talking on cell phones speeding on worn out tires. That no one got hurt is beside the point. It was just luck that this story didn’t end with a much more tragic ending.
    If there were a huge chemical spill on LSD, it’s not up to the drivers to avoid it. The road gets shut down. Other cities announce street closings due to storms days in advance so people can make plans. If you want to let the people decide what to do…fine. But then get rid of crash standards, the DMV, seat belt and speeding laws, traffic lights, walkways, right and left sides of the road, and definitely those high paid city managers and let people take their chances.

  • wiseguy

    BLIZZARD”S over. Nobody died. everyone’s pretty much dug out. some listened, some didn’t, IT”S OVER. MOVE ON. Linsay LOhan’s in trouble again. Snooki”s got a boyfriend. What’s Charlie Sheen doing?

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