Empty cars litter Lake Shore Drive

February 2, 2011 8:30:05 PM PST
Lake Shore Drive was still shut down Wednesday night as about 50 vehicles remained stranded. The Drive has been closed since the third largest blizzard gathered strength Tuesday night.

Chopper 7 HD flew overhead around 10 p.m. to see crews hard at work. At this point, it's not clear when the Drive will reopen.

Motorists who have left vehicles should call 311 to recover their relocated vehicles.

All the cars and buses stranded north of Fullerton were cleared by late Wednesday night.

Michelle Reed was among the hundreds stuck on Lake Shore Drive.

"The worst thing was not knowing what was going on," said Reed. "We didn't see anybody until like around midnight, like, no cops, no firemen. No rescue workers. No one to tell us what was going on and help us out." The city was towing abandoned cars all day from the Drive. Some ended up on city streets or lakefront lots.

Wednesday night, some motorists who found their vehicles still couldn't leave because of car trouble.

In the daylight it was easy to see the problem: Hundreds of vehicles in the northbound lanes abandoned in the snow during Tuesday night's blizzard.

Motorists and their passengers were caught on Lake Shore Drive for hours before they opted to evacuate or officials told them to evacuate. They had been trapped by accidents ahead of them and traffic behind during the worst of the snow storm.

"It was scary, there was an accident, a bus that got in an accident, and there were just cars, you couldn't even see the road it was snowing so bad," said Nancy Cowans, stranded driver.

"It was whiteout conditions, very intense and frightening time," said Dr. Robert Zadylak, Advocate Illinois Masonic.

City officials have been taking a lot of heat for not closing Lake Shore Drive before hundreds of people became stranded there.

City officials from the mayor on down had forcefully warned of the gathering storm, repeatedly warned people to stay inside, and warned that Lake Shore Drive was going to be especially dangerous.

But, even as the blizzard began, the Outer Drive remained open and traffic moving until a few predictable spin-outs blocked all northbound lanes, and suddenly, Lake Shore Drive turned into a hellish highway.

The image of snowbound vehicles stranded on Lake Shore drive has already becoming the icon for the "Blizzard of 2011," no matter how fast city officials got the rest of the streets cleared.

Chicago authorities, who had already apologized to motorists caught in the Lake Shore Drive snow trap, apologized again Wednesday and then tried to explain how it happened.

"At the end of the day, the Lake Shore Drive Decision was a judgment call. Specifically, it was my judgment call.," said Raymond Orozco, Mayor Daley's chief of staff.

Those accidents that triggered the major Outer Drive debacle on the North Side and a smaller version on the South Side both involved CTA busses.

Some drivers told the I-Team on Wednesday they were surprised the CTA didn't reroute buses off of the Drive Tuesday because of deteriorating lakeshore conditions. But the CTA's president is sticking with City's Hall rationale.

"We were providing regular service. We were monitoring Lake Shore Drive as well as the entire region that we provide service for. And at the time, we had to get the riders home ," said CTA President Richard Rodriguez.

Whether to praise or defend decisions by his top aides, Mayor Daley did not appear in public Wednesday to do either.

Even though the mayor met with emergency officials -- and the media was told he would be at the afternoon briefing -- he left without a word.

Daley's events for Thursday are already cancelled as was Wednesday night's planned media update by city department heads.