The Long Search For Cars Abandoned On Lake Shore Drive During Blizzard

Chicago Tonight Producer Paris Schutz was out Wednesday in the aftermath of the blizzard, as motorists were recovering from the Lake Shore Drive closure Tuesday night. Here are his observations:

City emergency officials are trying to rectify a chaotic situation along the lakefront. Some motorists who abandoned their cars on Lake Shore Drive still can’t find the current location of their car.

Lake Shore Drive officially closed at 7:58 pm Tuesday. Anywhere from 700 to 900 commuters were stranded into the night and through Wednesday morning, according to Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Thomas Byrne. He said there were around 300 left as of Wednesday morning, and still in excess of 200.

One motorist I talked to says he sat in his car for 12 hours before abandoning it around North Avenue. On Wednesday, at about 3 pm, he was driving with a friend, trying to locate his vehicle. Emergency officials announced that crews were towing abandoned cars off of Lake Shore Drive, and that motorists could call 311 to find out where they were taken. The motorist I talked to could not get through to 311. I received a busy signal every time I tried calling as well.

The motorist asked a cop parked on the corner of La Salle Drive and North Avenue where he might find his car. The cop pointed him to Wells Street. The cars were towed and parked along the street.

Officials at Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications said cars were taken to several spots along the drive: Wilson, Belmont, North/Wells, Chicago and 47th/Kenwood. But, as of Wednesday afternoon, there was still confusion over where the cars were actually taken. At the OEMC news conference Wednesday morning, emergency officials took heat from reporters over why the Drive remained open so late, despite the heavy snow.

Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff, Raymond Orozco, continues to stand by his decision to keep Lake Shore Drive open, saying that closing it would have diverted too many motorists to nearby arterial streets, like Clark and Broadway. Emergency officials say nobody has died or has been severely injured as a result of the Lake Shore Drive mess.

I took the subway from the OEMC news conference to the North and Clybourn stop, and walked to the lakefront. I walked among cross-country skiers and snow-shoers where snow drifts had to be in excess of 6 or 7 feet, to get to the pedestrian bridge just north of North Avenue.

There were no news cameras, but tons of citizen photographers snapping pictures, stunned at what they saw. The cars were totally packed in the northbound lane as far as the eye could see in both directions. A CTA bus was spun out on the shoulder. I saw two tow trucks from “E&R Towing” in the area removing vehicles. A Streets and Sanitation worker I talked to expressed great frustration over working around the clock from 6 am Tuesday to about 3 pm Wednesday. If we assume eight-hour shifts, that’s almost four shifts straight through. He says he doesn’t think they’ll remove all the cars until Saturday at the earliest, although there is no official word yet on this.

A database has been created on the City of Chicago’s website with vehicle information of the abandoned cars, and where they have been towed. For more information on where your car may be located, click here.

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