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Blizzard of 2011 report will detail when to close Lake Shore Drive

A man snowshoes by cars stuck northbound lanes Lake Shore Drive near North Avenue after they were trapped by snow

A man snowshoes by cars stuck in the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive near North Avenue after they were trapped by snow in Chicago on February 2, 2011 | Matt Marton~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 1, 2011 12:18AM

After the Blizzard of 2011 fiasco that shut down Lake Shore Drive, then-mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel demanded that City Hall “get to the bottom of what happened” and learn from its mistakes.

Now, he’ll get a chance to implement those changes.

On Thursday, Emanuel disclosed that the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications is putting the final touches on the “after-action” report he demanded.

“A lot of things were done right and [other] things need to be improved,” the mayor said.

“Every time you have an incident, you have an after-action report. I’ll be receiving that briefing next week about changes we have to make.”

The Ground Hog Day blizzard that buried Chicago in 20.3-inches of snow left as many as 530 vehicles stuck for hours on Lake Shore Drive.

Three accidents in 28 minutes — followed by ramp closures caused by high winds, drifting snow and white-out conditions — kept the Drive closed for 36 hours before a cavalcade of tow trucks removed the vehicles.

The event prompted questions about why the Drive wasn’t closed to traffic before the storm, why it took the city up to 14 hours to rescue stranded motorists and why Chicago lacked a contingency towing and evacuation plan.

On Thursday, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne disclosed that the post-mortem lays out with logistical, military-style precision when to close all or parts of the Drive and where to divert traffic if a similar storm wallops Chicago.

“It’s all about getting people off the Drive, looking at times, situations and the technology that’s out there. We’ve got more cameras out there. It’s gonna be the movement of buses, movement of cars, when can we shut down sections or all of it. It’s all gonna be time-sensitive,” Byrne said.

“That section of the Drive got open in 36 hours, and we did a great job getting that done. We’re gonna build on successes that were out there and questions we think need to be answered. Hopefully, it’ll work smoothly. [But] all plans aren’t perfect.”

After the Lake Shore Drive fiasco, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley went underground and let his department heads take the heat for the national embarrassment.

Critics contended that, as long as the Drive remained closed and riddled with abandoned vehicles, Daley was not about to face the music.

Other contended that Daley was so angry about the Lake Shore Drive fiasco, he needed a day to cool off.

When Daley finally resurfaced, he defended his decision to lay low, saying he had confidence in his team of managers and, “This is not the Daley show.”

Asked to assess the city’s overall storm performance, Daley said, “Overall, done well. That [Lake Shore Drive] area did not do well.”

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