Public weighs in on CDOT proposed roadway improvements

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) hosted two open house style meetings this week at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. Shore Drive.

The meetings offered the public an opportunity to weigh in on updated information for proposed roadway improvements in and around Jackson Park.

This week, the public viewed a 20-minute presentation video, which provided a scope of the current conditions of roadways in and around the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC), current traffic analysis, and proposed improvements to the roadways surrounding the OPC and other park related improvements.

Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, bikes regularly in and around Jackson Park. She welcomes the proposed roadway changes.

“I don’t think I’ve seen this much detail in a long time,” McCurry said. “Cornell Drive was never meant to be [driven on] at 60 miles per hour. The [traffic studies] volumes tell us everything we need to know. It shows that Stony Island is underused.”

Proposed roadway closures for both the OPC and golf course renovations include Midway Plaisance (eastbound) between Stony Island Avenue, and Cornell Drive, Cornell Drive from 59th Street to Hayes Drive, Marquette Drive from Stony Island Avenue to Richards Drive, and northbound from Cornell Avenue from 67th to 65th streets.

To offset roadway closures, CDOT is proposing improving Lake Shore Drive, Hayes Drive, and intersections to accommodate diverted traffic.

The proposal outlines adding one southbound lane on Lake Shore Drive from 57th Street to Hayes Drive, a signal controlled crosswalk at Richards Drive, and reducing on street parking to add two travel lanes.

Additionally, the proposal calls for adding two lanes to Stony Island Avenue from 59th Street to 63rd Street, maintaining on street parking and loading areas.

The concept design for the golf course calls for two underpasses one at South Jeffrey Boulevard and another at South Shore Drive.

The second underpass at South Shore, according to representatives from the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance would benefit golfers and the community at large who use the intersection to access the lakefront.

At previous meetings, the consensus from residents is that the closing of Cornell Drive, a six-lane road that runs through Jackson Park from 57th Street south to 67th Street, would not benefit drivers because of existing traffic patterns.

While some welcome the influx of new data that entails traffic counts, travel times and traffic modeling others want more transparency and to be a part of the decision making the process for the OPC.

“Decisions have been made behind closed doors, said Jawanza Malone, executive director of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).

“This is the unveiling of what decisions have been made and whether people like it or not the option we are given is just to take it, and that’s not community engagement,” Malone said. We would expect more from the foundation. We’re hopeful that through all of this we can eventually sit down to the table and negotiate a community benefits agreement.”

KOCO is working in conjunction with members from the University of Chicago student-led Prayer and Action Collective, Southside Together Organizing for Power, and the Bronzeville Regional Collective to push for a Community Benefits Agreement.

CDOT, in the presentation, asserted that road improvements show that travel time for drivers in and around Jackson Park will remain unchanged.

Based on the time of day and direction of travel, “on many routes, travel times will be reduced, in one case up to two minutes,” CDOT said in a written release. “On select routes during peak hours, travel time goes up by no more than a minute and a half.”

Other changes include re-establishing connectivity across the Columbia (Clarence Darrow Memorial) Bridge, repairing the 59th Street Lagoon bridge façade, and improving intersections at 57th Drive and Lake Shore Drive, Science Drive and Lake Shore Drive, and Hayes Drive and Lake Shore Drive.

McCurry suggested adding a traffic signal at 64th Street and Stony Island Avenue. Children in neighboring schools have to cross an intersection to access the Jackson Park Fieldhouse. Currently, there is a three-way stop sign at the intersection.

Representatives from CDOT presented information on progress towards the restoration this week at the Jackson Park Fieldhouse.

Next year, CDOT expects to prepare for a contract for the project and construction is slated to begin in 2019.

“Stony Island will benefit from a streetscape beautification project to include a planted median and added pedestrian safety features,” said CDOT in a written release.

New pedestrian crossings and underpasses will be added including one at 67th Street and South Shore Drive.

Closed roadways will be converted to parkland. CDOT projects a gain of three to five new acres of parkland.

We want to try to figure out the impact on the park, asked Margaret Schmid, coordinator with Jackson Park Watch

Schmid also wondered about the widening of Lake Shore Drive and “the impact on environmental restoration project alongside Lake Shore Drive, Hayes Drive and what is now Cornell [Drive].”

As a part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), Jackson Park over the last few years has seen improvement due to the project in restoring native habitats and original fish populations in the park’s lagoons.

Planting was also a focus of that effort.

“Adding lanes to Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue will take down existing trees, plants and natural areas that have already been installed by the GLRI project. It’s a sad kind of investment to take out some plants that you just put in,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks.

The Barack Obama Foundation was also on hand to answer questions from the public this week.

The foundation, this week, announced their proposed parking structure that will be situated on “underutilized section of the Midway Plaisance across from the future site of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).”

Irizarry said, “That [the parking structure] constitutes another building on parkland from our perspective especially when it’s nothing more than a building with a green roof.

Irizarry added that she gave feedback to the foundation on their proposal.

“We hope that we will see some additional iterations of potential design there because as it stands it is not adding park space, it is taking away park space,” Irizarry said.

The facility will be covered and surrounded by a 3-4 acre park open to the public for use and include a picnic area, a children’s play area and more.

The City of Chicago owns Midway Plaisance. The foundation stated pending approval by the City Council, “the city would convey rights for parking to the Obama Foundation.”

The underground parking garage would hold approximately 400-450 cars and will be paid for by the foundation.

At a Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC) meeting held earlier this month foundation representatives met with MPAC to discuss the impact of the OPC on the Midway.

Attendees at the meeting expressed concern with the parking proposal because years ago the same location was to be developed into a children’s garden.

In 1999, Olin Partnership and Wolff Landscape Architecture worked in conjunction with the Chicago Park District, the University of Chicago (U. of C.), and local community residents to develop a master plan for Midway Plaisance.

The multi-year plan included designs for the Allison Davis Garden, a Winter Garden, Reader’s Garden, and an ice rink.

The children’s garden, as well as other projects that were planned to be at the Midway, were stalled.

“It [roadway improvements] seems pretty well thought out with all of the changes. I just hope the commuters are pleased,” said Hyde Park resident Theodore Manuel.

t.hill@hpherald.com