Local group asks plan commission to reject Obama Center ordinance

Herald Staff Report

Jackson Park Watch, today, sent a request to the Chicago Plan Commission to reject the applications for road and zoning changes in Jackson Park for construction of the Obama Presidential Center.

The request, sent in advance of the Plan Commission’s May 17meeting, contained a new road study commissioned by the Watch organization from raSmith, a national engineering consulting firm. The study suggests that the controversial closing of Cornell Drive is not necessary and that much of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s study of the traffic problems created by the Obama Center is flawed.

Jackson Park Watch has not opposed the construction of the Presidential Center in the Park but has taken issue with, what it describes as, the lack of community input and the lack of an orderly process. The organization points out to the Plan Commission that it is being asked to approve the plans but there is no version of the lease from the Park District to the Obama Center for the occupied 20 acres of park, which would explain what the public’s rights at the site will be.

Jackson Park Watch is an Illinois Not for Profit Corporation. Its founders, Hyde Parkers Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, describe the Watch as a “virtual” organization. They state that “Jackson Park Watch is a virtual community organization committed to advancing community input, transparency and comprehensive planning in all major decisions concerning Jackson Park. Started in fall 2015, when vague plans advanced by Project 120 for the Park prompted many concerns in the community, we raise questions, do research, and share what we learn through our periodic update, distributed broadly [by] e-mail.”

It is on the web where its members sign up and receive reports about the Park.

The press release put out today says:

“The raSmith study identifies gaps and inadequacies in the transportation analysis that underlies the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) plan for major road changes in Jackson Park, including:

  1. Traffic Diversions: Inadequate information on how much traffic would or could be diverted by the closure of Cornell Drive; absence of information as to whether intersections outside of the study area were evaluated to ensure they could accommodate additional diverted traffic.
  2. Estimates of traffic volume: The impact of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) on traffic volume appears to be understated.
  3. Impact on parking: Many existing parking spots on the south side of the park are to be eliminated, but the limited number of replacement parking spots are on the north side of the Park.
  4. Stony Island Avenue: CDOT’s proposed changes to Stony Island Avenue appear to lack holistic approach in addressing such issues as traffic flows and vehicular and pedestrian safety features.
  5. Traffic impacts at the south end of the Park: The CDOT plan fails to discuss impacts to 67th Street despite a projected traffic increase of 25-30 percent.

raSmith developed an Alternative Transportation Concept Plan based on the traffic data and capacity assumptions found in the Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants report used by CDOT for its transportation plan. Highlights of the alternative plan include:

  1. Keep Cornell Drive open; narrow it to four-lanes throughout Jackson Park.
  2. Keep the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) on the original site designated in Jackson Park – between 60th and 63rd Streets, Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive.
  3. Preserve the East Bound segment of the Midway Plaisance between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive, maintaining traffic flow and the Olmsted design.
  4. No need to widen Stony Island Avenue for vehicular capacity
  5. Keep Hayes Drive as is; allow parking.
  6. Keep Marquette Drive open; allow parking.
  7. Add an additional South Bound lane on S. Lake Shore Drive from 57th Drive to 63rd St., as CDOT proposed, and extend it to Marquette Drive to facilitate southbound traffic flow.

The raSmith study was delivered to Chicago Plan Commission members this morning by Jackson Park Watch in preparation for the May 17 Plan Commission hearing on the CDOT transportation plan and on the Obama Foundation applications to construct the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

The informational packet submitted by JPW also included a summary of concerns about gaps and flaws in both the CDOT and Obama Foundation applications and an analysis of the CDOT application under the Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance. JPW called on the Plan Commission to reject the CDOT application and to delay action on the Obama Foundation applications until additional information is available. All of these materials are attached.

JPW co-president Margaret Schmid said, “In light of these study results, we call for a new discussion about the OPC-related road changes in Jackson Park. We recently learned from OPC officials that the OPC will be constructed in Jackson Park even if Cornell Drive is kept open. With that in mind, it is time to consider how best to house the OPC in Jackson Park while at the same time preserving the Olmsted design of this historic park, avoiding unnecessary taxpayer expenditures, and taking community opinion more fully into consideration. Our traffic report offers an alternative that merits discussion. There is a better way.”

Co-president Brenda Nelms noted, “ An important park-related benefit of keeping Cornell Drive open is the buffer it would provide between the crowded and active spaces the Obama Foundation envisions for its site and the calm, natural character of the Park itself. At the same time, the Obama Foundation’s desire to closely connect the OPC with Jackson Park, including the Museum of Science and Industry, could be accommodated in numerous ways, including innovative pedestrian bridges, underpasses, or improved pedestrian crossings.”

The following documents were submitted to the Chicago plan commission:

The reSmith Jackson Park review with map.

Jackson Park Watch Statement to the Chicago Plan Commission.

Jackson Park Watch Analysis of the compliance of the Chicago Department of Transportation application with the Lakefront Protection Ordinance.