By AARON GETTINGER
Representatives from South Side groups that support the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park and the tenets of the South Lakefront Framework Plan have expressed opposition to a traffic study commissioned by Jackson Park Watch (JPW) in an attempt to reverse the planned closing of a section of Cornell Drive and other Obama Foundation and Framework plans.
On Wednesday, Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, co-presidents of JPW, sent a request to the Chicago Plan Commission recommending that it not accept the Obama Foundation’s proposal to change the park’s zoning and roads to accommodate the OPC. They commissioned a report from raSmith, an engineering firm based in the Milwaukee suburbs, that refutes the Chicago Department of Transportation’s report on the proposed Jackson Park roadway changes.
“Closing the roads will create some inconvenience, but it’s far outweighed by the positive attributes that the OPC will provide not only the South Side but the entire City of Chicago,” said Jackson Park Highlands Association President Russell Pike, “The residents of our neighborhood will be impacted more so by the closure of that road than residents outside the area. From my perspective, if they’re willing to put up with the sacrifice, I cannot understand why someone from outside the community would have an issue with it.”
Pike called the section of Cornell Drive a “hazard,” as people often drive well beyond the speed limit of 30 mph. Pike said he has been passed by other drivers “as if I was standing still” and “challenges anyone to find” a driver who observes the speed limit.
He further claimed that Cornell Drive was never supposed to be build in that area to begin with, saying, “It was added years later.”
While Cornell Drive was not present on a souvenir map of the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition site, an 1871 map by the Chicago South Park Commission of the Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux plan for Jackson Park does include a road in the same location as Cornell Drive today.
“It’s really frustrating that an organization that only appeared in the last few years is trying to delay the process of building the Obama Center, vis-a-vis hiring an unknown road study-maker from Wisconsin as opposed to CDOT,” said Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry. She said CDOT “has prepared an excellent report to move traffic quickly and easily in and out of the area.”
McCurry said JPAC members are extremely pleased that Cornell Drive will be closed.
“It’s dangerous for our children and it’s dangerous for our seniors crossing into the Wooded Island,” said McCurry. “We are extraordinarily pleased that we are closing Marquette, because it’s difficult for our golfers trying to get from one end of the course to another. And we’re extremely pleased that CDOT is creating handicap-accessible crossings and underpasses. And we’ll have green space and repaved pathways to get all around Jackson Park from 67th to 55th [streets].”