A week after helping Mayor Rahm Emanuel get re-elected, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) is doing battle with the mayor’s hand-picked transportation commissioner over protected bike lanes on Kinzie Street.
Reilly introduced an ordinance Wednesday that seeks to compel Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to remove the protected bike lane on Kinzie “as required” by the planned development governing Wolf Point.
It clearly states that the protected bike lane “must be removed” from Kinzie before a certificate of occupancy is awarded for the first building of that massive development, he said.
But Reilly said Scheinfeld is considering using her “commissioner’s authority to ignore that directive” agreed to by her predecessor, hammered out with area residents and approved by the Chicago Plan Commission.
“The intent of this ordinance is to require her to remove it, so that there’s no question it must be done,” the alderman said.
Reilly said “traffic congestion concerns” demand that the protected bike lane be removed. Reilly’s ordinance would require the city to remove the protected bike lane — along with “all associated signage, markings or barriers” — from the portion of West Kinzie Street between Dearborn and the west bank of the Chicago River.
“Kinzie is a very busy street. With the added density of some, close to 2 million square feet of occupied space on Wolf Point, there’ll be a lot more traffic. Traffic studies suggested that a bike lane should be removed to allow for proper traffic flow and safety, and the commissioner is now second-guessing that,” he said.
“Each point in this planned development was negotiated with the neighbors and other stakeholders. And when this was approved as a project, people were relying on this obligation. In effect, the commissioner’s refusal to honor the planned development and its obligation is . . . an act in bad faith when neighbors and others in the area were promised this would happen.”
Scheinfeld could not be reached for comment about Reilly’s charge or the ordinance he introduced that seeks to tie her hands. CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey had no immediate comment.
Behind the scenes, Scheinfeld has argued that CDOT did an internal study that suggests “it would not be safe to move these lanes from Kinzie to Grand Avenue,” the alderman said.
Reilly doesn’t buy that argument on grounds it was “not a professional study.”
“I have a professional consultant that was engaged by the Wolf Point developer to install bike lanes on Grand saying this would actually be safer than the Kinzie Street bike lanes that exist today,” Reilly said.
Reilly noted that “hundreds” of cyclists use Grand Avenue every day without incident. That’s why he doesn’t believe Scheinfeld’s safety argument.
The alderman said he’s a fan of protected bike lanes and they’re “prolific” throughout the 42nd Ward because he is a “strong supporter.” But he argued that protected lanes “make sense in certain areas and in others they don’t”
“I’m telling you, we’re adding a tremendous amount of density to Wolf Point and there’s only two ways to get there: Orleans and Kinzie. So I don’t believe the commissioner should be able to arbitrarily decide where she wants to honor planned development obligations,” he said.
Reilly’s political pull with Emanuel has never been higher.
He served as a key campaign surrogate who blasted Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s decision to punt the question of revenues needed to solve the combined $30 billion pension crisis at the city and public schools to a post-election commission.
Has the alderman taken his case directly to the mayor?
“Not yet,” Reilly said.
“I was happy to support the mayor. I hope he can appreciate that these are obligations that were negotiated with the community when the Wolf Point project was approved,” he added. “They should be honored. My constituents deserve that.”