Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) on Wednesday urged the CTA to relax its rigid rules governing street musicians — but it’s not because he loves the music.
He hopes a change in CTA rules, combined with Reilly’s attempt to tighten rules at street level, could drive the mind-numbing music underground and give downtown homeowners and businesses much-needed relief.
Musicians are expected to show up in force at a License Committee hearing next week to denounce Reilly’s latest attempt to tighten the legislative noose on their street performances and plastic bucket playing.
The new ordinance would prohibit street performances audible from 20 feet away on the Michigan Avenue and State Street corridors, on both sides of street. The Michigan Avenue corridor would stretch from Cedar to Balbo. The State Street stifle zone would run from Huron to Jackson Boulevard.
They’re expected to accuse Reilly of “urban cleansing,” just as they did 20 years ago, when former downtown Ald. Burton F. Natarus (42nd) launched a similar crackdown to tone down their music.
On Wednesday, Reilly argued that the solution to those complaints lies underground.
He urged the CTA to open up the entire subway system to musicians instead of letting musicians set up shop at only three stations on a first-come, first-serve basis: the Jackson station on the Red Line and in the Blue Line stations at Washington and Jackson.
That’s a policy far more restrictive than most other big-city transit systems.
“If you look at the way Manhattan manages these things — New York City — the bulk of their performers are doing that below-grade in the subway system. But, they do it even better than we do. They actually have a juried system where they determine whether or not you actually have a talent. Then, you earn a spot or get on a rotation where you can make money doing your thing. I think that’s great,” Reilly said.
Reilly stressed that his latest crackdown is not a “prohibition against street performers” in the downtown area. It’s a virtual ban in “two major corridors.”
“I’m suggesting we replace the opportunities on those corridors with locations at the CTA. Most of those would be subterranean,” he said.
“It protects the folks who live above-grade and need to get work done or sleep….No one is working eight or nine hours a day at an L stop or trying to sleep there—at least lawfully. People can experience that performance for five or six minutes before they jump on the train. I think that’s more appropriate.”
CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the mass transit agency is at least willing to consider opening up more subway stations to live performers.
But, any change in policy may be difficult because of the “limited amount of space on subway platforms” in the CTA system, he said.
“The spaces that we have designated were specifically chosen to ensure safety for both performers and customers and to provide a space that’s appropriate for performance,” Steele said Wednesday.
Even if musicians band together next week to denounce him, Reilly said he expects them to be drowned out by residents and employees in the Michigan Avenue and State Street corridors demanding relief.
“For the average tourist or pedestrian downtown, five or six minutes of that activity could even be enjoyable. But, four or five hours of it non-stop with no relief is where you hit the tipping point,” Reilly said.
“That’s what my constituents have been begging me for for the 10 years that I’ve been alderman. They begged my predecessor for the same thing. And we’re finally trying to get this right.”