Inactive pedestrian tunnel entrances masked by ugly “dog house covers” will soon be removed from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) disclosed Wednesday.
In an email to his constituents, Reilly said he was “extremely pleased” to announce the aesthetic improvement on the northwest and southeast corners of Michigan and Oak, paid for by an undisclosed chunk of his aldermanic menu money.
The change will remove what has been a blight on Chicago’s marquee shopping district, the alderman said.
Reilly said he worked with the Chicago Department of Transportation to “find an innovative and aesthetically pleasing way to cover the inactive pedestrian tunnel entrances…in response to the numerous complaints received over the years about the dilapidated condition of the wooden ‘dog house’ covers at the highly traveled intersection.”
That solution will “remove the wooden ‘dog house’ at the northwest corner of Michigan and Oak and replace it with a slab of concrete,” the alderman wrote. That will “increase the available sidewalk width for pedestrians and improve the aesthetics at this high visibility corner on the Magnificent Mile,” Reilly wrote.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he agreed to split the cost with Reilly to remove a cover that “takes up a lot of space on the sidewalk and doesn’t look very good.”
“Eventually, we hope to reconstruct that entire intersection, build a new ramp to Lake Shore Drive and either rebuild or fill in and disconnect the tunnel,” Hopkins said.
Reilly told the Chicago Sun-Times: “Those ‘dog houses’ cap a pedestrian underpass that runs beneath Michigan Avenue that has been closed for years. It was closed due to the fact it is not ADA compliant and had issues with its structural integrity. The cost to repair and make [it] ADA compliant exceeded $1 million at the time, so it was closed permanently.”
He added: “When it was closed, we were never happy with the solution: installing these ugly wooden caps on top. … For the past two years, I’ve been pursuing a better, safer & more aesthetically pleasing solution that removes that clutter from the sidewalk & makes it safer for the blind and for folks in wheelchairs.”
CDOT spokeman Mike Claffey did not respond to requests for comment about the project.
The work is expected to take a few weeks, beginning with the cover in Hopkins’ ward.
The menu program is one of the City Council’s most cherished. That’s because it gives each of Chicago’s 50 aldermen $1.32 million to spend each year on projects of the local alderman’s choosing.
Earlier this year, Inspector General Joe Ferguson charged that the menu program was underfunded by $122.9 million a year, “bears no relationship to the actual infrastructure needs” of each ward and includes significant “funding disparities.”
He argued that decision-making authority should be stripped away from aldermen and handed to CDOT’s professional engineers.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel promptly quashed the idea, for fear of triggering a City Council revolt.