Developers of Chicago’s largest private projects would be required to sign affidavits spelling out their efforts to share the wealth with minorities, under an executive order signed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that disappointed minority aldermen. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Emanuel dodges questions about Ohio underpass closing

SHARE Emanuel dodges questions about Ohio underpass closing
SHARE Emanuel dodges questions about Ohio underpass closing

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he’s determined to maintain access to the lakefront in “every part of the city,” dodging questions about a downtown alderman’s request to close the Ohio Street underpass overnight during warm weather months.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) made an “urgent request” for more overnight police patrols on the Lakefront Trail, the downtown Riverwalk and in Streeterville after a 25-year-old Lawndale woman was shot and killed in his ward early Sunday.

Reilly has also requested more surveillance cameras, better lighting and the overnight shutdown during warm weather months of an underpass at Ohio and Lake Shore Drive used to access the beach, the Lakefront Trail and Navy Pier.

It was near that underpass in the 500 block of East Ohio that 25-year-old Raven Lemons was shot in the head and killed about 2 a.m. Sunday.

On Thursday, Emanuel was asked whether he would go along with the overnight closing of that underpass, and possibly others, in a downtown area where violent crime has been rising along with the temperatures, as it has in other parts of the city.

The mayor dodged the question.

“We’re gonna make sure every part of the city has access. We’re gonna also work with aldermen to make sure that their neighborhoods are safe,” Emanuel said. “We’ll figure out a way to do it. I know you want a yes or no, but that’s not that simple.”

In an email to the Chicago Sun-Times that followed the newspaper’s critical editorial, Reilly offered an impassioned defense of the underpass closing.

“The purpose is not to `slap a padlock on the Lakefront Trail. I can appreciate the concern about what that might symbolize. The purpose is to reduce the number of overnight access points to the Lakefront trail so the Police Department can more effectively manage those underpasses that remain open,” he wrote.

Reilly agreed that, “in a perfect world, the best approach would be to have a stronger police presence” at all of the underpasses leading to the Lakefront Trail overnight.

But six months into Emanuel’s two-year police hiring surge, Reilly said the Chicago Police Department simply does not have enough officers to “stand as sentries at all of these unsecured access points on a regular basis.”

Officers assigned to the 18th District are too “busy scrambling to fulfill calls for service,” he said.

“By locking some of the underpasses in Streeterville, we would be helping the Police Department stretch their limited resources further to use officers more efficiently,” he wrote.

Reilly argued that the overnight closing is “not exactly a revolutionary idea.”

He said “a number of” aldermen told him this week they remember a time many years ago “when some of these pedestrian underpasses were locked every night.”

The Ohio Street underpass is “essentially located on a dead-end street with very limited vehicular traffic and fewer eyes on the street,” he said.

That has made the underpass a “popular late-night destination for kids who party on the street curbs, in closed parks and inside the underpass tunnel drinking, smoking marijuana and engaging in other illegal activities,” the alderman said.

Reilly dismissed as “unfounded” fears that people “stuck on the beach side of the underpass” after the gates close for the night would be tempted to dart across Lake Shore Drive.

“Just a block south, anyone stuck on the Lakefront Trail after hours would have the option to simply use the crosswalk at the intersection at Lake Shore Drive and Grand to leave the parks,” Reilly said.

He noted that the intersection is “very well-lit with literally thousands of eyes on it” from the high-rises above and “no nooks and crannies to hide to engage in criminal activity.”

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