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Aldermen OK closing Chicago Avenue underpass overnight to quell partying

A pedestrian underpass at Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive is expected to be closed overnight in response to neighbors' complaints about teens using it for noisy late-night parties. | Google Streetview

The pedestrian underpass at Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive leading to Lake Shore Park will be sealed off overnight until Oct. 1 to stop drug-and alcohol-filled parties depriving residents of nearby high-rises of a decent night’s sleep.

The City Council’s Transportation Committee approved the order Thursday after local Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) agreed to pay for it out of the $1.32 million in “menu money” allotted annually for infrastructure projects of the local alderman’s choosing.

Hopkins chose the underpass closing — just as Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) chose to close the Ohio Street underpass after a 25-year-old woman was murdered last summer — because his constituents demanded it. Like Ohio, the Chicago underpass would be closed from midnight to 5 a.m.

They’re sick and tired of being kept awake at night by parties filled with minors that go on long after 11 p.m., when Lake Shore Park is supposed to be closed.

“In recent months, there’s been an increasing security risk from large gatherings in the park, typically between the hours of 2 a.m and 4 a.m. when the Park District security, in many cases, is off-duty and unavailable and the 18th District is under-resourced and unable to respond to it,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said the 18th District is in “full support” of the closing in hopes it will “help them in their patrol duties.”

A special aldermanic fund dedicated to infrastructure repairs will be used to repair the concrete and then install gates to close this pedestrian overpass overnight. It is at Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive and connects the neighborhood to Lake Shore
A special aldermanic fund dedicated to infrastructure repairs will be used to repair the concrete and then install gates to close this pedestrian overpass overnight. It is at Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive and connects the neighborhood to Lake Shore Park. | Google Streetview

The Chicago Department of Transportation that must install the gates and Streets and Sanitation charged with locking and unlocking it, have no objection, either, now that Hopkins has agreed to use $15,000 of his menu money to pay for the gates. He also will use more of that fund to pay for concrete repairs.

“The tunnel needs it anyway. Quite a bit of concrete is falling down. You can’t mount a gate frame on deteriorated concrete,” he said.

Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) suggested that the overnight closing could cause “safety issues” if somebody gets stuck inside the underpass when the gate is locked and can’t get out.

Reilly rose to Hopkins’ defense. He said that’s never been a problem with the overnight closing of the Ohio Street underpass that Beale denounced last year as racist.

“Someone who works in the Loop Unit at Streets and Sanitation who’s already making the rounds and handling the opening and closing of the underpass at Ohio Street — that same person could easily take this on just a few hundred feet north of the Ohio Street underpass,” Reilly said.

“As far as people getting trapped, we haven’t seen that happen at Ohio Street. The person doing the locking makes sure they lock the gate closest to the Lakefront Trail first. They make sure no one is remaining in the underpass. Then, the last and final gate is locked. So operationally, we see it not being a hassle.”

Last year, the Chicago Park District was ordered to close the Ohio Street underpass overnight, from April through October, in a controversial move that, once again, exposed the city’s racial divide.

Reilly rushed the “order” in response to the Father’s Day 2017 murder of 25-year-old Raven Lemons near the underpass used to access the beach and the lakefront trail.

Beale called it another example of the “double standard” that has long applied to crimes in white and minority communities.

“If we start closing streets every time somebody gets killed, we would have over 600 blocks in the black and brown communities shut down,” Beale said then.

“This is over-reaching, over-reacting. We deal with these types of things every single day in our communities. But when it happens downtown, [people say], ‘Let’s shut it down.’”

• Also on Thursday, the Transportation Committee approved Reilly’s plan to establish a 30-minute time limit for pick-ups and deliveries by commercial vehicles within areas designated as loading zones.

Reilly said the plan is aimed at easing downtown congestion caused by trucks that linger for “hours at a time” in loading zones—long after they’ve delivered or picked up the goods they need.

The 30-minute limit is tailor-made to “save the cost of swapping out old signs” that include no time limit, the alderman said.