NASCAR Street Race: CPD officers must work overtime for traffic control

With crowds expected to flock to the lakefront for the Fourth of July races, CPD says off-duty officers and those from other districts will be deployed to direct traffic downtown.

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NASCAR’s first-ever street race comes to Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend. Concrete barriers will be erected to enclose the race course and protect the public from debris from crashes.

Stock cars set up in downtown Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago police officers will have to work overtime to direct traffic for street closures related to NASCAR’s Street Race over July Fourth weekend.

But the Chicago Police Department says staffing should be at a level where no officers will have to be taken away from neighborhoods to help at the downtown event.

“We are working very hard to limit the number of [canceled] days off, and we will have sufficient coverage in every district in the city” CPD Deputy Chief Daniel O’Connor said at a City Council committee meeting Wednesday.

In the session of the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, called to explore the impact of NASCAR’s inaugural street race, race officials outlined safety plans and steps taken to minimize the effects on people who live nearby.

Committee members pressed NASCAR officials for assurances about how they would allow local residents past traffic control barriers and what measures would be taken to protect pedestrians and cyclists from the increased road traffic.

About 175 to 200 people are needed for traffic control for the whole city over race weekend, well above the city’s normal staffing of 130 traffic control aides, according to Bob Lajewski, superintendent of traffic services at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

The city’s traffic aides will be working double shifts, but police officers will still be needed to fill the gaps, Lajewski said.

“We have many other events in the city. The Cubs are in town, there’s a concert at the United Center,” Lajewski said. “We’ll have 30, 35 [traffic aides] specifically working this event, but I hate to say it that they’ll be working a 15-hour tour that day.”

O’Connor said CPD will mainly be drawing from officers who are off duty who had days off canceled.

“We do anticipate canceling the days off for the majority of all of our officers,” O’Connor said. “In addition, we have opened up a voluntary overtime initiative to try to tamp down the number that will be canceled.”

O’Connor said CPD is still working on figuring out how many officers will be needed. He said the majority of officers working overtime would be needed for directing traffic.

Beyond traffic management, NASCAR assured alderpersons it was minimizing its impact downtown by limiting driving time to 10 hours over the weekend, said Julie Giese, president of NASCAR’s Chicago Street Course.

On Saturday, drivers will practice between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. before the 55-lap Xfinity race, she said. On Sunday, doors open at 9 a.m. for the main Cup race, which will be 100 laps, followed by a small victory-lane celebration, Giese said.

The race course will be enclosed by 2,000 concrete barriers, each weighing 10,000 pounds, that are topped with a 10-foot high opaque fence designed to withstand debris from crashes, Giese said. The barriers are bound together by cables and have been used in street races before, she said.

They obstruct views from outside the race, and will deter people from gathering along Michigan Avenue to catch a glimpse of the race without a ticket, Giese said.

NASCAR’s safety plan has been in the works for months, she said. In January, officials from the Chicago police and fire departments attended NASCAR’s annual safety summit in Charlotte, North Carolina, she said.

On the matter of protecting the public from race car crashes, Ald. Bill Conway (34th) asked Giese about a June 4 Sun-Times story that quoted driver Bubba Wallace as saying: “Racing through the city streets, very narrow, I honestly don’t know how it’s all going to work out. I think there are a lot of us that are skeptical in the field.”

Giese said she had spoken directly with Wallace about that story and explained to alderpersons that he meant it in a competitive sense, not about public safety.

“He assured me there was not a concern about safety; it was about making some of those passes,” Giese said.

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