Top mayoral aide nixes plan to ban cars on Mag Mile

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A top mayoral aide on Thursday called a screeching halt to talk of banning motor vehicles on North Michigan Ave., branding it a “drastic change” that failed on State Street and “doesn’t make sense” on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

As a senior adviser to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, David Spielfogel has helped to implement an aggressive transportation agenda that includes Chicago’s first protected bike lanes, bike-sharing and bus rapid transit.

Several of those initiatives — as well as a plan called “Make Way for People” — have shrunk the amount of pavement available to motorists to level a playing field that, City Hall has argued, was heavily tilted against pedestrians and bikers.

Earlier this week, the Active Transportation Alliance pushed the envelope with a controversial plan to turn parts of 20 Chicago streets into car-free zones, including North Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street.

That’s where Spielfogel draws the line.

“Shutting an entire street like Michigan Avenue is not something [Emanuel] would be very supportive of. . . . It seems like a drastic change. I can’t see that happening any time soon. Didn’t they try that on State Street and it didn’t really work?” Spielfogel said.

He was referring to the State Street mall, the stretch through the Loop closed to motorists in 1979, only to be reopened in 1996 after being declared a dismal failure.

“Their plan is a list of possible places to find space for things other than cars. The mayor has been very clear since Day One that he’s into that. [But], I do not think you’re going to see large streets getting shut down any time soon. It doesn’t make sense. You want to make sure every form of transportation has space to live.”

In 2009, former Mayor Richard M. Daley closed off Michigan Avenue for 2.5 days to make way for Oprah Winfrey’s 24th season premiere, only to be accused of making a “reckless” decision that “smacked of elitism.”

The new plan for a permanent closing has encountered similarly stiff resistance from downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who called it “irresponsible” because of the “major traffic impact” it would have on east-west streets.

On Thursday, Spielfogel called the proposal to ban vehicles on North Michigan Avenue a “conversation-starter” and said it’s a “great conversation” for Chicago to have.

But, he argued that there’s a heckuva lot of room to maneuver before turning Chicago’s marquee shopping strip into a mall.

“We have these new People Spots in various neighborhoods where they’ve taken out two parking spaces and built a café in the street that people love. There are ways to do that while maintaining vehicular traffic,” Spielfogel said.

“There are parts of Broadway [and Times Square] in New York where they’ve put seating in the middle of the street. If this group put out one proposal and the businesses really want to try something, there are things to experiment with. But, a wholesale shutting down immediately is not something that anybody internally is looking at.”

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