Lightfoot hopes to reopen lakefront ‘very soon’ — with restrictions

“We’ve been working very diligently on a plan. ... I know people are anxious to get back to the lakefront,” the mayor said.

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Chicago police barricades block access to the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton Avenue as the area remains closed to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic, Monday afternoon, March 30, 2020.

Suggestions on how to safely reopen the lakefront and control the number of people range from time-of-day restrictions to reserving picnic spots.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday she hopes to reopen parts of the lakefront “very soon” — during designated hours and only for certain activities, presumably those that keep moving.

On March 26, Lightfoot famously closed the lakefront and all of its parks, trails and beaches because Chicagoans couldn’t be trusted to maintain social distance.

The lakefront that is one of Chicago’s most treasured resources has remained closed — along with the downtown Riverwalk and the 606 Trail — even as the rest of Chicago has gradually reopened.

On Friday, the mayor was asked when and how the lakefront would be reopened.

“Obviously, the circumstances of this week have required us to focus our attention on other issues. But I’m hoping to be able to announce a reopening of the lakefront relatively soon with a plan toward safely minimizing crowding and really having some designated time for particular activities along the lakefront,” she said.

“We’ve been working very diligently on a plan. We want to make sure we get as many voices into the discussion as possible. But I’m hopeful we’ll be able to announce something very soon. I know people are anxious to get back to the lakefront.”

If Chicago has a weekend of peaceful protests, Lightfoot said she also hopes she will be able to lift the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

“No mayor should ever impose a curfew unless there is an absolute necessity of doing so and after a lot of consultation, which is precisely what I did. ... Every single day since, I have spent time consulting those same folks, particularly our [police] superintendent [asking], ‘Is this necessary? Is it needed?’” the mayor said.

“It’s my expectation and hope that we will have multiple days of peaceful protests. ... Yesterday was one of the first days that we had just purely peaceful protests. ... If we continue to see this, I’ll be the first one to embrace eliminating a curfew. But we’re not there yet.”

She’s still pushing Gov. J.B. Pritzker to throw Chicago restaurants a lifeline to allow them to offer some indoor dining during the month of June. And she hopes to announce a plan for that next week.

Churches and synagogues will also be allowed to hold limited indoor services this weekend, the mayor said, promising to issue specific guidelines.

Suggestions on how to safely reopen the lakefront and control the number of people there run the gamut. They include time-of-day restrictions for different recreational activities; a free, ticketed “timed-entry” system like museums use for popular exhibits; and, ultimately, reserved picnicking spots.

Yet another option is to designate different parts of the lakefront trail for walking, running and cycling and/or imposing what Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) has called a “requirement at the beginning that the only thing you can do on the lakefront is move.”

Once picnicking is allowed, the Park District could designate spots far enough away from each other and require reservations, Smith has said.

“If this is the new normal, we have to make sure that the vast majority of the people are willing to comply. And that’s where the rub is,” Smith told the Chicago Sun-Times last month.

“What we’re really asking people to do is demonstrate that we are ready to have our lakefront and our bigger park areas reopened. The way to do that is for everyone to wear a face mask when they’re out in public. No one who lives near the lakefront can guarantee that they can social distance with 6 feet apart all the time.”

Greg Hipp, executive director of the 10,000-strong Chicago Area Runners Association, believes the way to begin to reopen the lakefront is to do it for “through traffic use only.” That is running, walking and biking.

Seattle is already doing just that, calling it: “Keep Moving.”

“We’re proposing initially that the trail only be open from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. for that type of activity. Those are the times when that type of through traffic use is pretty common,” Hipp has said.

“The times after that is when people traditionally come out to the lakefront to gather, which is what the city doesn’t want everyone to do yet. And as the public is able to adapt to using the trail in an appropriate way, then the city can determine how to gradually increase the hours.”

The Chicago Sport & Social Club has offered to provide 20 lakefront monitors per day to enforce the new regulations with tape measures to show people what 6 feet of public distance looks like.

They would act as goodwill ambassadors, not enforcers.

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