City Council closes Chicago Ave. underpass overnight to end late-night parties

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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

Last summer, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) touched a raw racial nerve in a divided Chicago with his proposal to close the Ohio Street underpass after a 25-year-old woman was murdered.

Compared to that controversy, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) is getting off easy.

Hopkins’ proposal to seal off the underpass at Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive until Oct. 1 to stop drug- and alcohol-filled parties keeping his constituents up at night sailed through the City Council on Wednesday without opposition or a word of debate.

Hopkins has 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 because his constituents demanded it.

They’re fed up with being kept awake 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 underresourced and unable to respond to it,” Hopkins said last week.

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

The Chicago Department of Transportation that must install the gate 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 gate alone and more, 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.

During a committee meeting last week, Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) questioned what might happen if somebody gets stuck inside the underpass when the gate is locked and can’t get out.

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

“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,” Reilly said.

“Operationally, we see it not being a hassle. We’re simply adding the duty of getting out of a truck and securing two locks in the morning and evening hours.”

Last year, the Chicago Park District was ordered to close the Ohio Street underpass between midnight and 5 a.m. from April through October in a controversial move that, once again, exposed the city’s racial divide.

Reilly rushed the “order” through the City Council 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 Wednesday, the City Council passed 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 has 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.

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