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Locals Ask For Safer Streets, More Bathrooms At First Meeting On Grant Park Updates

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DOWNTOWN — Residents are calling for safer streets, more public restrooms and more accessibility for people with disabilities in Grant Park at the first Chicago Park District open house meeting to update the park’s master plan.

More than 60 people left contributions to the open house hosted at the Chicago Cultural Center, which the Park District will consider when it updates its 20-year master plan. The plan, also called Chicago’s Front Yard Reimagined, will provide guidelines for enhancing the famed Downtown Park’s role as a public space and destination.

Participants were asked to participate by using sticky notes to share thoughts on five different topics including conservation and landscaping, recreation, safety and logistics, mobility and events.

Staff from the Park District and UrbanWorks, a local architectural firm, conducted several listening sessions, taking notes and encouraging participation.

The suggestions with the most respondents involved questions about mobility, such as the pros and cons of closing Columbus Drive, ideas for equitable access throughout the park, and how the district can make the park more inclusive for people with disabilities.

Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago
Participants left sticky notes at several prompts asking how Grant Park could be improved.

“Speed ​​cameras and speed cameras on LSD and Columbus” wrote one resident on a sticky note.

“Add more lifts to the parking lots. For example, there is only one at the north end of the Maggie Daley Park garage,” reads another.

Many neighbors have suggested closing Columbus Drive altogether, saying the stretch is unsafe for pedestrians.

“I think there is a tendency to really consider the drivers and the traffic as the most important thing in this city. And I think it does the city a real disservice,” Ash Heyer said. “I think the area could be a lot more pleasant if people were given priority over cars and drivers.”

Heyer was part of a group of cyclists who attended the rally to advocate for more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly infrastructure in Grant Park.

District officials also asked visitors to place colored dots on a map of Grant Park to correspond with key landmarks and destinations, potential development and redevelopment sites, problematic intersections and sidewalks, and opportunities for the creation of public places and spaces.

The giant map has the most red dots, corresponding to intersections that residents find problematic at Lake Shore Drive and Balbo Drive, Columbus Drive and Ida B. Wells Drive, Lake Shore Drive and Monroe, and the intersection connecting Buckingham Fountain and Lake Shore Drive.

Some participants referred to the killing of the cyclist Gerardo Marciales at the intersection of Lake Shore and Balbo drive as the main reason to make the surrounding streets safer. Marciales was riding his bike last year on a crosswalk across DuSable Lake Shore Drive from the Lakefront Trail when a driver ran him over.

Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago
Park District and UrbanWorks staff gather feedback from attendees of an open house discussing Grant Park.

“Balbo and Lake Shore Drive witnessed the death of a pedestrian/cyclist [last] year. That is obviously a danger zone. You could literally die if you cross that street. I assume the same could be said for every Lake Shore Drive intersection,” Heyer said.

Adam Babel, another attendee, said he put his red dot on Lake Shore and Balbo for the same reason.

It was a pleasant surprise to see a prompt asking about deleting the Columbus drive, Babel said. This is an avenue that Babel and many other participants have identified as “unnecessary”.

“Obviously, I think anything we can do to reduce car traffic on Lake Shore Drive through the park is critical…because they call it ‘our backyard,’ but who wants cars to drive through their backyard?” said Babel.

The open house also prompted Babel to think about other aspects of the park that he hadn’t considered before, such as the event structure and the inclusion of more public restrooms.

Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago
Participants were asked several questions across five different categories, including conservation and landscaping, recreation, security and logistics, mobility and events.

“I think just seeing everyone else’s comments really helps me understand a little bit of a bigger perspective on the park,” Babel said.

The Park District and UrbanWorks are hosting two more open houses, one from 5-7pm on February 2 at the Art Institute of Chicago and the other from 5-7pm on February 8 at Columbia College .

The Grant Park Advisory Council hopes residents will continue to participate, which will help decide the future direction of the park. The council has already secured money to resurface its tennis courts along with private fundraisers and donations to build brand-new pickle ball courts, President Leslie Recht said.

The council wants to add permanent restrooms, more seating, better signage and improve ADA accessibility to the master plan, but needs residents to voice their support for these changes.

“It’s kind of like voting by participation in a way… is this what people need to think about what they would like to see and how much they are willing to put into it?” said Recht.

Babel and Heyer agreed, stating that open-door meetings are one of the only opportunities to make one’s voice heard.

“It’s a bit like voting. You have to eat your vegetables and come and do these things if you care what the space will be,” Babel said.

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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