We predict easy riding, despite the concerns
Something worth doing is worth doing right.
If the prospect of a new, modern development project promises to A) add value to the surrounding community, B) keep people engaged with said community, and C) allow people the freedom to wander the campus without getting hit by a car, then it’s most definitely worth doing right.
Last week, former president Barack Obama ventured to Jackson Park to unveil plans for his much-anticipated presidential center. Among those plans was this: a somewhat controversial revamp of Cornell Drive, located on the east side of what is soon to be Chicago’s next big attraction. The purpose of the revamp, according to Obama, is to create more green space and a safer, more people-friendly environment.
The proposal would include banning all cars from Cornell Drive between 60th and 67th streets, allowing Obama and his team to add five acres of parkland for a pedestrian walkway and a children’s play area.
“You can’t have little kids playing right next to the road,” Obama reportedly said at the meeting. “You can’t have sledding into the road.”
You also can’t stop other people from voicing their concerns.
Initial plans for the presidential center has drawn criticism from 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who opposed the idea of shutting down Cornell. She called it a surefire way to ensure a presumably long slog of slow, congested traffic, resulting from drivers who consistently use it as a shortcut from Lake Shore Drive’s 57th Street exit to the intersection of 67th and Stony Island Avenue, which then funnels to the Chicago Skyway.
Following the unveiling, the Tribune also had thoughts. On Monday, the paper’s editorial board cited a traffic study from 2014, stating that the daily vehicle count on Cornell was somewhere in the range of 19,300 annually. They labeled those numbers a proverbial bump in the road for the forthcoming center and closed its editorial by saying, “It’s up to Obama and his team, in collaboration with state and local officials, to find an answer better than This’ll just take you an extra minute or three. The South Side wants the library, but its residents also want to keep their work commutes and other car trips tolerable.”
Whatever the concerns, the traffic patterns of the city’s South Side resulting from a redesign of Cornell Drive are likely to be short-term problems for long-term benefits. But don’t take our word for it.
At the meeting earlier this month, Obama pointed out that the length of any additional commute stemming from the new presidential center would be minutes not hours, highlighting a preliminary study by the Illinois and the Chicago departments of transportation, both of which concluded that a revamp of Cornell Drive would add one to three minutes of commute time, at most.
The Illinois Department of Transportation also plans to conduct further studies to ensure commute times remain reasonable. And taking it a step further, Louise Murray, president of the Jackson Park Advisory council, has gone on record saying that she’s wanted to close the road for six years because of how dangerous it is, noting that two children have been hurt crossing the road in the last five years.
Even Hairston came around to the idea, telling DNAInfo “I liked what I saw,” referencing Obama’s unveiling.
And for all its apprehensions, the Tribune editorial noted that the motivation for closing the drive was “sound,” not least because the new presidential center is expected to draw several thousands of people to the Jackson Park location each year, meaning the presidential center needs to be a safe, insulated campus from nearby traffic.
Is the city willing to complicate plans for protected park land for the sake of an admittedly dangerous six-lane road?
Streetsblog proposed this alternative solution when the rumblings of a renovation began to spread back in February: “If we pedestrianize Cornell, a mostly six-lane, highway-like road slicing through one of Chicago’s treasured natural areas, drivers on LSD could instead get off at 57th and go west to Stony Island, or else take the drive all the way to its southern terminus near 67th, and then take that street to Stony.”
Then there’s this thorough rebuttal to the Tribune’s editorial, also from Streetsblog, which may be the most definitive point of them all: “But there’s also the phenomenon of traffic evaporation. When driving becomes a little less convenient, people choose to use different travel modes, or opt not to make unnecessary car trips. That’s why, despite gloomy predictions from the media, the Loop never grinds to a halt when multiple downtown streets are closed for construction projects. Instead, more people choose to leave their cars at home.”
Carmaggedon? That’s likely blowing things out of proportion.