City to reopen crosswalk following Lollapalooza accident
The city says it will work with Lolla 2012 organizers to secure Lake Shore Drive.
Gabe Klein’s words were eerily prescient. In July, we asked the new Chicago Department of Transportation chief if he’d consider reinstalling the signalized crosswalk that had allowed pedestrians to safely cross from Buckingham Fountain to Monroe Harbor for 17 years until Mayor Daley removed it. “I would like to put it back,” he responded. “People are crossing anyway and they’re running across Lake Shore Drive.”
Last week, following an accident at the same site on August 6 in which a vehicle hit two men, CDOT spokesman Brian Steele revealed to us that his department, with help from the Illinois Department of Transportation, will reopen the crosswalk. “Last weekend’s crash,” Steele said, “illustrates the need for a well-designed pedestrian crossing.”
The incident occurred during Eminem’s set at Lollapalooza. As dozens of people sprinted across the ten lanes of LSD traffic in an attempt to jump the fences on the east side of the festival, the two twentysomethings were struck by a car and sustained serious-to-critical injuries.
It wasn’t the first pedestrian-motorist mishap at this location: In 1988, 13-year-old Annette Ruiz was killed by a speeding vehicle as she tried to make the crossing. In response, the city installed the crosswalk and stoplight at the spot, called Queen’s Landing because in 1959 the city stopped traffic and rolled a red carpet across the drive during a visit from Queen Elizabeth II.
But in 2005, shortly after Daley created the Traffic Management Authority with the goal of improving motorized traffic flow, the city took down the stoplight and fenced off the crosswalk. “It’s all about getting the traffic through more expeditiously,” spokeswoman Monique Bond explained at the time. But the closure forced pedestrians to make a quarter-mile detour north to Jackson or south to Balbo to cross safely. The Loop’s alderman at the time, Burton Natarus, and park and pedestrian advocates objected.
The recent crash is a stark reminder this city needs better walking infrastructure, Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke says. Cars struck more than 3,000 pedestrians and killed 34 in Chicago in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, according to CDOT records. “With so many people interested in crossing the drive at Queen’s Landing in order to visit Buckingham Fountain and the lakeshore,” Burke says, “it’s imperative to reopen the crosswalk.”
Arguably, the missing crosswalk isn’t to blame for the Lollapalooza accident since people weren’t supposed to be entering the festival at Buckingham Fountain anyway. In the last few years, fence jumping at Lolla has become an increasing problem, with hundreds of kids, including social-media-organized groups, gathering outside the perimeter of the concert grounds and attempting to crash the gates, says Lisa Hickey, marketing director at C3 Presents, the Austin-based company that stages Lollapalooza. “These groups are in it for a thrill, and not at all concerned for their own safety,” she says.
During the fest, pedestrians are not permitted to cross Lake Shore Drive between Monroe Street and the museum campus underpass at Roosevelt Road, Hickey says. In response to increasing numbers of “jumpers,” this year both sides of Lake Shore Drive were secured with fences and barricades plus numerous police officers and security staff, she says. Each year, C3 and the city tweak its security, Hickey adds, and for next year’s fest they’ll look at ways to deter illegal crossing of the drive and gatecrashing. Steele told us CDOT also will be part of this discussion.
Pedestrian advocate Michael Burton, whose Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront put out an only-half-joking call for “de-paving” Lake Shore Drive in the late aughties, applauds the city’s decision to reinstall the crosswalk. “High-speed motor traffic has no place on Chicago’s lakefront,” he says. “As Daniel Burnham wrote in the Plan of Chicago, ‘The lakefront by right belongs to the people.… Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.’ ”