[This piece also appears in Time Out Chicago.]
Gabe Klein’s words were eerily prescient. In July I asked the new Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) chief if he’d consider re-installing 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 said. “People are crossing anyway and they’re running across Lake Shore Drive.”
On August 6, during Eminem’s set at Lollapalooza, as dozens of kids ran across the drive attempting to jump the fences on the east side of the festival, two young men were struck by a car, sustaining serious-to-critical injuries, as they tried to sprint across the ten lanes of traffic east of the fountain.
It wasn’t the first pedestrian mishap at this location. The site is called Queen’s Landing (at approximately 500 S Lake Shore Drive) because in 1959 the city stopped traffic and rolled a red carpet across the drive during a visit from Queen Elizabeth II so the monarch could stroll from the royal yacht to the fountain. In 1988 a speeding motorist killed 13-year-old Annette Ruiz as she tried to make the crossing. In response, the city quickly installed the crosswalk and stoplight.
But in 2005, shortly after Daley created the Traffic Management Authority with the goal of improving motorized traffic flow, the city quietly took down the stoplight and fenced off the crosswalk. “It’s all about getting the traffic through more expeditiously,” explained spokeswoman Monique Bond at the time. But the closure forced pedestrians to make a quarter-mile detour north to Jackson or south to Balbo to cross safely, and then-Loop Alderman Burton Natarus, park and pedestrian advocates cried foul.
Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke says the recent crash is a stark reminder this city needs better walking infrastructure. Cars struck over 3,000 pedestrians and killed 34 in Chicago in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) records. “With so many people interested in crossing the drive at Queen’s Landing in order to visit Buckingham Fountain and the lakeshore, it’s imperative to reopen the crosswalk,” Burke says.
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 has become an increasing problem, with hundreds of kids, including social media-organized flash mobs, 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.mrbuckwheattree
During the fest pedestrians are not permitted to cross the drive between Monroe and the museum campus underpass at Roosevelt, 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 festival security staff, she says. Each year C3 and the city add security improvements and they’ll continue to look at ways to deter illegal crossing of the drive and gatecrashing, Hickey says.
CDOT spokesman Brian Steele told us his agency will be part of this discussion and revealed the signalized crosswalk at Queen’s Landing is coming back. “Last weekend’s crash illustrates the need for a well-designed pedestrian crossing,” he says. “We are working with IDOT on a plan to reinstall [the crosswalk] this fall,” he says.
Pedestrian advocate Michael Burton, whose Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront put out an only-half-joking call for completely “de-paving” Lake Shore Drive in the late aughties, applauds the city’s decision. “This recent tragedy vividly illustrates that 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.’ “