WICKER PARK — After a right-turn lane in Wicker Park’s busy six-way intersection was closed off to cars in the fall, a band of musicians who call themselves The Nick Alvarez Ensemble turned the patch of pavement into an occasional stage.
The right-turn lane for cars was removed at the southeast corner of Damen and Milwaukee Avenues to make more room for pedestrians.
Mike Amsden, a Chicago Department of Transportation planner, previously said as many as 1,000 pedestrians cross the Damen and Milwaukee slip lane — separated from two other Damen traffic lanes by a triangular concrete island — during peak morning and evening hours, while city data collectors observed just 32 cars turning right at that spot during the same period.
In other words, it’s a great place for street musicians.
Made up of Nick Alvarez on drums, Matt Riggen on trumpet, and Solomon Kimrey on bass, the ensemble performs infrequent jazz concerts for passersby in the mini triangle.
The ensemble has a street performers license to perform and have played all over the city, long before the turn lane was closed off, Alvarez said.
Transportion blog Streetsblog Chicago tweeted about the performance in the turn lane: “An unintended (but awesome) consequence of @ChicagoDOT closing the dangerous slip lane at North/Damen/Milwaukee in Wicker Park: Street musicians are using the new car-free space as a stage.”
The tweet elicited mostly positive feedback, though one man complained that “people shouldn’t be forced to listen to music they don’t want to” while walking on the street.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) tweeted back at the man, saying, “1 You’re not being forced, you can leave whenever you want. 2 Its not much different than people who blast their music while driving or riding. 3 One man’s noise is another’s music. 4 This might be one of those pesky freedom of speech and/or assembly things.”