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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

At Rogers Park’s New Expanded Outdoor Dining Area, Diners Share Street With Cars: ‘I’m Absolutely Terrified’

Rogers Park's Jarvis Square appears to be the only expanded outdoor dining area in the city not closed to traffic.

The Jarvis Square expanded outdoor dining area must share the street with car traffic.
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ROGERS PARK — As Sandra Carter was getting her business ready for the second weekend of Jarvis Square’s expanded outdoor dining program, she took some time Friday to play traffic cop.

While rearranging tables on Taste Food & Wine’s outdoor patio, Carter stopped to tell pedestrians wandering along Jarvis Avenue that the street they thought was closed to traffic actually wasn’t.

As patrons gathered in the dining area that expands onto Jarvis, Carter motioned at oncoming drivers to slow down, pointing to the shared street set-up.

“You see traffic just barreling down,” said Carter, who co-owns Taste Food & Wine. “We’re not comfortable with it. I’m absolutely terrified.”

Jarvis Avenue is among at least 10 city streets that Chicago is closing to traffic for expanded outdoor dining as part of a program meant to help businesses struggling through the coronavirus pandemic. Under the program, Jarvis can partially close from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

But unlike other parts of the city, in Rogers Park, diners have to share the street with cars.

The resulting confusion so far is causing headaches, frustration and some fear among participating businesses.

“It’s not ideal,” said Annie Cathcart, co-owner of Charmers Cafe, one of the businesses participating in the Jarvis Square expanded outdoor dining program. “It’s not pleasant to have the cars going past. It doesn’t feel safe.”

Rogers Park is the latest neighborhood to receive a permit for expanded outdoor dining. The program is newly developed in response to COVID-19, and city officials have said red tape was removed from the permitting process to allow restaurants to rapidly expand outdoor seating and begin recouping lost revenue from the shutdown.

The city’s permit process requires at least five city agencies — from the Department of Transportation to emergency management officials — to approve the expanded outdoor dining requests. Businesses must get the approval of their local police officials, who have to sign off on a safety plan for the expanded dining area.

RELATED: Restaurants On Jarvis Avenue Near L Tracks Get Expanded Outdoor Dining

In Rogers Park, police initially told businesses they would have to reinforce street closure signs by erecting car-proof barricades filled with 900 gallons of water, business owners said. The cost would fall on the businesses, they said.

Since those barricades have not been required in other participating neighborhoods, businesses asked police to reconsider, and they said the measure was dropped.

Instead, police then said a lane of Jarvis had to remain open to traffic for the second week of the program, according to business owners.

“The businesses are subjected to additional safety measures that the rest of the city is not subjected to, and it seems unfair,” said Sandi Price, executive director of the Rogers Park Business Alliance.

The resulting situation leaves only a few feet separating car traffic from the dining area, with traffic cones and wooden “horses” serving as a barrier between cars and diners.

Cars zoom past customers seated in the expanded dining area, and the change has caused confusion among drivers and pedestrians alike, according to business owners and neighborhood officials.

The Jarvis Square expanded outdoor dining area must share the street with car traffic.

There’s also the issue of the “road closed” barrier that cordons off the portion of Jarvis used for dining.

The barrier leaves some believing the street is fully closed. People congregate in the road or allow children to play where cars are still allowed and could pose a threat, Carter said. Drivers are equally confused, she said.

Carter spent $300 on additional signage to help drivers and pedestrians avoid confusion.

Businesses are frustrated that local police nearly stymied the outdoor dining effort because of their request to protect diners with anti-car barriers, only to create a public safety problem by allowing car traffic.

“Apparently that concern is no longer a concern,” Carter said.

A local police official said the department also was not happy with the configuration of the outdoor dining area because cars and pedestrians were not separated by sturdy barriers. Jarvis remains open for emergency access to the “L” stop and because other businesses, including a storage company, occupy the street, they said.

“I didn’t like the set-up either,” the police official said. “The side face of the seating is kind of open, and that’s kind of scary. It’s a work in progress.”

The Chicago Department of Transportation, which is administering the program, did not respond to a request for comment.

Ald. Maria Hadden’s (49th) office will huddle Tuesday with local police, Jarvis Square businesses and the local business alliance to see if a compromise can be found, said Torrence Gardner, director of economic and community development for the 49th Ward.

Closing down Jarvis Square for festivals and other events has been successful in the past, Gardner said.

“It’s frustrating to see the hoops businesses have to go through,” Gardner said. “These businesses have five years’ experience closing down the street. We want the city to trust business owners who have done the work before.”

In a Facebook post, Hadden said the Jarvis Square outdoor dining program only opened after a month of working through “the bureaucratic red tape of a new, multi-agency program.” Requiring the approval of the multiple city agencies has created a confusing process for business owners, Gardner said.

“Businesses are being told one thing from one department and another thing from another department,” he said.

But it’s a program business owners want to fight for, they said. With the restaurant industry in particular suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, the expanded outdoor dining could be a godsend, if the kinks get worked out, Carter said.

Because of the outdoor dining program, both Taste Food & Wine and R Public House have been able to nearly triple their outdoor seating.

“We have to participate, because it’s the only way we can expand seating,” she said. “We just want everyone to be safe.”

Read all of Block Club’s coverage on outdoor dining here.

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