ROGERS PARK — The Park District is rolling out safety measures along the lakefront after clashing with neighbors over the installation of life rings at a dangerous Rogers Park pier.
At a Park District board meeting Wednesday, officials announced several precautions for lakefront safety. The move follows public backlash over the district’s decision to remove life rings installed by neighbors at Tobey Prinz Beach Park, where 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros drowned last month.
The district will install life rings at beaches and will restrict access to “higher-risk areas” along the lakefront, said Tim King, the district’s general counsel. Officials haven’t specified what those areas would be, but access may be restricted at piers like the one at Tobey Prinz, which has been the site of at least three drowning deaths in recent years.
The safety measures will be in place by beach season 2022, though some are being implemented now, King said. They are being undertaken “as a result of an increase in park patrons attempting to swim in not-safe-to-swim locations along the lakefront, and some associated public sentiment to mitigate that risk,” he said.
Caution signs were installed last week at Farwell Pier near Tobey Prinz Beach Park, 1050 W. Pratt Blvd.
“In a few recent incidents, signage has been ignored and not followed,” King said.
It is not clear where lakefront areas will be restricted to the public. A Park District spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said she has requested the district’s plans in writing and had yet to receive it as of Thursday.
The life rings will be installed at beaches, not at non-sanctioned swimming areas, King said. The equipment will be hooked up to an app system that alerts employees when the life rings are removed or used so that they can be repositioned or replaced, he said. The app system is not a real-time safety measure.
The life rings will be considered part of a pilot program.
“We are doing this to assess effectiveness and feasibility and to determine if further course of action will be followed,” King said at the meeting.
The Park District will also launch a community outreach campaign on water safety and implement a user agreement to require people signing up for parks programs to read information about lakefront safety, King said.
Rogers Park neighbors have pushed the district for years to address drowning deaths in the neighborhood.
The issue came to a head this August when Cisneros drowned after jumping off Farwell Pier when lifeguards were not on duty. In response, a neighbor installed a life ring at the end of the pier and other neighbors installed “caution” signs.
Parks crews removed those and subsequent life rings left at the pier. The move was met with outcry from neighbors and local officials. Dozens of neighbors rallied at the pier this week, paying tribute to Cisneros and urging Park District officials to act.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, two outside experts defended the park’s decision to remove the rings, saying it could open the district to legal liability and that life rings are not guaranteed life savers.
“It’s highly likely any resultant injury because of use or misuse of anything at those stations would generate liability for the district,” said Nadav Shoked, a Northwestern University law professor. “At a minimum, there should be more research.”
Gerry Dworkin, a consultant with Lifesaving Resources, said life rings require the proper circumstances and usage to be effective in preventing a drowning death.
“The general public typically cannot throw a ring buoy accurately or with any distance,” Drowkin said at the meeting. “It may give people a false sense of security.”
Halle Quezada, who is among the neighbors to lead the water-safety campaign, said the Park District is still taking a legal-first approach to solving a very human problem. She said the decision to close areas like piers, instead of making them safer, “feels punitive.”
“It feels like their doing things to the community, not with the community,” Quezada said.
Chicago’s lakefront lifeguards made 10 lake rescues this summer, district officials said at the Wednesday’s meeting. Beaches closed to the public on Labor Day.
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