An attendee reviews a giant map of Grant Park where others have left colored dots indicated areas for improvement and preservation. Red dots indicate problem intersections. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

DOWNTOWN — Residents asked for safer streets, more public bathrooms and more accessibility for people with disabilities in Grant Park at the Chicago Park District’s first open house meeting aimed at updating the park’s framework plan.

More than 60 people left input at the open house hosted at the Chicago Cultural Center, which the Park District will consider when updating its 20-year-old framework plan. The plan, also called Chicago’s Front Yard Reimagined, will provide guidelines for improving the famed Downtown park’s role as a public space and destination.

Attendees were asked to participate by using sticky notes to share thoughts around five different subjects including preservation and landscape, recreation, safety and logistics, mobility and events.

Staff from the Park District and UrbanWorks, a local architectural firm, led various listening sessions taking notes and encouraging participation.

The prompts with the most participation featured questions on mobility, like the pros and cons of closing Columbus Drive, ideas for equitable access across the park and how can the district make the park more inclusive for people with disabilities.

Participants left sticky notes at different prompts asking how Grant Park could be improved. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

“Speed and red light cameras on LSD and Columbus” one resident wrote on a sticky note.

“Add more elevators to the parking garages. For example there is only one on the North end of the Maggie Daley Park garage,” another read.

Many neighbors suggested shutting down Columbus Drive altogether, saying the stretch is dangerous for pedestrians.

“I think there’s a tendency to really treat drivers and the throughput of traffic as the most important thing in this city. And I think it does the city a real disservice,” Ash Heyer said. “I think the area could be a lot more pleasant if people were prioritized over cars and drivers.”

Heyer was part of a group of cyclists who attended the meeting to advocate for more pedestrian and cyclist friendly infrastructure at Grant Park.

District officials also asked visitors to place colored dots on a map of Grant Park to correspond with key landmarks and destinations, potential development and redevelopment sites, problem intersections and sidewalks, and opportunities for placemaking and public space.

The giant map features the most red dots, corresponding with intersections residents deemed problems at Lake Shore Drive and Balbo Drive, Columbus Drive and Ida B. Wells Drive, Lake Shore Drive and Monroe and the intersection connecting Buckingham Fountain and Lake Shore Drive.

Some attendees referenced the killing of bicyclist Gerardo Marciales at the intersection of Lake Shore and Balbo drives as a prime reason to make the surrounding roads safer. Marciales was riding his bike last year in a crosswalk across DuSable Lake Shore Drive from the Lakefront Trail when a driver hit him.

Park district and UrbanWorks staff collect feedback from participants at an open house discussing Grant Park. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

“Balbo and Lake Shore Drive saw a pedestrian/cyclist fatality [last] year. That is obviously a dangerous area. You could literally die if you walk across that street. I presume the same could be said for every intersection of Lake Shore Drive,” Heyer said.

Adam Babel, another attendee, said he put his red dot on Lake Shore and Balbo for that same reason.

It was a pleasant surprise to see a prompt asking about the elimination of Columbus drive, Babel said. That’s a road Babel and many other attendees have identified as a “not needed.”

“Obviously, anything we can do to reduce car traffic on Lake Shore Drive through the park I think is paramount … because they’re calling it ‘our front yard’ but who wants cars driving through their front yard?” Babel said.

The open house also prompted Babel to think about other aspects of the park that he never considered before — like the structure of events and inclusion of more public bathrooms.

Attendees were prompted with different questions on five different categories including preservation and landscape, recreation, safety and logistics, mobility and events. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

“Just seeing everybody else’s comments I think really helps me understand a little bit of a broader perspective on the park,” Babel said.

The park district and UrbanWorks are hosting two more open houses, one 5-7 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Art Institute of Chicago and the other 5-7 p.m. Feb. 8 at Columbia College.

The Grant Park Advisory Council is hoping residents will continue to participate, which will help decide the future direction of the park. Already the council has secured the money to resurface its tennis courts along with private fundraising and donations to build brand new pickle ball courts, President Leslie Recht said.

The council wants to add permanent bathroom facilities, more seating, better signage and improve ADA accessibility to the framework plan, but needs residents to voice their support for these changes.

“In a way it’s kind of like voting by participation … that’s what people need to think about what would they like to see and how much are they willing to put themselves into it?” Recht said.

Babel and Heyer agreed, saying the open house meetings are one of the only opportunities to have their voices heard.

“It’s kind of like voting. You got to eat your vegetables and come do this stuff if you care about what the space is gonna be,” Babel said.

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