The Ohio Street pedestrian underpass to the lakefront will be closed overnight starting Wednesday night after the Emanuel administration stepped in to simply order the gate closed, allowing aldermen to avoid a potentially divisive vote on the issue.
The council Finance Committee was set to take a vote Wednesday morning on downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly’s proposal to close the underpass near which a 25-year-old woman was recently shot. It will close from midnight to 5 a.m. during warm weather months.
But Reilly instead deferred the proposal and said the Emanuel administration told him it will have a city worker lock the gate at the underpass each night starting tonight.
Reilly said he just wants to improve safety in the tony Streeterville neighborhood. Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale countered at a recent committee meeting on the proposal that he doesn’t see the same kind of outrage and attention when young people die in outlying communities.
The underpass recently has been at the center of a debate over Chicago’s violence, the tradition of an accessible lakefront and allegations the city cares more about the touristy weekend party areas around the Loop and River North than about the overwhelmingly black and Latino neighborhoods where most of the city’s notorious gun violence takes place.
Reilly said he’s simply trying to make it easier for police to patrol the lakefront at a time when the department’s resources are stretched thin by using his local authority to cut access to a tunnel that has long been a neighborhood problem.
Previously, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was noncommittal about his support of the idea of closing the underpass, saying only that he would work with Reilly to improve safety in the area. But faced with the potential for a racially charged debate on the floor in council chambers, the city stepped in and handled the situation ahead of time.
The Finance Committee approved Reilly’s plan earlier this week, but there was a question at the time about whether the order had been added to the agenda in time to follow the Open Meetings act. The committee was preparing to vote on the order again Wednesday when Reilly instead deferred it.