Good news for Chicagoans hungry for alfresco dining: Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday announced a pilot program to close six city streets to traffic and allow local restaurants to create outdoor seating options socially distanced.
The six streets are: 75th Street from Calumet to Indiana Avenues in Chatham, 26th Street from Central Park to Harding Avenues in Little Village, Taylor Street from Loomis Street to Ashland Avenue on the Near West Side, Randolph Street from I-90/94 no further west than Elizabeth Street in the West Loop, Rush Street from Oak Streets to Cedar Streets in the Rush and Division neighborhood of the Gold Coast, and Belmont’s Broadway at Diversey Avenues in Lakeview.
“It is important that we show how outdoor meals can be prepared in a safe, orderly way and in a way that helps our businesses while allowing our residents some rest and relaxation in an incredibly stressful time,” Lightfoot said.
Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said the new seating options will help the city’s struggling restaurant scene. He said sales were down 80% overall, and his group estimates that half of Chicago’s 171,000 foodservice workers are laid off.
“Our hope is that the city can continue to explore and create dining options in our 77 communities,” said Toia. “Today’s announcement is not a solution for all Chicago restaurants, but it is another pragmatic and crucial step (on) the road to recovery.”
While Lightfoot celebrated the initiative and thanked the aldermen and business leaders who helped shape the plan, she cautioned diners must continue to keep public health in mind at all times.
“We can’t allow these open streets to turn into street festivals, and we won’t. These are reserved for sit-down meals, ”said Lightfoot. “Be clear: if we fail to do these pilots safely, we will not be able to continue or expand these outdoor dining opportunities. But I have no doubts that the residents of this city and our great restaurateurs will work hand in hand to ensure that this opportunity is one that they can do safely for their employees and safe for their customers. “
Restaurants in groups of three or more, trade associations, chambers of commerce, and special service areas that are not part of the pilot program and wish to offer ‘expanded alfresco dining’ in their area can apply for the city from Monday.
The outdoor dining program is part of “Our Streets,” a municipal plan to convert certain residential and commercial streets in Chicago to other uses. This plan also includes a “shared street” program, which closes certain residential streets to through traffic and allows pedestrians, runners and cyclists to move on the roadway and maintain an appropriate physical distance.
The first shared street opened on Friday along Leland Avenue, from Lincoln Avenue to Sheridan Road to Lincoln Square, Ravenswood and Uptown. As reported by WTTW News earlier this week, the city has secured permits for 14 miles of shared streets on the north and northwest sides. The timing for the rest of these streets is unclear, but a city official told WTTW News they were being vetted as part of a community engagement process.
Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Gia Biagi said the creation of shared streets is designed to be community-led. “Over the past month or so, we have received a wave of inquiries about this from Chicagoans seeking to make their local streets accessible for recreation while maintaining that safe distance from other people traveling or walking. exercising on the streets or sidewalks, ”Biagi said, urging interested Chicagoans to take a survey on the Department of Transportation’s COVID Mobility webpage. “We’ve heard from hundreds of Chicagoans… but we haven’t heard from everyone, and we want to hear from you.”
Although the expansion of outdoor restaurants and shared streets are temporary efforts, Lightfoot has not closed the door by letting them inform future streetscape plans.
“While the new open street plan is designed to improve the health of our residents and businesses, the hope we all share is that this program will provide a new and lasting glimpse into how we live and experience our neighborhoods. in ways that improve our communities and strengthen our bonds with one another, ”said Lightfoot.
When asked if local aldermen would be able to halt plans for transforming the streets of their communities, Lightfoot – a long-time enemy of aldermen’s privilege – said she hoped all problems could. be resolved through collaboration.
“I know there are aldermen who have a lot of questions about the open streets, but… we hope that if we see a circumstance where the community really wants something, we can fix all the issues,” Lightfoot mentioned.
The mayor also addressed another key open space issue: the continued closure of lakeside and adjacent parks, the Riverwalk and Trail 606.
“We are thinking by the lake every day and we are working hard to come up with a plan where we can open it but do it in a safe way. As soon as we have this plan available, we will certainly let the public know, ”she said.
Lightfoot began his press conference by berating President Donald Trump for his threats against protesters protesting the death of George Floyd. “I will code what I mean [to Trump] and it starts with F and ends with U, ”she said.