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Organizers of Friday Vigil: We Won’t Wait Until 2026 to Prevent Bike Deaths

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Anastasia Kondrasheva.

In the wake of the bike/truck collision that took the life of Anastasia Kondrasheva on Monday, as well as several other recent bike fatality cases, this Friday activists are holding a candlelight vigil and ghost bike installation at the crash site. The organizers say they’re through waiting for the city of Chicago to make progress on its four-year-old goal of eliminating all traffic deaths. Instead, they’re demanding that major steps be taken immediately to prevent such tragedies, especially those caused by commercial drivers.

Kondrasheva, a 23-year-old health coach, was biking to work Monday morning when a flatbed truck driver made a right turn into her path at Addison Street and Damen Avenue, fatally striking her. The driver was cited for failure to exercise due care for a bicyclist in the roadway, according to police.

Last Thursday evening Northwestern student Chuyuan Qiu, 18, was killed in a crash with a concrete truck in Evanston. Since June, four other people have been fatally struck by commercial vehicle drivers while biking in Chicago: Blaine Klingenberg, Virgina Murray, Lisa Kuivinen, and Francisco Cruz. Like Kondrasheva, Murray and Kuivinen were also killed by right-tuning flatbed truck drivers.

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Kristen Green prepares memorials for Kondrasheva and Chuyuan Qiu. Photo: Chicago Ghost Bikes

Garfield Ridge pizzeria worker Nick Fox, passed away last Sunday from injuries sustained in a June bike/train crash, bringing Chicago’s total 2016 bike death toll to six.

Friday’s vigil and ghost bike installation will take place at Addison and Damen from 6:30 to 7 p.m. Some 180 people have RSVPed on Facebook to say that they will attend. It’s also likely that participants from Chicago Critical Mass will ride from Daley Plaza to the ceremony.

“We are gathering the cycling community and Chicago community to honor the memory of Anastasia Kondrasheva and to demand safe streets now,” reads a statement from the vigil organizers. “In light of the six bicyclists and 18 pedestrians who have been killed in Chicago in 2016 many of which involving large commercial vehicles in densely populated neighborhood streets, we no longer accept the empty promises of Chicago’s [‘zero in ten‘] plan.”

In May 2012 the Chicago Department of Transportation released its “Chicago Forward” agenda, including the stated goal of eliminating all traffic deaths by 2022, a target inspired by the international Vision Zero movement. Earlier this month the city announced a formal Vision Zero initiative, starting with a three-year interdepartmental action plan slated for release later this fall. The deadline for reaching zero traffic deaths and serious injuries has been pushed back to 2026.

Following Kondrasheva’s death, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey told the Tribune that her case shows why Vision Zero is badly needed. “This is another tragedy that underscores the urgency of our mission,” he said.

Rebecca Resman, a former Active Transportation employee who organizes the Roscoe Village Kidical Mass family ride and runs the Chicago Family Biking page on Facebook, came up with the idea for the vigil. “When I heard about the death at Addison and Damen, I was in shock, angry, scared, and tired of hearing news that another cyclist had been killed,” she told me.

Resman lives a couple of blocks from the crash site, and her first reflex was to head to the intersection. “I felt I needed to get down there and make sure that people understand that there are fragile human lives passing through this intersection every day. She brought along her two young children in a cargo bike, along with signs that read “Please put the phone down” and “Don’t hit me.”

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The New Wilson ‘L’ Platform Will Be Massive – The Widest in the System

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A recent aerial view of the Wilson station. The old platform is on the left. The much wider new island platform is on the right. Photo: CTA

This morning the CTA celebrated the completion of more than 50 percent of the Wilson station reconstruction project, shortly after all customer boarding was moved to the recently completed west island platform. Now that both sides of the new platform are completed and the transit agency is working on demolishing the old one, you can get a sense of just how big the station will be when both island platforms are in place. The entire track and platform combo will be the widest in the system, dwarfing even the double-island-platform at the Belmont Red/Purple/Brown station.

This week the transit agency is beginning the third phase of the $203 million reconstruction project, which includes rebuilding the station house to make it wheelchair accessible and reconstructing all track structures next to the station. After Phase Three is completed in late 2017, the train stop will become a new transfer point between the Red and Purple lines.

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Looking north from the new platform this morning. Old platform is visible on the right. Photo: John Greenfield

At today’s press conference, 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman argued that the station project is already providing a shot in the arm to the local economy. He noted that about 50 percent of nearby residents don’t own cars, but they often leave the neighborhood to shop. However, Cappleman said the new station has encouraged 18 new businesses to open in the ward, noting that there will soon be four independently owned coffee shops on Wilson near the station.

CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. said the Wilson station rehab is the latest in several upcoming planned Red Line improvements, including the Red-Purple Modernization project and the south Red Line extension. He put in a word for the city’s proposal for a new Transit TIF (tax-increment financing) district along the north Red Line to help fund RPM improvements.

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Active Trans’ Kickstand Classic Fundraiser Ride Springs Into Action

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Students from South Elgin High cheer on a rider. Photo: John Greenfield

Last Sunday was the maiden voyage of the Active Transportation Alliance’s Kickstand Classic, a combination race and fun ride to support the group’s walking, biking, and transit advocacy effects. Thanks in part to absolutely perfect weather, the event, held in the northwest-suburban village of Bartlett, appeared to be a big success, which makes it seem likely it will become an annual happening.

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One of the faster heats gets ready to ride. Photo: Active Trans

Active Trans director Ron Burke had stressed beforehand that the Kickstand Classic was an experiment, because it was intended as a cross between a competitive race and a leisurely recreational ride, something that may not have been done before in the U.S. But the event exceeded expectations – the group had hoped for 500 participants and instead sold out the event with 600. Burke wasn’t sure yesterday how much money was taken in, but it seems likely the event could grow into a significant funding source for the organization.

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Some nice scenery along the way. Photo: John Greenfield

The starting line and post-race festival area were located just south of the local Metra station and the event took place on a 4.8-mile, roughly trapezoidal course of village streets that were rendered car-free for the occasion. There were three different heats for experienced, fast racers and road riders; confident cyclists who wanted to try their hand at racing; and casual riders who wanted to see what it was like to pedal a bit faster, or just take a mellow cruise (I counted myself in that last category).

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Diverter Test on Manor Avenue: “People Have to Change Their Habits”

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Looking southeast at Wilson/Manor. Barricades prevent cut-through motor vehicle traffic on Manor but allow two-way bike traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night a group of about 130 people gathered to voice their questions, comments, and concerns, about a car traffic diverter that the Chicago Department of Transportation is testing in Ravenswood Manor. On Monday, CDOT set up two barricades on Manor Avenue at Wilson Avenue that diverts car traffic on Manor approaching Wilson onto Wilson, and prevents vehicle turns from Wilson onto Manor.

CDOT expects the diverter to reduce car traffic volume on Manor, which will “complement” the neighborhood greenway they’re building on Manor from Montrose to Lawrence to connect two riverfront multi-use trails. The neighborhood greenway is a set of traffic calming elements, including raised crosswalks at the entrances and shortened crosswalks through the use of bumpouts, to make it more comfortable to walk and bike on the street.

Mike Amsden, assistant director of transportation planning at CDOT, said that the test will end November 18, and that he’s been at the intersection three days this week to monitor car and bike traffic and talk to residents. David Smith, a consultant at CDOT, has also been out there each day. Amsden said that this is the highest number of people he’s seen attend meetings about city transportation projects he’s worked on.

The people who came to the meeting voiced a wide range of ideas about the impact of the barricades, ranging from an unexplained suggestion that the situation is making the intersection a more dangerous place, to commendations of CDOT for actually trying to resolve certain issues and that the test should run its course.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The test involves counting car and bike traffic volumes and driver speeds at 15 locations starting two weeks after the test begins, to allow for an adjustment period. The count locations are within Ravenswood Manor and outside the neighborhood, defined by Sacramento on the west, Lawrence on the north, Montrose on the south, and the river on the east.

Amsden said the diverter was designed to address three goals:

  • Reduce car traffic on Manor Avenue
  • Simplify the intersection of Manor, Mozart, Wilson
  • Create a comfortable corridor for people walking and biking along Manor to access the CTA station and businesses, Ronan and Horner Parks, and the future river trail south of Montrose

In response to the question, “is there another option that might be trialled to figure out the best way” Amsden said that “we came up with several options, we felt this option did the best of addressing those goals.”

In between the range of opinions were questions about what other options are if the diverter turns out to be a failure, dissatisfaction about the process, and a claim that setting up the diverter amounted to closing down public streets and was illegal. “Just to be clear,” Amsden said, “we didn’t close a street.” Read more…

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Join Me for the Very First (Legal) Ride on the North Branch Trail Extension

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Toni Preckwinkle and other officials cut the ribbon on the trail this afternoon at Thaddeus S. “Ted” Lechowicz Woods, 5901 N. Central Ave. Photo: John Greenfield

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I’m happy to report that I got to take the maiden voyage on the northern half of theNorth Branch Trail extension this afternoon after officials cut the ribbon on the 1.8-mile stretch of off-street path. You can take a virtual spin on the trail with me by watching the video below. It’s probably not riveting viewing, and the recording stopped a little before I reached the end of the new stretch but it will give you an idea of what it’s like traveling on this high-quality facility.

The just-opened segment runs from Forest Glen to the southeast trailhead of the existing 18-mile North Branch Trail, which runs all the way north to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Work is underway to build an additional 1.2 miles of path that will continue the trail southeast to Gompers Park near the the LaBaugh Woods and Irene C. Hernandez Picnic Grove at Foster Avenue.

“The Forest Preserves offer more than 300 miles of trails in Cook County, which serve as a gateway to nature,” said county board president Toni Preckwinkle in a statement. “We are proud to mark the completion of phase one of this extension, which will serve additional Chicago residents as well as those in eight neighboring suburbs.”

The first phase of the extension includes a ten-foot-wide asphalt trail and two new bridges; one over the North Branch of the Chicago River at Central Street, and another over Metra’s Milwaukee District North line tracks. There’s also a new crosswalk for the trail at Central Street, with a button-activated stoplight, by the Matthew Bieszczat Volunteer Resource Center, 6100 North Central Avenue.

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Bicycling Gives Chicago the Award for Best Biking City – Do We Deserve It?

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The Bloomingdale Trail this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

This morning’s announcement that Bicycling magazine has ranked Chicago as the best cycling city in the U.S. in its biennial ratings, up from second place to New York in 2014, was surely a head-scratcher for many people who ride bikes in our city on a regular basis.

As of 2015, our bike mode share was a mere 1.7 percent of all trips to work, less than a quarter of Portland’s 7.2 percent mode share. While Chicago has built plenty of buffered and protected bike lanes, we don’t have a cohesive, intuitive network of low-stress bikeways, in contrast with Minneapolis, where it’s possible to bike from many neighborhoods to the central business district via off-street paths. Our conventional bike lanes are often clogged with illegally parked vehicles, torn up for utility work, or dangerously obstructed by construction projects. And then there’s the fact that four people were fatally struck by allegedly reckless drivers while biking in Chicago over a roughly two-month period this summer.

Still, I think one can make a case that, with all of the strides our city has made over the last five years to improve cycling, we do deserve an award as the large U.S. city that is doing the most things correctly to get more people on bikes and make cycling safer. Let’s look at some of the arguments for this point of view. Here’s the magazine’s top ten ranking for 2016:

  1. Chicago
  2. San Francisco
  3. Portland, OR
  4. New York
  5. Seattle
  6. Minneapolis
  7. Austin
  8. Cambridge, MA
  9. Washington, D.C.
  10. Boulder, CO

The Bicycling write-up of Chicago’s cycling strengths notes that the city built 100 miles of next-generation bike lanes within Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first term in office. Thankfully, they didn’t say that 100 miles of protected lanes were built, as the city has often claimed, but rather, “Emanuel made good on a promise to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes.” Even that’s not technically accurate, since Emanuel originally pledged to build 100 miles of physically protected lanes, and only wound up putting in 19.5 miles of PBLs, plus 83.5 miles of buffered lanes. Still, that was a major achievement.

The magazine also cites the Divvy bike-share system and the Divvy for Everyone equity program, the use of concrete curb protection for bike lanes (many new curb-protected lanes are currently planned), the upcoming 35th Street bike-ped bridge, and the in-progress construction of Big Marsh bike park as reasons for the ranking. The article doesn’t even mention the Bloomingdale Trail (aka The 606) elevated greenway, which many residents consider to be the shiniest new jewel in Chicago’s cycling crown.

Bicycling editor-in-chief Bill Strickland presented the award to Mayor Emanuel this morning during a ceremony in Humboldt Park’s Julia de Burgos Park, a Bloomingdale trailhead. During the presentation, Strickland called bicycle riders an “indicator species,” a sign that things are going right for a city in terms of the economy, traffic safety, congestion, and pollution. He also noted that bike lanes can help residents of underserved communities access jobs, and bikeways have an integrating effect, connecting people in diverse neighborhoods. “So for 2016, the city that most embodies this is Chicago,” he said.

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Strickland, right, presents the award to Emanuel. Active Trans’ Ron Burke is in green shirt. Photo: John Greenfield

Emanuel, who has often been accused of indifference towards the needs of underserved neighborhoods, especially in the wake of the LaQuan McDonald police shooting scandal, riffed on the theme of bike lanes as opportunity corridors. He noted that the city has contracted the bike equity group Slow Roll Chicago to promote the Divvy for Everyone program, which offers $5 first-year memberships to low-income residents.

“If we’re going to be the city we want to be… having Divvy in every part of the city, where everybody has a chance to participate, allows people to go through communities and feel like they’re a part, rather than apart, from Chicago,” Emanuel said.

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Some Skepticism, Lots of Support for Funding Red Line Work With Transit TIF

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The proposed transit TIF district would run a half mile in either direction from the Red Line between Division and Devon. Image: CTA

At a public meeting Tuesday night, Department of Planning and Development and Chicago Transit Authority officials outlined plans for a new transit TIF district along the North Side Mainline ‘L’, which carries the Red and Purple lines. The proposed TIF (tax-increment finance district) would generate funds to help pay for the Red-Purple Modernization project.

At the meeting, representatives explained how transit TIFs work compared to traditional ones. The former are a brand-new funding tool that creates a dedicated revenue stream for public transportation projects in Chicago. Earlier this summer the Illinois legislature passed a bill legalizing the funding mechanism, only within the city limits.

The proposed North Side transit TIF would extend from Division Street to Devon Street, within a half-mile east and west of the Main Line, and it would last for 35 years. The TIF district bankroll Phase I of the two-phase modernization project, which includes the Red-Purple Bypass (aka the Belmont Flyover) and the reconstruction of the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations. This will involve rebuilding the tracks and track structures, widening the platforms, and modernizing the station houses, including making them wheelchair accessible. Phase II would include other track improvements and station projects.

The transit TIF would be used to generate revenue to pay back a federal loan for the infrastructure. Since the improved transit service will raise local property values, which means more property tax revenue, the TIF allows some that transit-generated income to be capture and used for the loan payments.

Traditional TIFs, which also capture revenue from property tax increases for improvements within the TIF district, have been widely criticized for diverting tax revenue from the Chicago Public Schools. However, the transit TIF law requires that the proportion of tax revenue currently given to the CPS remains unchanged. After the school funding is allocated, 80 percent of the remaining revenue goes to the transit project and 20 percent to other taxing bodies.

Even after the officials discussed how the North Side transit TIF would function, there was still some confusion from attendees. More than once residents asked if property tax revenue would be diverted from schools, and whether funds from this TIF would be used for projects like the reconstruction of the Wilson Red/Purple Line station or the Clark/Division Red Line stop, which aren’t included in the RPM project.

43rd Ward Alderman Michelle Smith spoke briefly against the proposed transit TIF to loud applause from the audience. She argued that the proposal, which will be going before City Council this fall, was a rushed mechanism to pay for the project. She added ominously that this would be the first-ever TIF district in the ward.

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CDOT Has a Full Plate of New and Upgraded Bike Lane Infrastructure

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CDOT is working on a new design for the intersection of Cortland Street and Marshfield Avenue near the eastern entrance to the Bloomingdale Trail.

During last week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting Chicago Department of Transportation staffers shared a number of updates on the city’s bike network.

At the event, CDOT planner Mike Amsden, who manages the department’s bikeways program, explained how funds from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s $12 million sponsorship of the Divvy bike-share system are helping to pay for bike lane maintenance.

While new Chicago bikeways are often paid for by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants, this money can’t be used to repair existing bike lanes. Therefore funding for restriping faded lanes has to be cobbled together from various sources, which is why many bikeways shown on the city’s bike map are actually faded to near-invisibility.

A primary source for bike lane maintenance is CDOT’s Arterial Resurfacing program, paid for by state and federal funds. When a street is repaved through this program, CDOT will use the funding to restripe existing bike lanes or, if deemed appropriate, add new bikeways.

Another potential funding source for restriping is the $1.32 million in discretionary “menu” money allocated annually to each of Chicago’s 50 wards, but only a fraction of the wards have opted to spend the funding that way. From 2012 to 2015, only nine aldermen or participatory budgeting elections allocated menu money for bike lane restriping or construction, spending a grand total of less than $1 million, according to a review of menu expenditures posted on the city’s Office of Management and Budget website. That was less than 0.4 percent of the $264 million in menu funds available to all 50 aldermen during that four-year period.

Fortunately, in recent years CDOT has been using a significant amount of the Blue Cross sponsorship for bike lane maintence. From 2014 (when sponsorship started) to 2016, about $2 million of that $12 million has been earmarked for restriping, according to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. He said that those funds pay for restriping of all markings on the affected street – including crosswalks and center-line stripes as well as the bike lanes – “to make it safer for everyone.” Read more…

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Housing Activists Vow to Fight Evictions of Logan Square Tenants for New TOD

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Tenants and activists protest evictions at 2340 N. California. Signs on the right say “Stop the Eviction!” and “I am the face of eviction.” Photo: Lynda Lopez

Yesterday morning dozens of community residents and members of the Autonomous Tenants Union, Somos Logan Square, and Grassroots Illinois Action joined tenants of the 2340 N. California building in Logan Square as they announced their plans to fight their impending eviction.

Current landlord Francisco Macias plans to sell the two-story, mixed-use structure, located a few hundred feet north of the California Blue Line station, to Savoy Development so that it can be bulldozed to make room for an upscale, 138-unit transit-oriented development. At the press event, protesters brandished signs with messages like “We are still here and we’re not leaving” and “I am the face of eviction.”

Macias has served the tenants, who were on month-to-month leases, with 30-day eviction notices. First Ward alderman Joe Moreno approve a zoning change for the TOD, and City Council approved Savoy’s proposal in June. Savoy owner Enrico Plati hopes to break ground by the end of the year, once he receives a demolition permit from the city. However, the current residents’ plans to contest the eviction may significantly delay construction.

At the press conference, residents talked about how the evictions will negatively impact their lives. Adelina Silva, a senior, was noticeably shaken as she spoke. “We haven’t been able to find a place to go and I just got my foot operated on,” she said in Spanish. “I don’t know where we’ll go.”

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The 2340 N. California building. Image: Google Street View

The as-yet-unnamed high-rise is part of a wave of transit-friendly construction along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor that was largely spurred by the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance, which was originally passed in 2013 and was strengthened last year. The legislation eliminates parking minimums and allows for higher density at locations near rapid transit stops, which helps decrease car-dependency for the residents of the new buildings.

For example, under the old zoning rules, the Savoy development would have needed to provide 138 off-street parking spaces – one for each unit. Under the TOD ordinance Plati is opting to only build 44 parking spots, which significantly reduces construction costs. It also means fewer cars will be brought to the neighborhood, reducing congestion and pollution.

However, the vast majority of the new TODs are upscale buildings with high rents, and anti-gentrification activists say they are fueling the displacement of low-income and working-class residents from Logan Square by raising property values, property taxes, and rents. On the other hand, groups such as the Metropolitan Planning Council have argued that building more market-rate housing in gentrifying neighborhoods takes pressure off the rental market and helps prevent existing apartment buildings from being replaced by single-family homes.

Last April Somos Logan Square and Lifted Voices held a protest against two TOD projects located southeast on Milwaukee from the 2340 N. California building. The 216-unit “MiCa” development, also called the Twin Towers, with 56 parking spaces, is about to start moving in residents. Rents start at around $1,595 for a studio and go as high as $3,350 for a three-bedroom. The nearby “L” apartment building, with 120 units and 60 parking spots, has rental prices ranging from $1,575 for a studio to $3,900 for the most expensive three-bedrooms.

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Activists Speak Out Against the Privatization of Douglas Park for Riot Fest

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Concerned Citizens of Riot Fest in Douglas Park met at Freedom Square last month. Photo: John Greenfield

[Note: This Chicago Reader article lies a bit outside Streetsblog Chicago’s usual wheelhouse of transportation and livable streets topics, but since it covers an important local public space issue, I thought it might be of interest to Streetsblog readers.]

August 2 at Freedom Square, a tent city raised across the street from the Chicago Police Department’s Homan Square facility as a protest against police brutality, Concerned Citizens of Riot Fest in Douglas Park held an alfresco strategy session. Local resident Sharaya Tindal outlined the group’s grievances against the festival, which debuted in the west-side green space in September 2015, for 16 or so people gathered on folding chairs under a canopy.

As I reported in May, Concerned Citizens formed last year when Riot Fest relocated to Douglas Park from Humboldt Park following backlash from Humboldt residents who claimed its organizers failed to adequately repair turf damage. Concerned Citizens argued that the mostly African-American and Latino residents of neighboring North Lawndale and Little Village had been given little to no say in the matter.

At Freedom Square, Tindal discussed how foot traffic from 135,000 attendees at the 2015 festival damaged Douglas Park so badly that much of its south end was fenced off for repairs from late September to late November. Mayor Emanuel, the local aldermen, and the Chicago Park District (as well as Riot Fest itself, of course) had promised the event would bring big economic benefits to the communities. But Tindal claimed that the roughly 150 temporary jobs created didn’t make a dent in the area’s unemployment problem, that high vendor fees shut out small businesses, and that neighborhood retail strips saw little increase in sales during the festival weekend.

“Meanwhile the city spends extra money on transit, extra money on Streets & San, and extra money on police, and Riot Fest pays nothing for it,” Tindal said. “So we pay to get overpoliced, underprotected, and shut out.”

From a camp seat, Damon Williams, co­director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective (which is leading the Freedom Square occupation), voiced solidarity for Concerned Citizens in their efforts to oust the fest from the park. “We’re here because people are being tortured,” he said. “We’re here because 70 percent of [young men in] the community have felonies. It’s the most closings of public schools. So for people to be having something literally called a ‘riot’ here . . . ”

“Thank you,” said Tindal. “[What] poor taste. How disrespectful. How dare you, when people are dying. When our community has not recovered from the last riot in ’68. How dare you bring your concert, your merriment, your laugh riot to our broken community.”

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