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Southwest Siders want action on Cinespace filming that blocks transportation access

12:00 PM CDT on October 4, 2019

The Cinespace headquarters. Photo: 24-28 Storm

Last week, I left my home in Little Village on my bike to go east into Pilsen. I usually take 21st Street because it’s the only eastbound street near my house that feels relatively safe.

Unfortunately, my path was blocked by trucks and a film crew on 21st and Fairfield Avenue. I tried to see if I could squeeze through on the sidewalk to go eastbound, but access was pretty much cut off to everyone. I ended up having to bike southbound to Cermak Road and then north on Rockwell Street to be able to get back on 21st. I frequently see crews from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, headquartered nearby at 2621 West 15th Place, in the neighborhood, but I hadn’t seen them cut off all access to a street before (which many residents closer to the studio have experienced many times.) I knew Cinespace had started to encroach on residents' lives, but I didn’t fully grasp to what extent until I encountered a roadblock myself.

After seeking more information on social media, I came across the Facebook page 24-28 Storm, a group of 24th Ward and 28th Ward residents dedicated to highlighting issues in the area, especially Cinespace’s impact on pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders, and motorists. Member Michael Kolos recently wrote a letter about this to Crain’s Chicago Business.

I spent some time this week speaking with residents who live near the Cinespace headquarters in North Lawndale. Chad King lives close to 16th and Washtenaw and says he used to take the #18 16th-18th bus every day before 16th Street was cut off to public access by Cinespace. “The CTA rerouted it,” said King. “All this happened without a lot of community input.”

Coincidentally, I used to take the #18 occasionally and get off on 16th and Washtenaw to walk home. One day earlier this year, it the bus didn't turn left onto 16th from Western Avenue but instead kept going north on Western. I ended up having to walk about a mile from where I got off. That bus is no longer convenient for residents in my area.

A filming notice, and a "No Cinespace" flier.
A filming notice, and a "No Cinespace" flier.
A filming notice, and a "No Cinespace" flier.

In addition to blocking bus access, says King, Cinespace has also made it more difficult for East Douglas Park residents to access the Western Avenue station on Metra's BNSF line, located near 18th. There is currently no open eastbound street out of the neighborhood between 21st and Ogden Avenue because of the Cinespace street closure of 16th.

King was motivated to raise awareness about this issue, so he set up the Facebook page and made flyers that say “No filming: This community is resisting Cinespace's destruction of our neighborhoods” for residents to display in their windows. He is also working on lawn signs. He says that ever since neighbors starting putting pressure on Cinespace, there hasn’t been much filming near their homes. This explains why I’ve been seeing more filming further south on 21st Street.

At a meeting in May with local aldermen Jason Ervin and Michael Scott, plus representatives from the CTA, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and Cinespace residents shared their concerns about the street closures, but King says no further action to remedy the issues was taken. “Closing off the entire section from 21st Street to Ogden, it’s impossible. It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s a total disregard for the neighborhood.”

Chris Koster is another nearby resident who shares King’s concerns about Cinespace. “What really motivated me was my wife who takes the Metra or used to take the Metra on a daily basis on Western,” he said. “My wife doesn’t take the Metra anymore because it would take [an inordinately long time] to get there, so she takes the pink line now.”

He said one of the challenges in raising the issue has been the division of the wards. Cinespace is located in Ervin's ward, but most of the residents who are impacted by the street closure are in Scott’s district. Ervin’s constituents are largely not impacted, which Koster said is part of the reason he hasn’t been as responsive to their concerns.

“The city is leasing 16th Street for four years,” Koster said. “How is there a city policy to allow for a street shutdown without any community notification or community meetings to discuss the impact?” Koster said there was a CDOT study conducted about the proposed shutdown, but residents haven’t seen it.

Koster said things haven't improved since Cinespace moved operations to 21st Street. “When they film there, it’s still a mess. We can’t get east at all from basically Ogden to 21st,” he said. “All that traffic goes to Ogden, to California, to Cermak. It’s just a mess. And that’s just vehicular traffic. To assume pedestrians can walk a mile out of their way is insane.”

Koster said their local group have crafted recommendations to improve access for residents, such as creating safee pedestrian access to Western to facilitate walking to Metra and CTA. They wrote a letter outlining their requests and sent it to CDOT, the local aldermen, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “They want control of the area. It’s unfortunate for us,” Koster said. “Now our community is completely isolated.”

Michael Kolos, who wrote the letter to Crain's is Koster’s neighbor near 16th and Washtenaw. He said that proximity to public transportation, including the Pink Line, the Western Metra stop, and buses on Western used to be a strong point of living in the area. “That’s not the case anymore,” he said. “They won’t even let people walk through what used to be a public sidewalk.”

Kolos said that in his almost 70 years in the neighborhood, he’s never experienced anything like this. “I’ve lived here my whole life. This is about the worst it’s been.”

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