Lightfoot: I’m open to hiring Social Distancing Ambassadors when lakefront reopens

The 35th Street bike/ped bridge to the lakefront as it appeared last month. Photo: John Greenfield
The 35th Street bike/ped bridge to the lakefront as it appeared last month. Photo: John Greenfield

Today Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the “Protecting Chicago” framework that the city will be using to guide Chicago’s reopening process amid COVID-19. The framework, organized into five phases in alignment with the State of Illinois’ “Restore Illinois” plan, “will advise Chicagoans on how to safely exit from shelter-in-place while continuing to prioritize the health of our most vulnerable residents,” according to the city of Chicago. You can fill out a short survey to provide feedback on the plan. For example, you can let the mayor know whether you think drive-in concerts would be a good thing for our city.

During the Q & A session at today’s press conference, Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health chief Allison Arwady answered a few questions about reopening parks and trails, a subject near-and-dear to Streetsblog readers.

Question from various reporters: Will you be opening the lakefront and the parks and the playgrounds in Phase III, The 606 trail, the riverwalk — when might those be opened?

Lori Lightfoot: Again, a lot of that is going to be guided by the science, and I’m got to be confident that we can open up those larger venues, the lakefront, The 606, and other interior trails, in a way that still allows us to maintain social distancing. When I made the [hard] decision, I think appropriate decision, to close down the lakefront, it was because we talked, we talked, we talked, and people ignored me. And now that the weather’s even nicer, the lakefront is beautiful, it’s an incredible attraction, we can’t reopen it and go back to where we were.

People have been sending me really interesting suggestions about phased reopening, even having segmented hours, particular, types of activities. I think those are really interesting ideas. So we’re going to be having more conversations with our parks department, of course, but also with the local aldermen [whose wards] touch the lakefront, and figure out a plan that makes sense, dictated by what the public health guidelines tell us.

Social Distancing Ambassadors in a Seattle park. Photo:
Social Distancing Ambassadors in a Seattle park. Photo: Suzanne Phan via Twitter

Question from Streetsblog: Would you consider hiring Social Distancing Ambassadors, perhaps laid-off CPS Safe Passages workers, to educate park users about the rules and encourage compliance?

LL: Yeah, that’s actually one of the things that I was alluding to earlier, when we were talking about the lakefront and parks. I think a lot about the ushers at Wrigley. They’re pretty tough. They’re checking your ticket, they’re making sure you’re going to the right seat. We need to have the same kind of rigor when we’re thinking about reopening our parks and other big public spaces. So I see that as another area where we’re going to be employing people.

John Dempsey from WLS Radio asked Dr. Arwady: There have been some studies showing there’s a low likelihood of outdoor transmission. Have you seen those, and could they perhaps inform decisions on reopening the lakefront?

AA: That’s certainly been one of the richest areas of conversation. I’ve seen some of the studies come out that suggest sunlight has the ability to make the virus not last as long, for example. It does not eliminate the risk of the virus, it does not make it that being outdoors has no risk at all. But I think we are coming to some understanding that outdoor activity, with appropriate social distancing, and all those other things, probably has less of a risk of transmission than indoor [activity.] And so, as the mayor said, as we’re looking ahead, particularly to the summer when people will be most interested in outdoor activities in Chicago, wanting to make sure we’re bringing that part of the science into the really specific plan. But we’ve got to be coming down on the other side of this before we can seriously be thinking about moving that way.

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