Construction has started to chop off 3 feet of Seneca Park for a turn lane

An attendee at Saturday's protest. Photo: Imelda March
An attendee at Saturday's protest. Photo: Imelda March

Update 10/23/20, 12:30 PM: Craig Kaiser from the Committee to protect Seneca Park sent the following update: “Our efforts and a subsequent letter to [Alderman Brian Hopkins] fell on deaf ears. Construction began [Thursday] and the fence was removed. I am going to work [Friday] to see if we can file an injunction.” Kaiser is looking for leads on a pro-bono attorney.

But Kaiser had some good news as well: “I have received word this morning that influential people in the community are demanding a meeting. Apparently [Hopkins] had promised them a community meeting and pulled a fast one on them and they are not happy.”

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Seneca Park is located just east of Chicago’s historic Water Tower Pumping Station at the northwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Mies Van Der Rohe Way in Streeterville. It’s a one-acre green space that provides a quiet oasis from bustling Michigan Avenue.

Last May, neighbors learned of a city plan to widen Mies Van Der Rohe to make room for a left-turn lane for southbound drivers heading east on Chicago Avenue to Lake Shore Drive. This project will take a 3′-wide swath of land from Seneca Park, cost $380,000 in taxpayer money, encourage more driving in one of the most gridlocked neighborhoods in Chicago, and possibly degrade pedestrian by increasing traffic volumes and speed.

Residents, led by Craig Kaiser, a retired business person and longtime Streeterville resident, formed the Committee to Protect Seneca Park to fight the plan. The group says they have been unable to get straight answer from the city on the rationale for the project, nor traffic studies, detailed engineering designs, or a cost-benefit analysis.

Seneca Park, the MCA, and a line of drivers. Image: Google Maps
Seneca Park, the MCA, and a line of drivers. Image: Google Maps

The Chicago Department of Transportation previously told Streetsblog Chicago that local aldermen Brendan Reilly and Hopkins, has received complaints from area residents about traffic jams on southbound Mies Van Der Rohe from Chicago to Pearson. (The project location is in Hopkins’ ward.) CDOT also claimed that the addition of a left-turn signal for LSD-bound drivers will reduce conflicts between left turning vehicles and pedestrians on the east leg, “thus resulting in more comfortable and safe crossing conditions for pedestrians.”

The Committee to Protect Seneca Park held a rally earlier this month to protest the plan. At the rally Kaiser told me the group filed a Freedom of Information Act request to try to get records of public discussion of the plan, and traffic and impact studies, impact studies, but was unsuccessful in obtaining relevant documents.

Saturday's rally. Photo: Imelda March
Saturday’s rally. Photo: Imelda March

The Museum of Contemporary Art is located across Mies Van Der Rohe from the park, and MCA spokesperson Karla Loring attended the protest. “The MCA’s first order of priority concerning the project is the safety of residents and visitors to the museum.” She added that museum visitors cross  Mies Van Der Rohe at various places, indicating that she doesn’t feel widening the road would improve safety.

A rally attendee named Diane argued, “The park is a precious commodity, and green space should not be displaced for road expansion.” Another protester named Karla said she suspects that most people in the community don’t know about the upcoming project.

Veronica Columbo, who was out walking with her son Monaco when she came upon the group, said she hadn’t heard about the plan to remove parkland, even though she is an administrator for the Facebook group Streeterville Parents, which boasts a membership of 700. “No one wants more traffic because it’s not safe for the kids,” she said.

CDOT did not provide an update on the project by press time, and Hopkins didn’t respond either.

Follow Imelda March on Twitter at @hcram1.

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