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City planning for this weekend’s NASCAR race glorified drivers, ignored the needs of others

The Chicago and Illinois transportation departments, and the Chicago Park District, have gone out of their way to minimize the effect the race will have on local drivers, largely ignoring people on foot, bikes, and transit.

A recent protest of the upcoming NASCAR event held by the advocacy group Chicago, Bike Grid Now! Photo: Aoife Fahey

by Aoife Fahey

This weekend's NASCAR Chicago Street Race will bring still more car exhaust to a city that already suffered a major air quality crisis this week. But another major problem with the event is that the Chicago and Illinois departments of transportation, and the Chicago Park District, have gone out of their way to minimize the effect the race will have on local drivers, while people on foot, bikes, and transit are hardly being considered at all. 

Note that I'm a lifelong fan of NASCAR, and motorsports in general. But NASCAR events are typically basically only accessible via driving, and I’ve always dreamed of a NASCAR race I could access using transit with the same ease I attend Sky, Sox, and Bulls games. 

The problem with the NASCAR event is not the fact that local motorists will have to choose alternative routes for two days so professional drivers can hurl themselves through city streets at 100 miles an hour, spewing noise and exhaust everywhere as they zoom towards the finish line. The problem is that the government agencies are prioritizing the needs of drivers and tourists over the those of everyday Chicagoans.

Pedestrian route through the park at Van Buren fenced off in preparation for the race. Photo: Aoife Fahey

CDOT and IDOT have gone out of their way to make sure there are detours planned for drivers affected by the NASCAR street closures, publishing special maps for each phase of the project, and ensuring that civilian drivers will never have to travel more than a few blocks further than usual. 

On the other hand, 25 CTA bus routes will be terminating early due to the event, avoiding streets that aren’t even closed due to planned impacts from NASCAR traffic, and dozens more will be impacted without the reroute.

The #2, #29, #65, #66, and #124 CTA buses already waste time sitting in car-driver-created traffic on Illinois Street and Grand Avenue as they approach and leave Navy Pier. The closure of DuSable Lake Shore Drive at Grand Avenue for the NASCAR race would have been a great opportunity for IDOT and CDOT to work together to pilot pop-up bus lanes to help ensure that transit users are able to travel freely even when car traffic is backed up.

Several CTA buses stuck in traffic on their way to Navy Pier on June 16. Photo: Aoife Fahey

Instead, this weekend the traffic jams on these streets, which results in bus bunching and massive delays on normal days, will result in five bus routes being heavily delayed over their entire routes because of carmageddon downtown.

And the hassles that will be created for pedestrians this weekend are countless. For example walking to Buckingham Fountain from the Art Institute of Chicago museum usually takes just a few minutes. This weekend you'll have to walk north on Michigan Avenue to Monroe Street, East on Monroe to DuSable Lake Shore drive, and then south along the drive to access the fountain from the east, a distance of about a mile. Even for an able-bodies person walking at an average speed, this detour would turn a short stroll into a 20-minute journey.

Van Buren and Congress. The ADA route has been closed while the stairs remain open. Photo: Aoife Fahey

Instead of wondering why NASCAR is allowed to shut down Jackson, Columbus, and Balbo drives in Grant Park, we should be asking why these major streets though "Chicago's Front Yard" are allowed to exist at all. If we can let companies pay to shut down these roadways for a money-making event, why can't we close them for good to create a safer, more enjoyable recreation space?

It doesn’t matter how much money events like NASCAR bring to Chicago. They shouldn't be taking over public space, and disrupting the mobility of everyday Chicagoans.

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