JEFFERSON PARK — Ald. John Arena (45th) on Monday used his car to block city efforts to close a street — a project the alderman said he opposed because it turns over a public street to a billboard company.
City crews tore out the pavement along Wilson Avenue at Lamon Avenue, permanently closing the road in front of the Mayfair Pumping Station to traffic despite Arena’s strenuous objections.
Arena — who is often at loggerheads with city departments and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’sadministration — parked his car Monday morning across Wilson Avenue to stop the work that began over the weekend.
After spending several hours blocking the construction Monday morning, Arena left but planned to meet with city officials at City Hall Monday afternoon, said Owen Brugh, the alderman’s chief of staff. The work crew also left.
Arena called the decision by the Chicago Department of Transportation to turn the intersection of Wilson and Lamon avenues into a cul de sac “unilateral and inappropriate.”
Heather Cherone says the ald. is usually informed before roadwork:
A city spokesman said closing the street was a safety decision but acknowledged the project will allow a 90-foot-tall electronic billboard to be built in what until last week was the middle of Wilson Avenue, rather than on the front lawn of the pumping station as originally planned.
Arena said he “can only assume that I was not informed because [city] officials know that I would have required them to present their plans to the community and assess the negative impact it would have on our residents.”
Arena likened the city’s actions to former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decision to tear up the runways at Meigs Field under the cover of night to prevent dissent over his plan to turn that lakefront acreage into a park and nature sanctuary.
The decision to permanently close Wilson Avenue at Lamon Avenue was “designed to enhance safety” near the Mayfair Pumping Station, where there is “a history of excessive speeding,” said Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
“These changes will address the speeding problem, eliminate crashes from cars that lose control at the curve from Lamon to Wilson, and reduce the number of trucks that strike the low-clearance viaduct on Wilson,” Claffey said.
Ald. John Arena (45th) said his office was not informed city officials planned to permanently close Wilson Avenue to traffic at Lamon Avenue. [Kenji Kerins]
Claffey did not respond to questions about why the alderman’s office or nearby residents were not informed of the plan to close Wilson Avenue permanently at Lamon Avenue.
Arena objected to the billboards, which were approved by the City Council in 2012, and asked city officials to relocate the billboard planned for Lamon and Wilson avenues. Once built, it will be visible to drivers heading toward O’Hare Airport on the Kennedy Expressway.
“Special interests like the lobbyists behind the digital billboard industry in Chicago should not control the streets in our communities,” Arena said.
A white pole will form part of the base for a 90-foot-tall electronic billboard to be built in what until last week was the middle of Wilson Avenue. [Kenji Kerins]
The closure will make the often-gridlocked intersection of Cicero and Lawrence avenues worse, Arena said.
It will also prevent residents of the townhomes at Lamon and Lawrence avenues from leaving their homes and heading south to the Edens Expressway or Cicero Avenue.
In addition, the garbage trucks that service the entire Northwest Side will be forced to exit the maintenance yard south of the pumping station via Lawrence Avenue, Arena said.
“I have called for work to stop and for [city officials] to come before our community and explain why this plan was implemented without input,” Arena said. “Short of a compelling rationale that is supported by the community, I will advocate for the restoration and reopening of this street.”
Kristina Grosser Brucker said she was “outraged” that city officials had closed the intersection, which she uses at least twice a day to get to and from her home on Lawrence Avenue near Lamon Avenue.
“The traffic on Lawrence has already noticeably increased” since the closure, Brucker said. “Safety is an issue. I’m really upset about the whole thing.”
Residents can register their opinion about the closure via an online survey, Brucker said.