To the Editor:

I write to celebrate one particular component of the Obama Presidential Center’s imminent impact on the Hyde Park and Woodlawn communities: the closing, to motor vehicle traffic, of Cornell Drive between the Midway Plaisance and Hayes Drive. The plan will open Jackson Park’s central thoroughfare to pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair users, and toddlers on scooters. No longer will a six-lane highway trace a loud, polluting, and dangerous path through our beloved Jackson Park.

Many complain that the closure of Cornell Drive to motor vehicles is an affront to Olmsted’s original plan for Jackson Park. Of course, Olmsted’s original vision did not call for a six-lane highway of cars speeding through the park. During the World’s Fair in 1893, the path along the West Lagoon was a pedestrian promenade running alongside a museum, a status it will be returned to once the OPC is complete. The current state of Cornell Drive looks nothing like Olmsted’s original vision, and is more a reflection of decades of concessions in favor of dirty, dangerous, and disruptive motor vehicles. While the closure of Cornell Drive to cars may inconvenience motorists seeking to pass through the park, it will significantly enhance the experience of those seeking to appreciate the beauty of Olmsted’s vision.

It is a shame that, instead of investing in equitable and environmentally responsible improvements in public transportation to increase access to Jackson Park and enhance transportation connections from the South Side to points north, the OPC plan will widen multiple roads, encroaching into the park and almost certainly having a detrimental impact on congestion. Wide roads induce traffic by encouraging more of it; the only effective method for reducing traffic congestion is to make alternatives to personal motor vehicles cheap, frequent, and reliable. The OPC’s road widening, and subsequent removal of hundreds of mature trees, is a significant misstep.

The OPC plan is not without its flaws. But the removal of motor vehicles from Cornell Drive, and the re-opening of the space to people, is a clear bright spot.

Alex Meyer

(4) comments


It's been decades since I lived in Hyde Park when I had a car I was a frequent visitor to my beloved neighborhood at one point my family lived at the Jackson Towers our view was spectacular because you could see the park from the living room windows. The thought that a twenty-three-story glass-clad structure could emerge from the park and strains my mind to figure out who would think that such a structure is attractive. Why was there no effort made to blend with nature instead of slapping it in the face and give some kind of nod to the bucolic setting in which it will reside? If the center *must* be built on that particular, site why not come up with a design similar to Wright's Taliesin which would have been beautiful. I don't understand why the center must be so tall and what really breaks my heart are the mature trees that are going to be destroyed those trees deserve to be on the Historic Register. It will be a sad and sorry day when the eyesore is completed.

Ross Petersen

This writer fails to note that in order to remove Cornell Drive, all manner of road-widening projects will have to take place, and the end result is the loss of Park land, More of our Park is to be paved, and now, a twenty three story building is going in - to the detriment of the Park, not to mention the collision risk to wildlife. This tower rises in the middle of a known migratory flyway. Has the Herald covered that risk? No.

We Chicagoans are rightly proud of our open, clear and free Lakefront Park system.

This plan removes, cuts down over a thousand trees; it takes a beautiful Park, and builds a hideous building in the middle of it. Say goodbye to the National Register listing, or honoring the work of F.L. Olmsted.

Alex Meyer

Thank you for you response. I will just note that the third paragraph of my letter directly addresses your concern regarding the loss of trees and parkland due to road widening projects - and suggests that the responsible response to closing Cornell Drive would not be subsequent (and almost certainly ineffective) traffic mitigation efforts such as road widening, but instead investments in public transportation which would discourage private motor vehicle use and avoid the loss of trees and parkland.

Ross Petersen

No, I noticed your comments, but your suggestion - more public transportation - that is impractical, and it ignores the fact that many don't live anywhere near public transportation.

You ignore the fact that many (if not most) Parks Do have roadways that go through them. In Lincoln Park you've got Cannon, Stockton, and even Lake Shore Drive.

Cornell Drive could easily be restored to its original configuration, with two lanes in each direction. This works elsewhere in the Park. We now have the ability to install pedestrian underpasses, allowing safe crossings. Note the underpasses at 57th Street.

The price we are being asked to pay, here, for these OPC revisions, this is a poor decision; it robs us of our Park, it erects a hideous, 23 story building, and it will change, forever, Jackson Park. Over a thousand trees will have to be removed, and you are ok with that? For a three block stretch of Cornell?

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