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.