Brendan Reilly Calls for More Cars on Streeterville Streets

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(Photo: You’re kidding, right? Brendan Reilly favors cars over transit in downtown Chicago.)

I am strongly rethinking my support for Brendan Reilly, the allegedly progressive Democrat who earlier this year won Chicago’s 42nd Ward from longtime alderman Burt Natarus. As if Reilly’s self-immolating opposition to Mayor Daley in the Chicago Children’s Museum controversy wasn’t enough (you recall, Richie wants to have it in Grant Park, Reilly would rather not), yesterday, the newbie alderman threw his support to increased traffic congestion in Streeterville.

Amazingly, Reilly’s current misstep (foot in mouth?) once again revolves around a new home for an institution aimed at children: specifically, the planned new Streeterville digs of Children’s Memorial Hospital. As reported in Thursday’s Sun-Times, Reilly will give the go-ahead for the $800 million structure to be built on one major condition…the hospital building a parking structure for 1,100 cars.

That’s an interesting position to take, especially in Streeterville, the Chicago neighborhood with the most vocal residential group in the city, the Streetrville Organization of Active Residents (or SOAR–sorry NEAR, they’re louder), a group that never misses a beat to complain about, well, soaring traffic generated by massive overbuilding in the neighborhood.

I was most stupefied by this quote from Reilly:

“Public transportation and shuttles aren’t enough to accommodate the thousands of new commuters coming into this area…We’re working toward securing a commitment to provide, at a minimum, 1,100 new parking spaces prior to the opening of the hospital.”

Think about that. At a time when the need for Chicago’s political leaders to support public transit has never been greater, Chicago’s most-watched alderman has gone on record calling CTA service nadequate in the heart of the city, and calling for an automobile-based solution to downtown transportation woes.

Conspicuously absent from Reilly’s position? An equal call for improvements in Streeterville public transit.

As a pedestrian, I can’t tell you how heart-warming I found it when I read in the article that Reilly is at least calling for additional count-down crosswalk timers, so that I and my fellow downtown walkers will know how much longer we may have to live before those 1,100 additional motor vehicles come barreling through our already grid-locked streets.

I don’t know who Reilly is trying to accommodate here besides the gas lobby. Downtown residents and workers who want less clogged streets? Citywide transit users who deserve their needs to be respected and met? A trusted aide to whom Reilly may own an oath of fealty?

I hate being that cynical and I certainly hope Reilly can think for himself. But at the moment I have my doubts. When your city is crying out for transit relief, any alderman is unwise to call transit inadequate and call for more cars on city streets–especially the alderman of most of downtown Chicago.

Reilly goes on to say:

“My interest is in building consensus . . . to move the project forward. I want to make sure we address these concerns and get this right before it goes to Plan Commission.”

If Alderman Reilly wants to start getting things right, he’s going to have stop thinking small. There are greater interests out there than those that live in a single block–managing downtown Chicago on a block-by-clock basis does no good for downtown Chicago as a whole, much less Chicago as a whole.

If after six months in office, Chicago’s downtown alderman still can’t figure out how to balance the needs of a ward with the equally compelling needs of the major American city of which it is a fundamental part, how much longer are we constituents expected to wait until he learns how to get it right?

More immediately, Brendan Reilly owes an apology to every transit rider in this city. And I sure hope he carefully considers any such mournful missive before he mouths it in public. Because lately, it seems like the only reason Brendan Reilly has been opening his mouth is to change feet.

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