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Safety concerns mount after potential new White Sox ballpark images are released

Bikers and pedestrians share thoughts on The 78 renderings

@chicagobikesox/Twitter
Chrystal O'Keefe is an Indiana native who balances her time between Indianapolis and Chicago. She enjoys being a mother, wife and author. In her down time she enjoys petting every dog she sees, getting tattoos, baking and advocating for causes she believes in. But most of all, she enjoys tweeting during baseball and hockey to calm her nerves. You can follow her nonsense here: @chrystal_ok.

There might not be a lot of excitement surrounding the team this year, but White Sox fans seem to be excited about the potential new home in The 78. Renderings of the new ballpark were released last week and people were met with, well, a lot of feelings. The development site is located near the Chicago River, between the South Loop and Chinatown.

As Brian pointed out in the article linked above, there will be many ways to get to and from games, with offerings of El lines, the Riverwalk, Metra, water taxis, and auto parking, of course. However, tailgating would disappear, due to off-site parking across the river.

Cue the social media discourse. One Twitter user pointed out the lack of “active streets” (described as safe travel routes on quiet local streets, where speeds have been reduced to 30 mph). The lower traffic speeds create a safer shared street space for people of all ages and abilities walking, wheeling, and riding while remaining accessible for people driving.

In the post, the user tagged the Active Transportation Alliance, Better Streets Chicago, Chicago, Bike Grid Now!, and the Chicago Bike Sox account. Daniel, who runs the Chicago Bike Sox account, responded by saying, “This looks exactly as safe to walk across as 35th and Shields,” with a screen grab of a South Side Sox article from last season (“Car plows into pedestrians outside Sox Park.”)

The incident injured four, one of whom was in critical condition. One of the victims of the accident, Chuck Janczy, responded in the thread.

Janczy was walking to Guaranteed Rate Field from the Green Line station to meet up with the Chicago Bike Sox crew for a tailgate on the north side of 35th Street. Janczy was at the front of the line of people waiting until traffic was stopped. As he approached the sidewalk, he was hit by a car at very high speed.

“I’m told I went flying into the air, doing cartwheels, and landed in the open sunroof of the very car that hit me, upside down facing the rear of the car,” Janczy says. “There were three passengers in the car and I am told some of them helped pull me more into the car as the driver was speeding off and being pursued by police. I remember one of the guys in the back seat asking me if I was OK. I answered, ‘I’m not sure.’ The driver turned onto the Dan Ryan southbound. The state police pulled what is known as a PIT maneuver, which caused the car to crash into the guardrails in the median of the expressway.”

Once the car was surrounded by police, everyone was ordered to exit the vehicle, at gunpoint. After realizing that Janczy was a victim of the hit-and-run, officers helped him to an ambulance that delivered him to the University of Chicago emergency room. Janczy ended up with 13 fractures, some not immediately discovered, and a two-night stay at the hospital.

While Janczy hasn’t studied The 78 renderings, he remains concerned about pedestrian safety, especially after seeing many complaints about the lack of parking. He hopes to see more safety bollards put into place to prevent cars from coming close to the sidewalk, but would also like to see a different solution for helping pedestrians cross safely: “[Police] might also have better ways of stopping traffic other than just standing in the way and blowing whistles.” Janczy does, however, plan to go to the new ballpark if it comes to fruition.

Daniel Streicher, who runs Chicago Bike Sox, chimed in as well. For those unfamiliar, the Chicago Bike Sox started as an informal tailgate by the bike racks at the ballpark; now 30-50 members ride to the ballpark together from the Loop, tailgate at the racks, and sit together in the outfield (almost) every Tuesday when the White Sox are at home. Bike Sox co-founder Peter designs the incredible stickers and merch. The group also has a crosstown ride to Wrigley and a few other events throughout the season.

Luckily, the group rides to the ballpark are pretty calm. The size of the group, support from volunteer marshals, and their route along the lakefront all contribute to that.

However, Streicher noted, “biking to the park on your own, and getting back home, is a different story. A lot of people coming from north of Bridgeport take Halsted to and from the ballpark when there’s no Bike Sox ride. Halsted is a popular designated bike route but it’s not unusual to hear about close passes, bike lane obstructions forcing folks into traffic, and drivers harassing cyclists. People have been badly injured and killed biking there. The street is poorly designed, but there aren’t a lot of other options.”

Bike Grid Now runs a bike bus down Halsted every Wednesday to make the morning commute easier and safer, the same way the Chicago Bike Sox group ride does, and Better Streets Chicago is currently running a campaign to try and fix one of the worst intersections on the route.

Streicher also noted Janczy’s injury on foot was the worst, as he was crossing 35th Street on his way to their tailgate, when he was hit.

“Safety should be the last thing people have to think about when they’re planning their trip to the ballpark,” he says. “But traffic violence is up significantly since the pandemic, and we haven’t seen the city or state take responsibility for it.”

When asked about the renderings, Streicher says It’s hard to determine biker safety: “It looks like there’s a separated bike path running through the proposed development at The 78, and there are some great car-free spaces for people to walk around and hang out, but there’s also a wide road cutting between the ballpark and the river that appears to be designed for fast traffic. The White Sox have embraced the Bike Sox and been supportive of our events and improving the ballpark experience for bikers in general, so we’re confident this is something they’ll work on to get right.”

However, Streicher said there’s nothing police or crossing guards can do to fix fundamentally unsafe infrastructure: “They’re not going to stop a speeding car with their bodies, and we shouldn’t be asking them to.”

Streicher does believe the improvements on 35th since Janczy’s crash are a great start, “but if the White Sox are building a ballpark village around Guaranteed Rate Field or a new ballpark in the South Loop, there’s no reason to run so much traffic through the area at all. The point is for people to be able to walk around.”

No matter what happens, though, the group will continue to bike to the games, even if they need to add a Bridgeport route.

If you are interested, the full Chicago Bike Sox schedule will be coming soon, and you are welcome to roll with them at chicagobikesox.com.

While The 78 plan is very much in its infancy, it is good practice to hear early concerns from fans who continue to support the team.


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