• Erin Hegarty
    JUN 15, 2023

    Alderpersons’ concerns over NASCAR street race plans tempered with public hearing

    Members of the City Council Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety met Wednesday. [Erin Hegarty/The Daily Line] 

    With 17 days until NASCAR drivers descend upon Chicago’s downtown streets, alderpersons finally had the opportunity to ask race officials and city leaders questions publicly about the safety precautions and closures surrounding the event. 

    The NASCAR street race, the first of its kind for Chicago, was controversial from the get-go when former Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced plans for the race weekend without seeking approvals from the City Council. But alderpersons’ concerns seemed softened during Wednesday’s hearing. 

    While multiple alderpersons during Wednesday’s hearing said much of their frustrations came from Lightfoot’s lack of communication with the City Council and the public on the event plans, some still voiced concern over the safety and planning of the race weekend. The hearing was called by Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety chair Ald. Daniel La Spata (1). 

    Related: Pedestrian and traffic safety committee to hold hearing on NASCAR closures and safety measures for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists 

    NASCAR Chicago Street Course President Julie Giese told alderpersons they are expecting 50,000 ticketed attendees for each of the July 1 and 2 race days. Attendees will be able to see the race in a "variety of different ways" ranging from general admission to reserved and hospitality seats, Giese said.  

    The event will also include a NASCAR Village located in Butler Field that will be open to everyone. 

    Setup for the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 and the NASCAR Xfinity Series The Loop 121 Chicago Street Race began earlier this spring as parking restrictions are in effect along Columbus Drive between Jackson and Balbo drives. Street closures went into place last weekend as parts of Ida B. Wells Drive closed east of Michigan Avenue. 

    Giese told alderpersons a public safety committee and health and medical services committee have been meeting regularly since last August and February, respectively. The 2.2-mile course will be enclosed by a barrier system made up of 2,000 interlocking concrete barriers that weigh 10,000 pounds each. Fencing will be installed atop the concrete barriers. 

    NASCAR has distributed 48,000 informational brochures about the event and has held more than 150 meetings with residents, local businesses and organizations, Giese said. More than 1,300 parking notices have been distributed. 

    Chicago Police Department Deputy Chief Dan O’Connor told alderpersons the police department expects to cancel days off for the majority of officers for the weekend. The department will also offer voluntary overtime. 

    The majority of the focus for officers over the weekend, which already tends to be one of the busiest for the police department leading into the July 4 holiday, will be traffic management.  

    Ald. Brendan Reilly (42), whose ward covers downtown and who has been critical of the event plans since they were announced, said his "greatest frustration" was the way the Lightfoot administration "hid" the plans.  

    The "negative publicity" around the race was driven by Lightfoot's refusal to engage with members of the City Council about the event, Reilly said. 

    La Spata asked what precautions the city is taking to ensure cars don’t drive on the lakefront path to avoid the traffic that is expected to be created as attendees flock to the event and roads around the course are closed.  

    Bryan Gallardo with the city’s Department of Transportation said when cars have entered the lakefront path in the past, the city implemented additional security and barriers. City officials don’t expect the NASCAR race will increase the occurrences of cars on the path meant from pedestrians and bicycles. 

    The lakefront path and access to the city’s Museum Campus will be open during the NASCAR event. 

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