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Uptown Tent City Asked To Vacate Ahead Of Bike-Lane Installation, Bridge Repairs

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 22, 2017 5:14PM

Uptown Tent City / Facebook

Homeless people who find shelter under two viaducts in Uptown will have until roughly mid-September to vacate as the city prepares to fix the crumbling bridges above and—somewhat controversially—install bike lanes along the sidewalk path that currently serves as a de facto encampment. The city reportedly told residents they could relocate to one of three shelters when repairs and installation gets underway.

Few, if any, are opposed to the bridge repairs. The bridges— at North Lake Shore Drive, above West Lawrence Avenue and, just a block south, above West Wilson Drive—are in fact two of the most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges in the state. The poor infrastructure doesn't bode well for anyone who traffics underneath, least of all the homeless people who spend their time there.

But the plan to concurrently install bike lanes on the sidewalk before relocation options were made clear angered some homeless advocates, who claim the new bike lanes will displace the homeless for good. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has threatened to file suit against the plan, according to Tribune transportation reporter Mary Wisniewski.

An attorney for CCH told the Tribune that a bike lane in the street would be a better solution. CCH said in a statement:

"Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is appalled by the city of Chicago’s decision to issue a 30-day eviction notice today to the residents of the tent encampments under the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts on Lake Shore Drive, in advance of reconstruction. This notice comes without the city providing permanent housing to the people they are evicting from the only home they have and with the premeditated intention to make it impossible for people experiencing homelessness to use the viaducts in the future for protection."

The city's choice to install the bike lane along the sidewalk was a deliberate one, intended to "simply remove" those who are homeless, the coalition said:

"The city had the option of adding the bike lanes without reducing the width of the sidewalks, but consciously chose not to take that option. We believe this decision is intentional and the city wants to simply remove people experiencing homelessness from the line of sight of other residents without providing any permanent support."

According to DNA Info, representatives from social-service agencies—including the Homeless Outreach and Prevention Team—told encampment residents on Monday that they could relocate to one of three shelters: Northside Housing and Support Services (941 W. Lawrence Ave.), Cornerstone Community Outreach (4628 N Clifton Ave.) or Pacific Garden Mission (1458 S. Canal St.)

CCH asked that the city find "permanent supportive housing" and rework the bike-lane design to not be disruptive to the homeless people there. Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson Michael Claffey told Streetsblog in a statement that "designs are final and a contractor has been selected for the work. Construction work is expected to start in September and is estimated to take eight months."

The bike-lane plan was chosen based on traffic volume, "conditions on nearby roadways and longer-term development plans in the adjacent communities," Claffey said.

"This is consistent with other repairs and building of bridges along Lake Shore Drive, with an upgraded pedestrian/bicycle bridge at North Avenue and ongoing work on the Navy Pier Flyover," he added.

The city told the Tribune that officials were ready to meet and hear concerns in May, but CCH canceled. Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) told Mark Brown of the Sun-Times he was in favor of giving the residents high-priority placement. "We should provide housing to them first. I believe they deserve top priority. This is an unusual situation," Cappleman said last week.

Residents have until September 18 to vacate, according to notices that were placed at the viaducts.