Best ways to get around during NATO this weekend
Fifty world leaders. Thousands of pumped-up Sox and Cubs fans. Groups of angry protesters.
Just another Crosstown Classic weekend in Chicago.
However, the protesters aren't agitated over the designated hitter rule. Their focus is the NATO Summit.
Fifty world leaders including President Barack Obama -- complete with motorcades, minions and private jets -- will descend on the city this weekend and Monday.
For the Chicago summit host committee, that means walking a fine line between a security clampdown and showing off the city of broad shoulders to the world.
For the average commuter, it means potential transportation headaches. Heads of state will converge at McCormick Place leading to shutdowns of nearby roads. Major highways including the Kennedy, I-55 and Lake Shore Drive will be closed at times. Anti-NATO forces, Occupy Chicago, veterans' groups and peace activists plan events all week, with a rally and march set for Sunday starting in Grant Park. Metra riders will experience restrictions and delays.
So should you avoid downtown Chicago at all costs? No, but exercise common sense and take public transit, experts say.
"Cities don't close," security consultant Arnette Heintze said, noting only 10,000 visitors -- foreign dignitaries, their entourages and press -- are expected, compared to the millions Chicago handles during summer celebrations.
"I would encourage (Daily Herald) readers not to drive in (Sunday) unless they're prepared for several hours of potential delays," said Heintze, a principal with the firm Hillard Heintze, which is consulting with Chicago on NATO.
"(Drivers) who are on a hair trigger when it comes to traffic" be warned, transportation professor Joseph Schweiterman advised. "If you just accept there could be a 30-minute delay it will be more tolerable ... but even small delays cramp some people's style."
North, West and Northwest suburbanites caught a break this time because the hardest-hit commuters will be South Siders, said Schweiterman, who heads up DePaul University's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.
"The city planned it well but the enormity of the event makes headaches unavoidable -- shutting the Kennedy down for even 10 minutes is a big deal. It can ripple through the system," he said.
The big witching day could be Monday, Schweiterman added. "Early afternoon could be the worst combination of expressway closures and motorcades."
Some Loop employers are closing their offices, which Palatine's Richard Stephenson thinks is overkill.
"I support Chicago hosting the NATO Summit ... as I believe it will position Chicagoland as a world-class city and help raise awareness for the area," Stephenson said.
His company is closing its offices Friday through Monday of the summit and telling employees to work from home.
"I think it is being a little too cautious," Stephenson said.
"While I expect protests to happen, I do not expect major riots or violence. To close downtown businesses is a terrible waste to productivity and gives in to threats of terrorism. In general, I believe we are a little too parental in the Midwest. People tend to worry a little too much about the negative things that could happen."
Metra director, former Lake County chairman and Metropolis Strategies executive Jim LaBelle will take the train to work during the summit as usual.
"Our office is going to be open," LaBelle said. "There are security measures in place." As for commuting from the north -- "there aren't expected to be any significant issues," he said.
Here's the latest on NATO-related closures and transit:
• Expect temporary delays and closures for motorcades Saturday through Monday, May 21, on the following downtown streets and highways: the Kennedy Expressway (I-90) between O'Hare International Airport and the Loop; the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways (I-90/94) between downtown and I-55; Ohio Street between I-90/94 and Fairbanks Court/Columbus Drive; Ontario Street from Fairbanks Court/Columbus to I-90/94; access to Roosevelt Road, 18th Street and Canalport Avenue from the Dan Ryan.
• Expressway shutdowns from Saturday through Monday, May 21, include Lake Shore Drive between East Balbo Avenue and East 39th Street and the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) between I-90/94 and Lake Shore Drive.
• The bottom line for McCormick Place: Avoid it this week. Parking restrictions and closures on nearby streets are already in place. For specifics, go to www.chicagonato.org/traffic-alerts.
• Cubs and Sox fans heading to Wrigley Field for the Crosstown Classic Friday through Sunday are strongly advised to take Metra, CTA or Pace, which operates express buses from the suburbs.
• Lots of restrictions in place for Metra riders and a heightened security presence. Riders should show up 15 minutes early and expect delays and screenings. Food and liquids, including coffee, are banned from trains Saturday through Monday. Also prohibited are backpacks, boxes, bags larger than 15 inches square and 4 inches deep, bikes, tools, weapons, and pepper spray.
North, Northwest and West suburban commuters can rejoice in the fact their lines don't travel past McCormick Place. Riders on the Metra Electric Line can expect station closures Saturday through Monday.
"The schedule changes are only in the interests of safety," Metra CEO Alex Clifford said. "On 10 of our 11 lines, people should see no schedule changes at all."
For more information, visit http://metrarail.com/metra/en/home.html.
• The Chicago Transit Authority is operating with some bus reroutes including several running to Navy Pier and The Museum of Science and Industry. For details, go to www.transitchicago.com/nato/#plannedreroutes.
There will be restrictions for general aviation aircraft as a result of the summit. As for fliers, "travelers are not expected to experience any delays during the NATO summit related to the summit itself," Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride said via email. "We recommend passengers who are traveling that weekend to check with their airlines for flight status updates, just as they would any time they are flying. They should also get to the airport two hours in advance of a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight."
What are your thoughts and plans for the NATO summit? Drop me an email at email@example.com.
Reader John Cmiel of Grayslake chimed in on the issue of converting freeways to tollways, the topic of last week's column.
"Most interesting how these bureaucrats think," he emailed. "Twenty cents a mile, how crazy. I programmed my GPS to avoid toll roads last January when they increased the tolls. Looks like I'll be using more surface roads in the future.
"Being retired, I'm fortunate to be able to plan a bit more time between destinations, but my fixed income keeps dwindling under these new tax burdens."
Close your eyes and think of palm trees in Cuba. That's how I'd advise surviving the Cuba Road closing at the CN tracks near Lake Zurich. The shutdown starts at 8 a.m. today and the crossing will reopen Friday evening.
Angsting about your child-safety seat? Get advice from the experts.
The Illinois tollway and Illinois State Police will host a number of events this spring, including a safety fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at the Schaumburg Walgreens, 1180 S. Roselle Road. For information and to learn about other events, go to www.illinoistollway.com.
Heading to Chicago for fun?Ÿ The Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum and Adler Planetarium are closed Sunday for the NATO summit. If you go Saturday, some official parking lots will be open, but don't even think about street parking. The museums bump up against McCormick Place, so expect road closures.
Ÿ Some streets around the Willis Tower will be closed and parking restrictions will be in effect this weekend.
Ÿ Street closures and parking limitations will occur near the Chicago Cultural Center and Art Institute of Chicago.
Ÿ If you have tickets to Sunday's Crosstown Classic game at Wrigley Field, take public transportation. If you must drive, leave lots of extra time.