Point meeting considers handicap access access

By Isaac Wolf

Local activists continued their struggle Tuesday night to prevent the replacement of the limestone revetment at Promontory Point by addressing the city’s concern that the current embankment is not handicapped accessible.

The meeting, sponsored by the Community Task Force for Promontory Point, began with a presentation by John McGovern, an expert on accessibility for the handicapped. McGovern issued a message of compromise, telling the activists that at least some steel and concrete pathways, which city officials want to use to pave over the entire terrain, will be necessary for handicapped access onto and around the Point.

“You have a very unique situation with the revetments,” McGovern told the group, which included several people with disabilities specifically invited to the meeting. “They’re very functional and very safe, but not accessible.”

The city wants the shoreline to be continuously handicapped accessible, but this is above the federal requirement, according to McGovern. McGovern served on the 1993 Recreation Access Advisory committee, whose findings have become the baseline for federal requirements on handicapped accessibility.

“It’s a different world today than when I was young and growing up,” McGovern said. “Independent participation is really the hallmark now. You’ll get much further if you make some compromises.”

Joanne Milo, project manager of the Chicago Shoreline Project for the Corps of Engineers, confirmed that the city did not plan on making an exception to its policy of uniform accessibility along the nine miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.

“Federal money doesn’t go to those renovations. That’s associated with a park-type of project,” Milo said. “Where we come in is that we need to make sure the lake is contained and that it doesn’t make the land erode.”

McGovern’s comments follow a series of exchanges between supporters of the Point and city officials. Last May, the Task Force conducted an investigation of options for renovating the unofficial Hyde Park landmark instead of paving over it with concrete and steel.

The report, released in October, concluded that an adequate renovation of the limestone façade would cost less than $5 million, whereas the city estimated its concrete-and-steel plan at more than $20 million.

The Chicago Park District, Department of the Environment, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers–the bodies with the final authority on the Point–rejected the report, citing handicapped access and the unavailability of limestone as issues.

“A line in the sand, or should we say limestone, has been drawn. Community leaders in Hyde Park have taken up the fight,” wrote Jonathan Fine and Michael Moran, president and vice president of Preservation Chicago, in a Tuesday op-ed in The Chicago Sun-Times. “In their zeal for paving the shoreline, lakefront planners claim that they are helping the disabled. Unfortunately, their plan will actually deprive the disabled. How? By taking away from disabled persons the opportunity to experience a beautiful shoreline.”

Fifth-ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who has worked closely with community members over the last two years to facilitate dialogue about the Point, expressed a message of compromise at the meeting.

Hairston mentioned several options for handicapped access, including a passageway at the 57th Street beach and possible ramps that could be built into the Point. “We need to make the beach accessible,” she said. “When we talk about swimming, we talk about swimming for everyone.”

The meeting included an open forum for disabled community members to express their hopes for the Point’s future, especially with regard to the Task Force’s renovation plan. The issues, raised by a handful of handicapped participants, included the need to place benches along the trail, to lessen the hill’s slope, and to better publicize existing handicapped access.