City explains lights on unfinished Navy Pier flyover; holiday train rides again

Today’s column is a hodgepodge, offered in the hope that leaping from subject to subject will help provide some post-holiday exercise.

We’ll start with a small mystery about the unfinished Navy Pier Flyover on the Lakefront path — why are the lights on?

The path will not open until 2019, five years after ground was first broken. Yet at night, the unfinished parts of the concrete bridge glow with LEDs, as if ready for a ghost squad of rollerbladers. Why?

Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Claffey explained that the city decided to keep the lights on to make the current path safer. He could not say how much the lighting costs.

“It’s for safety purposes, to provide additional light under the flyover,” Claffey said. So they are not actually there to lure you onto the trail — which is far from finished.

The city is currently constructing the foundation for Phase 2 of the three-phase project. The new 807-foot section will run alongside lower Lake Shore Drive over DuSable Park.

The entire 16-foot-wide flyover is intended to eliminate a bottleneck at the center of the busy 18.5-mile trail, which narrows at lower Lake Shore Drive to become a crowded sidewalk with poor sightlines, resulting in frequent conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and cars.

The concrete flyover bridge, which will eventually be about 2,200-feet long, will run on the east side of Lake Shore Drive and take the trail north over the river and continuing above Grand and Illinois streets before coming down again at Ohio Street Beach.

The first phase, completed this year, cost $29 million. The second phase will cost $14.5 million. Cyclists and pedestrians should be able to use the completed first two phases of the project from Ohio Street Bridge to just north of the Chicago River bridge by the end of next year.

Phase 3 is yet to be bid and will run along the east side of the Lake Shore Drive bridge from the north side of the river to the south and then down into Grant Park. The last part of the project was anticipated for the end of 2018, but was pushed back because of repairs needed on the two-level bridge. The city expects to finish it in mid-2019.

Holiday trains and buses

Some pre-Christmas rituals make me want to curse the season.

Like the radio station that starts playing nothing but Christmas music two weeks before Thanksgiving. Or those ads showing happy wives getting bow-topped cars in their driveways on Christmas Day. Yeesh.

One tradition that genuinely gets you in the mood for seasonal cheer is the CTA Holiday Train. Co-sponsored by Jewel-Osco, the Holiday Train began on the Blue Line in 1992 when a “Season’s Greetings from the CTA” sign was placed at the front of an out-of-service train used to deliver food to charities.

It has expanded to elaborately decorated trains, featuring Santa on his sleigh in an open-air flatcar with reindeer and trees, strings of lights outlining windows and doors, red bows, garland and hand poles decorated to look like candy canes. Elves give real candy canes to riders.

If you have not taken a child on one of these trains, do it. It’s cool. There are also holiday buses, with Santa and his elves at the back.

The CTA advises you to watch its website at to see exactly when holiday trains and buses are expected. If you plan to ride the train and want to take pictures of the outside, board first and then take pictures of the train after you’ve exited. Travel light, plan ahead and if you have a stroller, fold it up so everyone can get on.

Smelly windows by airports update

The number of people who say that sound-reduction windows installed by the city are giving off foul odors keeps growing.

A total of 526 homeowners who live near Midway Airport and 79 who live near O’Hare International Airport have asked about having their windows inspected, said city aviation department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman. Homeowners complain that the windows, which were installed under a city-federal program to reduce noise inside homes near the airports, give off a smell like burning plastic when heated by the sun. The number of calls has risen from 109 in September.

Homeowners say they worry that the "off-gassing" might pose a health risk.

The city has inspected 300 homes so far and confirmed odors in 194, Huffman said. The inspection staff has increased from one person to three teams of two people.

The company that installed the windows, Sound Solutions, went out of business in 2014, so the Aviation Department is paying for replacements, which at about $25,000 per house could run into millions of dollars. Huffman said the city has sent letters to residents of more than 5,000 households that received Sound Solutions windows.

The city said that testing and window replacements are happening at the same time as it tries to identify the cause of the problem. “When testing is complete, we will produce a full report of our findings for residents,” Huffman said.

Pamela Zidarich, who lives on South Latrobe Avenue and has become an advocate on behalf of others with smelly city-installed windows, said she has not agreed to sign an agreement with the city to replace the windows until testing is complete. That’s because the agreement stipulates that she cannot sue the city, and first she wants to see the level of risk.

Earlier this month, Zidarich got a letter from a city official asking her to sign within three weeks, which she thought was “ominous.” “We should be entitled to get the results of their testing before making a decision,” said Zidarich, who heads the nonprofit Midway Defective Window Recipients.

Huffman said the goal of the reminder letter sent to Zidarich and other homeowners is to “expedite the process for window replacement.”

The windows were installed under the department's Residential Sound Insulation Program, which has provided noise-reducing protection to more than 21,000 homes near the airports since 1995.

The city is pursuing a $13.55 million judgment against Sound Solutions owner Ronald Spielman in federal court for falsely claiming participation in a program that provides work for minority or disadvantaged businesses. The city is awaiting a final judgment on the case, according to the law department.

Transportation song quiz

Last week’s song was about a freedom-loving sailor and is sung by some Enterprise crew members in the Star Trek movie “Insurrection.” The song is “A British Tar,” by Gilbert & Sullivan. “A British tar is a soaring soul/ As free as a mountain bird ...” Loryn Kogan of Wilmette got the answer.

This week’s song mentions several forms of transportation, but is about not going anywhere. The performers have a curious link to the heavy metal rockers Spinal Tap. What is the song and the group? The first with the right answer gets a Tribune notebook and baseball cards.

Copyright © 2018, Chicago Tribune
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