Maybe closing the Lakefront Trail was the only path to take

Chicago Police Department barricades block access to the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton Avenue as the city closes the area to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

While each of us may think we are making the best decisions for our own health and those around us, we must appreciate that the mayor has responsibility for everyone. 

Chicago’s bustling lakefront is now closed. So be it.

Like a lot of other people, I had hoped the parks and the paths could be kept open during the coronavirus crisis, an opinion I expressed in Thursday’s newspaper.

Some people thanked me for sticking up for their need to use the park. Others told me I was a self-centered idiot.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot weighed the consequences of leaving the lakefront open and decided the risk of crowds further spreading the disease was too great.

She ordered the lakefront — the 606, Riverwalk and other parks — closed Thursday morning.

When I took a drive at 2:30 p.m. from Hollywood all the way south to Marquette, the only people I saw on the east side of Lake Shore Drive were police officers sitting in their cars at all the access points enforcing the mayor’s order.

That’s quite extraordinary, especially in an era when bicyclists regularly use the lakefront to commute to work even in snowstorms. The lakefront is never totally dead, but it apparently will be for the immediate future.

Little traffic could be seen on Lake Shore Drive near North Avenue shortly after 9 a.m. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
Amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic and a stay-at-home order, little traffic could be seen on Lake Shore Drive near North Avenue shortly after 9 a.m. during the Thursday morning commute.

Now that it’s done, though, I fully support the mayor in her decision, as should we all.

While each of us may think we are making the best decisions for our own health and those around us, we must appreciate that the mayor has responsibility for everyone.

That’s an especially awesome burden right now, when the actions of each of us could become a matter of life and death for strangers. The threat from COVID-19 is real, which soon will be more painfully apparent than it already is.

The mayor says we’ve all got to do our part to confront that threat, and so we will.

If “stay at home” has now turned into “stay inside,” as Gov. J.B. Pritzker intoned Thursday, that’s what we’ll do. I don’t have any problem with that, and I’m sure others will follow the rules.

It may chafe a bit that both the governor and mayor seem now in conflict with their own previous guidance, which was often confusing about what was acceptable or even encouraged outdoor behavior under the social distancing guidelines. Most people were trying to do it safely, only going out alone, in couples or with family members, something that seemed to get lost in the mayor’s public shaming.

But I’ve decided the best way to make peace with her decision, especially for the hundreds of thousands of us who live along the lakefront and for whom it is our only neighborhood park, is to understand that there are just too many of us here for this to be workable. The sheer population numbers compared to the limited green space don’t really allow for everyone to keep a safe distance, especially when some aren’t trying.

Personally, I think I’m at greater risk of contracting or spreading the disease while using my building’s elevator or laundry room or walking past someone on the sidewalk or visiting the grocery store than when running or walking alone through the park. But I can’t be sure.

 Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

At some point, perhaps someone could at least acknowledge that the messages from the top have been a little mixed, such as: stay at home, but by all means, please continue to visit your local restaurant to pick up a carryout meal.

Whether you or I agree with every decision Lightfoot and Pritzker have made over the last several weeks, and there’s really not much I would quarrel with, I appreciate above all that they have had the courage to step up and make those tough decisions — whether those involved closing schools or closing businesses, or going through with an election.

They have given me confidence that they are trying to act in our best interests, not just take the politically convenient route.

I’m not quite sure yet how I will keep my sanity shut up indoors for days on end, but there are plenty of alternatives — good books, online workouts, cooking and eating.

And when it’s over, we’re going to have a helluva party, maybe a picnic on the lakefront.

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