Downtown councilor criticizes Medinah Temple casino traffic study as 'seriously flawed'

Despite concerns from local councilman and neighborhood groups, Chicago officials say a new study, paid for by the city’s chosen casino developer, gives them confidence that River North can handle the surge in traffic scheduled for the proposed Bally’s temporary casino in Medinah Temple.

The area’s second traffic impact study released today provides “further final evidence that this is something that we think can be accommodated from a traffic standpoint in the River North area,” said Department of Transportation Managing Deputy Commissioner Chicago Transportation, Kevin O’Malley. .

The study was commissioned by Bally’s, the company selected by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to develop the permanent casino at River West, and completed by V3 and Fish Transportation Group.

The study estimates that the temporary casino would generate 462 trips during the weekday evening commuter peak hour between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm, and 516 during the casino’s Friday night peak hours, from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm, both one way and one way.

Local councilor Brendan Reilly, who was already opposed to Bally setting up a temporary store there, criticized the report as “seriously flawed, too vague and clearly written for the sole purpose of concluding that a casino will operate in the Medinah Temple.”

The former inner-city councillor, who said he has read hundreds of traffic reports, described this as “light porridge” and lacking “the credibility that independent analysis would have provided”.

Bally’s and city officials are planning the proposed temporary casino. opening next year in the massive and iconic structure bordered by Ontario, Ohio and State streets and Wabash Avenue. The temple has been empty for more than two years, and O’Malley acknowledged that it’s hard to know how patterns might change as Chicago continues to emerge from the pandemic.

The study looked at traffic and parking availability on a Thursday and Friday last May.

People walk and bike near the Medinah Temple at Wabash Avenue and Ontario Street on Friday.  The four-story Moorish Gothic building was built in 1912 and was originally owned by the Chicago chapter of the Ancient Arab Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, known as Shriners.

Reilly had also previously criticized the city for not making such studies available before the casino’s final hearings. Locate a temporary casino there it was a “horrible” idea, argued in May. He and others were caught off guard by a last-minute change in the proposed site for the temporary casino, from a building at the Freedom Center, a Tribune print shop, west of the river to the middle of one of the densest and busiest . city ​​areas.

Deborah Gershbein, president of the Streeterville Active Residents Organization, said earlier this year that members were “very, very surprised” to learn of the temporary casino plans “because it’s already such a congested area, and I just can’t imagine how it would accommodate the additional traffic.”

Even Bally’s president, Soo Kim, said the lack of dedicated parking in Medinah was one of his biggest drawbacks, but that it was one of the only economically viable places where he could close a deal.

The study suggests Kim should not be concerned: “Based on completed parking observations, there is adequate parking in the area to meet this demand,” the report says.

While there is no on-site parking at the temple itself, there are approximately 5,000 spaces available in garages at nearby buildings. At its peak, the demand for slots by patrons and casino employees would be about 500, the report estimates: 450 for patrons and 50 for workers. In mid-May, when the study team made their observations, there were approximately 850 open spaces in nearby buildings during peak hours.

But the key to preventing congestion will be a well-oiled valet operation, speedy deliveries and pickups for customers taking Ubers, Lyfts, taxis and charter bus space. There will be designated areas for each, O’Malley said.

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The report recommends that valet operation be provided along the Ohio Street frontage adjacent to the temple, where there is enough space for six to eight vehicles. Lyft and Uber are recommended to be dropped off just west of there in Ohio, and charter buses are recommended to be dropped off along the west side of Wabash, which could hold four or five charter buses for short-term loading and unloading.

Not all visitors or staff will drive, the study noted: The temple is accessible via several CTA bus lines, and the Red Line’s Grand stop is a block away. The area is also home to many hotels where players can walk.

In an email Friday, Reilly said he “basically” disagreed with the report’s conclusions, “from vastly reducing the number of vehicular trips to the casino and grossly overestimating the number of people who will be foolish enough to take the CTA or walk to this casino with cash in your pockets.”

Reilly is skeptical. “The report essentially ignores rideshare and charter bus traffic, noting that it is difficult to predict and regulate, because rideshares and charters do not coordinate their trips with the City. They don’t provide accurate projections for rideshares or charters, which is probably how half of the visitors will get to the casino,” he said.

Beyond that, the report is too vague about a valet operation that would ease traffic, Reilly argued. “If you can show me a valet in the city of Chicago who has ever ‘improved traffic conditions’ in a particular location, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.”

The city will require traffic control aides “at many of its intersections in, around the area to manage all of that, to make sure pedestrians can get in and out of there, to make sure traffic is moving and to scare away everyone who They double park. and other types of activities,” O’Malley said. “We think we have enough resources here, so they are proposing to keep that manageable.”

Bally’s “has not yet determined parking prices for valet operations,” the report says, but “would be open to discussion with CDOT staff about developing a price differential between self-parking and valet to encourage self-parking and minimize curbside valet volumes. .”

At full capacity, the casino can hold about as many guests as The Vic Theatre, O’Malley said. The theater has 1,000 seats and a maximum capacity of 1,400, according to its operator’s website, while the Medinah Temple has a maximum capacity of 1,500 people and 1,100 planned “gaming booths.”

“We don’t think it will add any kind of congestion to people trying to go to the casino or anyone trying to visit or go to any of the nearby areas. It will be a very familiar and common thing in the entertainment areas of the city,” O’Malley told the Tribune. “This is something we are very used to and it will not be a problem.”

The study points to “almost no degradation” in wait times for existing drivers, O’Malley added. There are no plans to change the timing of nearby traffic lights, she said.

“The addition of projected temporary trips to the casino during the weekday afternoon commuter rush hour and the Friday night casino rush hour results in a slight increase in delay,” the report says. , but still with an average wait time of less than 35 seconds or less.

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