Complaints posted over Chicago street sign restrictions

By Kevin Beese For Chronicle Media

Honorary street signs in Chicago include Mike Ditka Way. (Photo by TonyTheTiger)

Major changes are being proposed in how honorary street designations are doled in Chicago.

Among the changes being considered are providing the honor only for deceased individuals, limiting each alderman to two such designations per year, and requiring $1,000 from an alderman’s “menu money” — funds set aside for discretionary infrastructure improvements — for each sign designation.

Anthony Beale (9th Ward), chairman of the city’s Transportation Committee, said he is the fourth chairman of the committee to try to rein in the “out-of-control” designations.

“The idea behind limiting the amount of honorary signs throughout the city is that they are continually coming up,” Beale said at a Transportation Committee meeting last week. “There are not that many streets left to designate if we continue on the path we are on today.”

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said limiting the designation only to deceased individuals is an issue for her and many other aldermen.

“I have serious concerns about not being able to recognize the living,” Smith said. “I think that that is something that so many of our communities and our local street signage — as opposed to these high-profile ones — want to recognize the contributions of pastors and sometimes significant teachers and significant community members while they’re still alive.

“Because we’ve had controversy and perhaps even errors in aldermanic judgment … I think given the number of honorary street signs in our community, I think it would be a cruelty to simply, because some errors may have been made or maybe we’re embarrassed, to just completely throw out an alderman’s ability to recognize people in their local community who are living.”

At Smith’s and other committee members’ urging, Beale tabled the street-sign ordinance for a month in order for more discussion on the issue to take place.

The proposed changes to the honorary street sign program would also only guarantee signs are posted for five years. After five years, an alderman would have to give approval to a street remaining named for an individual.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said the $1,000 fee for the signs is one more dent into aldermen’s menu money. He noted that aldermen are already being tapped for $10,000 each in their discretionary spending fund for community art projects.

The proposed rule changes bother Lopez.

“To only recognize two individuals (per year) and only dead individuals, that is not fair,” Lopez said. “We want to recognize people when they are still alive.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said some of the steps called for in the proposed ordinance make sense

“I am fine cleaning up what we view as sign pollution,” Ervin said.

However, he said, the ordinance may go too far and be a “major burden” for aldermen in that they may have to limit requests within their wards.

Ald. Milly Santiago (31st) said the five-year timetable for street designations could cause issues.

“I have a problem limiting the designation to five years,” Santiago said. “What happens to those designations given to people before they are dead?”

Beale said after five years it would be up to aldermen to renew the designation. If they did not, the signs would be taken down.

Honorary streets in the city include Dr. Lester Fisher Way for the former head veterinarian of the Lincoln Park Zoo, Mike Ditka Way for the legendary Chicago Bears coach, Carpenters Place for the Carpenters and Joiners Union, Siskel & Ebert Way for the movie critics, Carson Pirie Scott Way for the department store, St. Vincent de Paul Way for the philanthropic group named after the saint, Dutchie Caray Way for the owner of Harry Caray restaurants, Chicago Triathlon Way along the race course, Mother Teresa Way for the humanitarian, Golda Meir Lane for the Israeli prime minister, Gilda’s Club Way for the cancer survivors’ group named after the late comedian Gilda Radner, Herb Kent Drive for the radio DJ and Chaka Khan Way for the singer,

Smith said the new regulations go too far in targeting past problems that have occurred, such as the city designating Trump Plaza Way as an honorary designation. City leaders opted to remove the designation after leaders felt many of Donald Trump’s comments on the campaign trail were offensive.

“We are swatting a fly with a cannon,” Smith said of the corrective measure.


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