NATO is holding their 25th summit in Chicago May 20-21. This is the first time a summit will happen in the United States outside of Washington D.C.
While it’s an honor to be the host city, the summit will cause significant traffic and parking problems. If you plan to drive into the city, it’s going to take much longer than usual. The summit itself will be held on a Sunday (which will be bad for traffic) and a Monday (which will be a nightmare). Several major roads and portions of expressways will close and parking will be harder to find around McCormick Place and the Museum Camps area. Why? Because NATO summits are security-intensive affairs.
Summit meetings bring together the presidents, chancellors and prime ministers of the 28 North American and European countries that make up NATO, as well as representatives from other nations. Whenever heads of state travel, they do it with a crowd of advisors, staff and security—not to mention a bigger crowd of activists and protesters. The city will be full of motorcades (including President Obama’s, of course) traveling to and from various meetings that will be held in several locations around town, and then to O’Hare afterward. In combination with the announced street closures, this travel will cause intermittent and unpredictable delays on open streets as well. The dignitaries will begin arriving in town several days before the summit kicks off.
The summit is expected to draw tens of thousands of protesters, who may cause disruptions of their own. The amorphous anti-globalization protest movement will be out in force. The Occupy movement is offering free bus transportation to Chicago from several cities across the U.S., and it’s impossible to know in advance how many protesters will turn out. Officially, the FBI has permitted up to 10,000 protesters to gather in Grant Park, prior to a march. The route calls for the march to begin at 2 p.m. May 20 at the Petrillo Music Shell along Columbus Drive in Grant Park. It will proceed west along Jackson Boulevard to State Street, then south to Harrison Street, back east to Michigan Avenue and then south again. At Cermak Road, the march will turn east again to Indiana Avenue, and then turn south another block to McCormick Place. But this route is subject to change at any time, so all bets are off as to predicting what streets will close to accommodate marchers. There will almost certainly be unofficial spontaneous demonstrations, which will cause gridlock when and where they happen.
Major Road Closures: May 19-21
- Lake Shore Drive closed between Balbo Avenue and 39th Street
- I-55/ Stevenson Expressway closed between Interstate 90/94 and Lake Shore Drive
- Kennedy Expressway ( intermittent motorcade closures ) between O’Hare International Airport and downtown
If you drive into the central business district between May 19 and 21, you’ll have to find other routes. Allow yourself far more time than normal. Planning ahead will be difficult, and you may not know a particular street is closed until you see the detour signs. Once you get there, expect parking to be difficult.
Selected parking restrictions include:
- Street parking near McCormick Place will close beginning May 13
- Field Museum east parking lot (from 5:30 PM May 19-May21)
- Adler Planetarium parking lot (south portion on May 19, all May 20-21)
- Soldier Field North Lot (first floor on May 19, and all floors May 20-21)
- Waldron Lot and Soldier Field South Lot (May 19-21)
The main campus museums plan to be open May 19, but all parking lots will close at 5:30 p.m. If vehicles are still in lots they will be towed. The Northern Museum Campus, including Northerly Island, will be closed to cars and pedestrians beginning at 6 p.m. May 19. The museums will be closed May 20.
The official Secret Service press release contains a list of all closures and restrictions. It is available at the Chicago NATO Summit’s website.
Even mass transit riders are expected to be delayed by enhanced security screenings. Suffice it to say that if you can avoid travel into the Central Business District May 19-21, you should.