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Crackdown On Street Musicians Downtown Delayed Again After ACLU Blasts It

By Heather Cherone | April 12, 2017 7:47am | Updated on April 12, 2017 3:04pm
 Musician on MLK Drive
Musician on MLK Drive
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Walking Across Chicago/Rob Reid

DOWNTOWN — A second effort to restrict when and where loud street musicians can play Downtown may be "slightly less Draconian" than the original version of the effort that faltered last month — but is still illegal, the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union warned aldermen Wednesday.

The proposed regulations would restrict when musicians can play in an area bounded by Michigan Avenue and Dearborn Street as well as Oak and Van Buren streets. The measure had been expected to be considered by a City Council committee this week, but has been delayed until next month.

"While we are very eager to pass the compromise ordinance, we want to also ensure street musicians can rely upon additional, lucrative locations in downtown parks for the first time and additional CTA subway stations," Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said in an emailed statement.

The ordinance would limit musicians who amplify their sound or play an instrument that produces a "sharp percussive sound" to only play between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., as well as from 5 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays, according to the measure.

The proposed measure singles out street performers and puts a burden on them that is not imposed on other forms of expression that may be equally loud, wrote ACLU Senior Staff Counsel Rebecca Glenberg.

"The city should not impose these new restrictions on street performers, and should instead eliminate the current permit requirement and the prohibition on performances in Millennium Park," Glenberg wrote.

Reilly and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said last month the revised measure — introduced after an effort to ban the musicians on Michigan Avenue and State Street faltered in the face of opposition — "struck the right balance."

The revised measure would allow the musicians to perform for pedestrians on their lunch breaks, and for commuters during the evening rush, without making it impossible for Downtown residents to hear themselves think, the aldermen said.

Reilly said he and Hopkins were working with "the mayor's office, CTA and Park District to identify additional, high revenue opportunities for street musicians to serve as viable alternatives to high-density, mixed-use blocks."

Reilly said he has been working with Hopkins and the city's lawyers to "narrowly craft reasonable regulations that allow performers to play during the highest value hours of the day, while also providing needed relief for office workers and residents."

"All in all, we're making excellent progress and are working toward passing the compromise measure in May in tandem with agreements for additional park and CTA platforms," Reilly said.

Originally, Reilly and Hopkins sought to ban the musicians entirely — an action that the ACLU said would almost certainly be struck down by the courts.

If this measure is adopted, Reilly said he planned to work with the CTA and the Chicago Park District to expand the areas where musicians can play.

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