Park District should rethink its rules on life ring placementCST Editorial Boardon September 17, 2021 at 1:10 am

This page has been criticizing the Chicago Park District a quite a bit lately — and not without good reason.

The agency seems to commit some kind of blunder each week, with the latest being the district’s utterly senseless resistance to putting life rings throughout all points on the lake, rather than just locations where swimming is allowed.

Miguel Cisneros, 19, drowned Aug. 22 after jumping into the water from Pratt Pier in Rogers Park. Swimming there is prohibited so the park district didn’t put life rings there.

But after the Columbia University sophomore drowned, Rogers Park residents, on their own, put life rings on the pier. And the park district removed the safety devices.

The large, donut-shaped floatable life rings are designed to be tossed in the water for potential drowning victims to grab hold.

Last week, Park District Supt. Mike Kelly changed course and is putting life rings at Pratt Pier and at staffed locations along the lakefront.

But that he made the announcement virtually through gritted teeth says everything.

“I don’t love that decision. I cannot stress enough, folks,” he said. “We’re in the life-safety business. We’re in the teach-kids-to-swim business. Anything that gives a semblance of comfort to going in that water where it says, ‘Do Not Swim’ [encourages people to break the rules], but we’re gonna do it,” Kelly said.

Gee, thanks, Mike.

If the park district is truly in the life-safety business, then it’s a mystery to us why the agency and its leader wouldn’t want people to be and feel safe at all points through the lakefront.

A short-sighted solution

The installation of the life rings, according to Kelly, is part of a larger safety plan that includes additional lakefront signage and fencing and outreach designed to teach more youth to swim by the fourth grade.

Fair enough, except the district will put the rings only in places marked safe to swim — which is a maddeningly short-sighted “solution” and doesn’t really fully solve the problem.

For his part, Kelly last week said he doesn’t regret the decision to remove the life rings residents placed on Pratt Pier. And he has no qualms about his current plan either.

“No . . . I don’t regret [it]. I don’t regret. I think I made the right decision then. I think I’m making the right decision now,” Kelly said.

He’s not.

About ‘more than Miguel’

From its bungling of the recent lifeguard scandal, to its continued embrace of combining two quiet, working-class golf courses at the South Shore Cultural Center and Jackson Park into a single, Tiger Woods-designed PGA-level supercourse, the district has forgotten that it exists for the public good.

And the life ring issue is another example.

Cisneros’ mother, Maria Diaz, is calling for life rings across the lakefront, including places where swimming isn’t sanctioned.

“This is not only about Miguel,” said Diaz, whose family is suing the park district, alleging Cisneros’s death could have been prevented had there been life rings at the pier. “It’s about preventing other families from going through this tragedy.”

She’s right. And despite what Kelly thinks, the rings won’t encourage a tide of unauthorized swimming.

As Mayor Lori Lightfoot rightly said: “The life rings are important. To my simple mind, they’re like a fire extinguisher. You don’t want to encourage people to burn the buildings down. But if there’s an emergency, you have it there. The life rings are the same thing.”

We agree.

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