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State Street Shuts Down For 6 Hours For Loop Street Festival

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State Street Festival

Skateboarders on State Street for the Open Streets Festival. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Cars and buses were routed off State Street downtown on Saturday, as the pavement was transformed into what has been called the “ultimate playground.”

The Open Streets event began at 10 a.m. on State Street between Lake and Van Buren streets, and ended at 3 p.m.

Among the attractions on State Street Saturday were a mobile skate park with ramps and a half pipe sponsored by the Illinois Center for Broadcasting, and a set of dance “people jam” routines set up especially for Color Jam, artist Jessica Stockholder’s installation at State and Adams streets that has turned the street, sidewalks and even adjoining buildings into planes of blue, red and green.

Also set up for the event were an imagination playground with blocks, crates, sand and water; a climbing wall and slackline; yoga classes; and an old carnival-style dunking booth.

But while it was all fun and frivolity on State Street, the festival caused some frustration for motorists in the Loop. East-west streets were shut down within a block of State Street, complicating access from the Loop west of State Street to Michigan Avenue or Lake Shore Drive.

This is the second year the Chicago Loop Alliance has set up an Open Streets event on State Street.

The festival is patterned after similar events in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and Bogota, Colombia, which encourage people to walk outside, visit local businesses and meet new people.

Organizers have said in Bogota, the city closes 70 miles of road to traffic every Sunday, and nearly 1 million people gather in their place.

The Chicago Loop Alliance is no stranger to ambitious – and sometimes eccentric – events in the downtown area. In 2007 and 2008, the organization staged the dusk-to-dawn festival “Looptopia” on the downtown streets and inside museums and public buildings, which featured everything from film screenings and dance parties to Indian sitar performances and drag contests.

But closing State Street for pedestrian traffic may bring back some bad memories for longtime Chicagoans. From 1979 to 1996, State Street was converted into a pedestrian mall that was open only to bus traffic between Wacker Drive and Congress Parkway.

The mall cost more than $17 million to complete, and was intended to draw more people to shop in the Loop, the Chicago Tribune recalled. But at the time that State Street was reopened to traffic, the Chicago Tribune called the mall “a dismal experiment that didn’t work,” and instead left the grand street looking empty and gray at all hours of the day.

But organizers of the “Open Streets” event assured residents last year that no plans exist to bring back the mall.

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

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