Naperville residents prepared for summit security commuting delays
By David Sharos For The Sun May 17, 2012 10:40PM
Commuters disembark a Metra train at the Route 59 train station on Friday, June 3, 2010. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:24AM
The Metra system bills itself as “the way to really fly,” words that likely won’t ring true this weekend as the Chicago-based NATO summit gets into full swing.
Due to security measures that surpass airport security protocols and the crowds expected to be downtown, commuters here in Naperville are either bracing for a more hassle-laden trip or electing to just stay home Saturday through Monday.
While service on some Metra routes like the Electric Line will be closed Monday, it will be business as usual on the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe line running from Naperville to Chicago.
However, passengers will have to undergo special security measures, including patdowns. Riders on all Metra lines will be screened for banned items such as food and liquids. Bags larger than 15 inches square and 4 inches deep will be banned, along with bikes.
Local residents as well as those living in Chicago and working here offered a wide range of reactions to the upcoming weekend, including frustration.
“My office starting preparing us for this about 45 to 60 days ago, and a lot of us, probably more than two dozen, are taking the day off in terms of going to the office and just working at home,” said Jerry Goldsmith, who lives in Carol Stream. “It’s not a vacation day by any means, but we won’t have to ride the train and go in. I don’t see this as something that we’ll get to do again unless there is an emergency.”
Naperville resident Shefali Khatri said she works at UBS in Chicago, a finance company that expects its employees to report both this Friday and Monday. Khatri said she is taking the advanced security measures as well as having to go to work in stride.
“The security is to be expected, given what is going on, and I don’t see anything wrong with that,” she said. “I mean, it is what it is, and you can’t do anything about it. People at work have told us to dress down and wear ‘Friday casual clothes’ in order to minimize some of the security measures and pat downs. It’s two days out of your life and it’s not that big a deal.”
Jay Locke, who also lives in Naperville, said he works in Chicago and has already cancelled a meeting with a client in order to avoid the traffic and hassle.
“I had an appointment on May 18 and I’ve already rescheduled it,” he said. “Like a lot of people, I want to avoid the city if I can. The security measures, however, are understandable. We need to keep the city safe and protect our name. If we ever want another chance to hold an Olympics, we have to show that we can pull this off.”
Mark Chillo, who lives in Riverside, said he comes to Naperville weekly to visit a local gymnasium. He said the security measures on Metra “won’t be the end of the world.”
“People need to realize this is part of living in a large, major city,” he said.
Bob Fines, who lives in Chicago’s South Loop and works in Naperville, has some concerns about the increased security measures on tap.
“If there is going to be all that security, I think I’m just going to stay home,” Fines said. “Hopefully the people at Office Max where I work will let me stay in my house.”
When interviewed at the Naperville Metra station, Patrick LeDuc of Ravenswood called the increased security on Metra “a bummer.”
“I bring a backpack every day with me, but it’s not like I carry something dangerous,” he said.
But the option of staying at home really isn’t on the radar for LeDuc.
“I’m too low on the pay grade to just take the day off,” he said.
Hotels in the Naperville area have not seen an influx of protesters yet, although they are prepared for them.
At the Hilton Lisle/Naperville, director of the front office Lisa Vasicek said sales staff members were alerted weeks ago to track bookings for the weekend of May 18-20, but that staff “are expecting a quiet weekend.”
“We have kept tabs on this through the sales staff, but at this point, we have a few weddings booked here this weekend and that’s about it,” Vasicek said. “We’re actually expecting a quiet weekend.”
Brent Delahunty serves as the front office manager at the Hotel Arista on the city’s northwest side. He described the “political” environment as “pretty quiet.”
“I’d agree with the statements the other hotel representatives have said,” Delahunty explained. “We don’t comment on our occupancy or our meetings with security here on the premises, but things here are quiet.”
Leaders of Naperville’s Occupy Movement are not aware of any large groups that will be staying in Naperville during the summit. Naperville’s Occupy group is planning a “teach-in” at noon Saturday at the Nichols Library in downtown Naperville with the topic: “Why the Occupy Movement is Protesting the NATO Conference.”
Naperville Occupy members are planning to take the train into Chicago on Sunday to take part in the protests planned there.
College campuses have certainly been home to protesters in the past. However things are quiet at North Central College in Naperville.
Ted Slowik, director of media relations at North Central College, said the staff meets regularly with the Naperville police and while the NATO summit has been discussed, there have been no protests or signs of visitors hoping to stay on campus.
“We have a fairly strict no trespassing policy which is enforced by the Naperville police through regular visits, and while we did discuss contingencies with our crisis task force beforehand, it’s been quiet on the campus,” Slowik said. “No one has been asked to leave.”
The Naperville police themselves stand ready to help out in case of NATO-related trouble in Chicago. A police spokesman said Thursday two officers are on standby and can be dispatched to the city if needed.
When asked what, if anything, the Naperville Fire Department will be doing this weekend where the NATO summit is concerned, Assistant Fire Chief Rick Sander replied, “I have no official comment on that.”
“We will do what we always do, and use our MABAS,” or mutual aid box alarm system plans, should any emergency of any sort arise, Sander said.