Lawrence Avenue Road Diet Project
Lawrence Avenue is a busy thoroughfare stretching through the Lincoln Square neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. Though one of Chicago’s major arterial roads, it is a pedestrian-unfriendly area, lacking the jaunty storefronts and green spaces of the surrounding area. Cars dominate the four lanes, creating an undesirable environment for bicyclists. Pedestrians face daunting crosswalks without refuge islands to shorten the distance. It is not an area through which one wishes to stroll.
If all goes as planned, however, the road is in for a drastic makeover.
On Tuesday, August 30, 2011 Chicago legislators, residents, and business owners convened at Chase Park Theatre to discuss the Lawrence Avenue road diet and revitalization project. The event was hosted by Ravenswood Community Council and featured speakers Janet Attarian, project director for the Streetscape and Sustainable Design Program and Sustainability Coordinator of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), and Ameya Pawar, Alderman of Ward 47.
Attarian presented on the streetscape initiatives set to transform a mile-long stretch of Lawrence Avenue. Spearheaded by CDOT, the project involves designing multi-modal, or complete streets accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike; expanding the economic activity of Lincoln Square to surrounding areas; enforcing safety measures; and beautifying the community with trees, improved lighting, identifiers, and more.
The project’s primary focus, however, is a “road diet” that will reduce the four-lane thoroughfare to three lanes between Western and Ashland Avenues. Through this road reduction, the community will be able to widen its sidewalks—allowing cafes and local businesses to move out into the streets—and create a designated bike lane.
While the project promises to revitalize the community and spur economic activity, Attarian acknowledged the negative impacts of a road diet. Specifically, drivers would face increased travel times (between Western and Ashland Avenues, a possible 3-9 minute increase), increased queue lengths at traffic signals, and potentially backed-up side streets. Attarian proposed to mitigate these consequences by adjusting the timing of traffic signals as well as creating center turn lanes.
Ultimately, what the project hopes to accomplish is the creation of a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere and increased economic activity in the Lawrence Corridor.
Pawar emphasized the importance of the public education system on the project’s success. Pawar believes that the Lawrence Corridor neighborhoods will only be able to retain and attract residents if local schools are viewed as viable options. The viability of schools, in turn, rests on the economic, social, and physical attraction of the neighborhoods. Pawar therefore seeks to anchor the schools to the project in order to simultaneously enhance the community and public education system.
Several audience members voiced their concerns about the project. Residents were disgruntled over the increased travel times for drivers and lack of focus on public transport, while small business owners questioned the loss of parking spaces that would result from the road diet. Others wondered what the 19 million dollar project meant for taxpayers.
The Lawrence Avenue project may not be perfect, but one thing is for sure: Chicago continues to strive for walkable, livable streets.
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