Chicago Residents Petition for Urban Living space

The Illinois Department of transportation (IDOT) has been pushing a transportation project that has met the ire of residents in Chicago’s Greektown and West Loop communities.

The Skinny

The I-90/94 at I-290 Circle Interchange is a highway system that is over 50 years old and located in the heart of downtown Chicago. The interchange is notorious for its congestion and safety issues and according to the American Transportation Research Institute and the Federal Highway Administration, is the slowest and most congested highway freight bottleneck in the U.S. 

With 300,000 vehicles traveling through the Interchange on a daily basis, and over 1,100 crashes reported on average per year, IDOT has proposed an overhaul of this system and in March 2012, began a two-year planning and design project to identify the scope of improvements and the potential cost and construction schedule.

Cars vs. Community 

While IDOT does not expect to finish its design study or begin construction before mid- 2014, some of its early proposals already have residents upset. One proposal is the construction of a major “flyover”, or overpass, over Halsted Street and I-290. For IDOT, the flyover ramp is a potential solution that addresses the aging street bridges, but for residents it’s a potential deterrent to live in the vibrant and rapidly growing Greektown and West Loop neighborhoods.

As a resident of the West Loop, I can attest to the lively atmosphere of both neighborhoods. The urban environment there is full of “mouthwatering good” restaurants and thriving businesses that make an evening at a Greektown restaurant or a walk to a festival like the Taste of Randolph (both of which I shamelessly went to this past weekend) both effortless and fun.  These neighborhoods are home to families and businesses, which enjoy these amenities, but also represent a shining example of what modern urban living can be in. 

The problem with this proposal is that in exchange for a ramp, residents would see the safety and walkability they enjoy vanish. The noise and environmental pollution would also drastically increase because the ramp would handle an estimated 40,000 cars a day. Make no mistake, this is a huge project and would feature two 12’ lanes and two 10’ shoulders, in addition to required guardrails and infrastructure.  For those that love what these communities offer, this is at best a punch to the gut of what is becoming a thriving urban center. Is a petition against this at all surprising?

The Planning Crossroads

The challenges facing urban centers around the world is bringing urban planning to a critical crossroads. The dilemma is that urban areas are experiencing population growth and must grapple with the best way to handle rising energy costs, CO2 levels and most importantly a culture change centered around transportation. How can this happen when most federal and state governments are committed to pouring resources into massive highway systems that perhaps should not have been built at all? 

With new reports highlighting the “new culture” of alternative driving options and walkability of their neighborhoods, the pressure is now on our transit agencies to propose solutions that contribute to a modern urban living space.  Its undeniable that highways have been a staple in U.S. urban planning, but its also evident that their value is coming into question now, more than ever before. 


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