The Chicago Department of Transportation recently unveiled a corridor study containing a series of preliminary recommendations about how to improve traffic safety along the portion of North Avenue between Harlem and Central Avenues.
The traffic study was one of two North Avenue corridor studies that the transportation department released during a May 9 public hearing at Galewood Trinity Church, 1701 N. Narragansett Ave.
The department has been working with the village of Oak Park and Chicago-based Kinley-Horn & Associates to study the conditions and come up with the best way to address the issues.
The plan calls for adding more medians, more greenery, more curb cuts and crosswalks, as well as making it easier for passengers to board buses serving the corridor.
The idea for the meeting was to give public a chance to comment on the initial draft and bring it back to the steering committee. Brenda Rancher-McGruder, CDOT's coordinating planner, said that the plan could be finalized "in the next couple of months."
Peter Lemmon, Kinley-Horn's senior transportation engineer, said that the goal is to improve public safety and mobility for pedestrians, drivers and public transit users. Lemmon said that his department has heard a lot of comments about unsafe pedestrian crossings and street parking, as well as traffic congestion and the general appearance of the corridor.
Lemmon explained that they aim to take cues from Irving Park Avenue, which, like North Avenue, is a state highway with high traffic levels and on-street parking. He noted that Irving Park Avenue has landscaped medians, which make it look "more attractive, more comfortable" and can "slow down traffic a little bit." The medians also provide refuge for pedestrians crossing the street.
Many of the proposed improvements are relatively small. The transportation department would add curb bump-outs at certain intersections that would make on-street parking safer and provide opportunities to add pedestrian-friendly spaces.
The department may also adjust the streetlights' timing to better fit pedestrians' needs, and relocate or consolidate bus stops that it believes are too close together.
At several major intersections, the proposals are more ambitious. At the Oak Park Avenue intersection, workers may add clear left turn lanes. At the Narragansett Avenue intersection, the department is looking to prepare for several potential redevelopment scenarios at the intersection's northeastern corner, which includes a shuttered Walgreens, a Dunkin Donuts and a bus turnaround.
Lemmon said that if a developer wants to redevelop the entire block, them workers would move the turnaround to the alley further north and turn Mobile Street into a one-way street. They would also consider moving the turnaround closer to Milwaukee District West Metra Line's Galewood station, which is located a few blocks north, to allow for easier connections.
At the Austin Boulevard intersection, CDOT could change the northeastern corner, which currently features a pedestrian island between the boulevard and a small northbound slip lane. The department would remove the lane to create a "people space" that could be used as a sitting area for a nearby cafe or restaurant, or a public plaza.
Over by the North Austin branch library, the department is looking to put the bus stop in front of the library entrance. There is already a crosswalk nearby. The department may add a median to make it easier for pedestrians to cross.
Lemmon emphasized that CDOT has no interest in acquiring property or doing anything that would hurt local businesses.
"We're not looking to close people's driveways and close businesses by realigning roads," he said. "If opportunities become available, great. If they don't [become available], they don't."
Lemmon explained that many details, such as who would maintain the greenery, will be refined in the future if the plan is approved.
When asked what CDOT could do about speeding along streets near North Avenue, Lemmon said that there wasn't much the department can do.
"That is tough," he said. "I would say enforcement is probably best way of trying to approach this."
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