47TH Ward ‘road diet’ discussed at meeting
by BRIAN NADIG
The impact of a "road diet" on Lawrence Avenue between Western and Ravenswood avenues in the 47th Ward was discussed at the Jan. 18 meeting of the Jefferson Park Forward at Eden United Church of Christ, 5051 W. Gunnison St.
"The big goal of this (lane-reduction) project was economic development," Alderman Ameya Pawar’s program coordinator Brad Gregorka said. "A lot of vacant businesses before, and everyone was just flying through."
Multiple lanes of traffic in both directions on Lawrence did little to create a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that was conducive to shopping, Gregorka said.
"It was not a pleasant place to walk through. There were no trees. It was a barren place," he said. "There was no grocery store within walking distance."
Within the past few years Lawrence has been reconstructed to have one lane of traffic in each direction and a turning lane in the middle, along with designated bike lanes and wider sidewalks, Gregorka said. In recent years, several new restaurants, a Mariano’s grocery store and an LA Fitness have opened in the area, he said.
The lane reductions added an estimated 4 to 8 minutes to the commute for those driving through the area, Gregorka said. In addition, some motorists have chosen to use other nearby east-west streets, including Wilson Avenue, for their commute, but the "doom and gloom" predicted by some has not materialized, he said.
Efforts are being made to keep new construction in the area to four stories, as requested by residents, Gregorka said.
Forward group president Ryan Richter said that Gregorka was asked to speak at the meeting about the benefits of making shopping districts more pedestrian-friendly. He said that such measures could include the installation of crosswalk bump-outs and pedestrian refuge islands, several of which have been built in the Jefferson Park area in the past 2 years.
Richter said that the neighborhood group is not calling for a road diet to be implemented in the area. He said that there is no need to revisit the debate which took place in 2014 about a controversial proposal to institute a road diet on Milwaukee Avenue north of the Kennedy Expressway, where wider bike lanes and pedestrian islands were installed as part of a compromise plan.
The group is hopeful that a portion of an alley that dead ends at Milwaukee across from the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave., will be turned into a small public plaza, Richter said. A design has not been finalized, he said.