Cuyler plaza proposal not moving forward due to safety concerns from fire department
by BRIAN NADIG
(Photo by William Swanson)
A proposal to close off Cuyler Avenue to vehicle traffic between Milwaukee Avenue and the first alley to the west for a pedestrian plaza is not feasible under the current plan due to safety concerns expressed by the Chicago Fire Department, according to Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th).
“We are not moving forward with this, and I’ll be entertaining other options,” Gardiner said at a Feb. 11 community meeting. “Public safety is a top priority.”
A better option may be a “flex, shared” street which would have brick pavers and no curbs but would remain open to traffic and parking except for occasional community events, as retractable bollards could be used to temporarily block vehicle access, Gardiner said. “At the end of the day it comes down to finances,” he said of possible alternative plans.
When asked for a timetable for revising the project, Gardiner did not give specifics but said that to him “bringing back the Portage Theater (4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.)” may be a higher priority due to the impact it would have on generating foot traffic for restaurants and other nearby businesses. The theater has been closed for two years, as a plan reportedly to renovate the theater and expand its capacity has been delayed.
Last April, then-alderman John Arena announced plans for the Cuyler plaza proposal and said that about $1 million in tax increment financing funds have been earmarked for the project. Two years earlier the city Department of Transportation sent a letter to Arena indicating that it did not object to closing Cuyler, a one-way street heading west, due to a low volume of traffic on the street but that the project needed to be coordinated with the fire department.
At the meeting, deputy fire commissioner Charles Roy said that closing Cuyler and forcing fire engines and trucks to continue south on Milwaukee and make a wide, “blind turn” onto westbound Irving Park Road to Laporte Avenue, from which Cuyler could be reached, would be time-consuming and create several potentially dangerous scenarios.
“I’m here to tell you that (keeping Cuyler open as a street) will save lives,” Roy said. “It’s a very delicate balancing act … but if you’re having a heart attack, every second counts.”
Cuyler is a “dense” street with several large apartment buildings between Milwaukee and Laporte, Roy said. If the street was primarily single-family homes, it would be less problematic as it is generally easier for firefighters to access houses, he said.
Roy added that a plaza with a dedicated “fire lane” would not be sufficient, as a wider space would be needed to accommodate turning fire trucks.