The Chicago Department of Transportation is asking for feedback from residents on its plan to improve the stretch of Chicago Avenue between Kedzie and Latrope avenues in Humboldt Park and Austin.
During a virtual meeting Thursday, CDOT officials emphasized over and over again that the corridor currently isn’t safe for any road users. On several sections of the avenue, motorists are often driving at near-highway speeds. They staffers said the lack of left-turn lanes in many locations endangers both drivers and pedestrians. Pedestrian islands are needed to make crossing safer, and bike lanes are needed to provide dedicated space for cycling.
The city is also looking to redesign the corridor to encourage economic development. As part of that, CDOT is considering adding rush-hour bus lanes. The city expects that improving bus speeds, adding bike lanes and calming traffic by narrowing travel lanes, make people passing through the corridor more likely to notice Chicago Avenue storefronts, rather than just speeding by them.
For the next few months, CDOT will be collecting input that will help it fine-tune the plan. The department hopes to have the plan finalized in 2021, with the goal of doing the streetscape project in 2022.
During the presentation, CDOT officials noted that Chicago Avenue is a major east-west commercial and transit corridor. The #66 Chicago Avenue bus is the third busiest route in the city, and it will be a site of the city’s electric bus pilot. Many riders transfer to and between the #66 and major north-south routes that cross it. And the Chicago bus is one of only a few West Side transit lines that operates at night.
While there have been streetscape improvements further west on Chicago Avenue, between Central Avenue and Austin Boulevard, as well as east of Kedzie, the Latrobe to Kedzie section has been neglected. But the corridor has seen some development. The controversial Joint Public Safety Training Academy (better known as the “cop academy”) is being built at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. In 2017, Westside Health Authority, a major Austin nonprofit, established the West Side’s very first Special Service Area, SSA 72 Austin Chicago Avenue Cultural Corridor, on and around the intersection of Chicago and Cicero avenues.
More recently, under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative, the Austin and Humboldt Park community areas are among the 10 community areas that are being prioritized for development, and the Chicago Avenue corridor in particular has been designated as one of the 12 priority commercial corridors. As part of that, the city recently sent out a request for proposals to redevelop the historic Laramie State Bank building, which is located at the west end of Kedzie-to-Latrobe segment.
During the presentation, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward includes most of the segment west of Avers Avenue, and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes the portion east of Avers, both touted the…