IDOT Still Has Time to Make Peoria Street Great

CTA Blue Line station
The narrow passageway by the CTA station headhouse on the Peoria Street bridge will be replaced and moved next year, opening up more space for walking and biking.

As part of the Circle Interchange project, the Illinois Department of Transportation will rebuild many of the bridges around the confluence of three highways. One of them is the Peoria Street bridge, a vital connection that links two college buildings and West Loop residences north of the Eisenhower Expressway to the University of Illinois at Chicago south of the highway.

The Peoria Street proposal is one of the only bright spots in the Circle Interchange project. It presents an opportunity to transform the bridge, which also has a popular Blue Line station entrance, into a pedestrian-oriented gateway for the campus. While the street has been car-free since 1965, the evidence of its former life as a car-carrier remains: CTA vehicles are parked on it, and broken curbs abut the former roadway. The other issue with the bridge is that the CTA station headhouse occupies a majority of its width, leaving only 15 feet for the thousands of people who walk and bike on it each day. IDOT will rebuild the CTA station headhouse, completely removing it from the street’s right-of-way.

There’s one more issue on Peoria Street: To make room for new expressway lanes underneath (the bad part of the Circle Interchange project), the north end of the bridge has to be raised four feet. IDOT’s consultants, AECOM and TranSystems, originally proposed large staircases and accessible ramps, but this design has always been in flux. “Option 10” is the latest and best: It would create a long, wide ramp with two small staircases, as well as green space (none of the stair-focused options had green space).

However, Option 10 should be better. It currently calls for an 18-foot-wide driveway to access the parking lot for residents of 400 S Green Street, which narrows down the pedestrian right-of-way. Passenger cars are only six feet wide, and IDOT even notes that the “driveway cannot accommodate simultaneous two-way traffic.” If that’s the case, it doesn’t need to be much wider than a single car.

Peoria Street option 10
Option 10 for Peoria Street in front of UIC's college of urban planning extends the car-free nature of the bridge northward.

To make this a great pedestrian street and gateway to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, the design of the curbs, sidewalks, and pavement needs to go a few steps further. The best pedestrian streets eschew curbs that create a delineation between “car space” and “other space.” On a great pedestrian street, all the space is “pedestrian space” and cars are guests.

Back in February Ryan Lakes and I proposed a “Peoria Street Pedestrian Street” that would remove the curbs to create a single surface where pedestrians would take precedence. It also adds stormwater management features, new lighting, and seating, and it would keep cars out except for vehicles servicing the dry cleaner, university, train station, or accessing the condo parking lot.

Peoria Pedestrian Street PK presentation 15/20
A before/after view of the Peoria Street Pedestrian Street proposal, looking south towards UIC. ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/sets/72157632691338004/##More images##.

Our proposal fits right into the UIC Campus Master Plan, a long-term plan for improving Brutalist design and expanding the university’s floor space. The reconstruction of Peoria Street isn’t expected to start until March or April next year. There’s still time to make these changes and create “Option 11.”

  • Fred

    In Option 10, why couldn’t the driveway entrance be moved to the north end of the parking lot so only a ~20′ driveway would be needed instead of ~90′? Even better, why not close the Peoria St entrance completely and force everyone to use the alley on the east side? Or best option; develop the parking lot.

  • These are all good ideas, and ones we considered in our Peoria Street Pedestrian Street proposal.

    I’m looking into finding the latest plans, which I’ve been told have not yet been finalized.

  • My husband works in networking at UIC, so he has some knowledge of how the bridge will be redeveloped … but not the top surface of the bridge. Turns out an awful lot of fiber-optic cable (and the like) crosses the highway under that bridge to unite campus buildings on either side of the Ike, and it’s a massive snarly mess getting it worked out how to redo the bridge without taking down the network repeatedly. Plus they want to make sure to take the chance to run nice new wide pipes (to allow for 20~ years of future bandwidth-need expansion) the one time it’s going to be simple to do so: during construction.

    More when I know more, though it’s hardly a pedestrian-street sort of spy-eye into the process. :->

  • Microwave transmissions!

  • You think you’re joking, but there actually are a massive pair of microwave dishes on the roofs of BGRC and SES (which house server rooms in their basements), to provide a last-ditch campus-to-campus connection in case of trunk failure. It actually got used during some massive (SNAFU-caused) power outage a couple of years ago, so it’s a good thing there’s a guy going up there cleaning out the bird’s nests and whatnot about every six months …

    Someday it’s all going to be WIMAX or some other protocol not yet invented. Everything’s going wireless-er and wireless-er, to misquote Alice. This winter break they’re going to try to finish doubling the available wifi bandwidth AGAIN in the dorms and unions and several other places; they already doubled its capacity last year and have already outgrown it. Apparently college students tend to own a lot of handheld computing devices nowadays, and you should HEAR them whine if they don’t get enough bandwidth for them!

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