Eyes on the Street: Mariano’s Contractor Creates Pedestrian Hazard

Each day, 2,000 people use the Ravenswood Metra station, according to riderships statistics, and hundreds of these passengers are being inconvenienced and endangered because of a construction project — but they don’t need to be.

Since October 24, during the evening rush when trains run most frequently, hundreds of passengers disembark the UP-North line at Lawrence Avenue and then immediately head into the roadway on the north side of the street, walking west alongside moving traffic. To use the sidewalk on the other side of Lawrence, as construction signs suggest doing, people would have to cross a street three times before going west, so it’s understandable to see so many people take the more direct route, as demonstrated in the video above.

While the contractor and the city — which approved the sidewalk closure permit — aren’t forcing anyone to walk in the roadway, it’s a situation that was predictable and avoidable through better design.

Leopardo Construction is building a Mariano’s grocery store on Lawrence, abutting the railroad embankment, and has closed the north sidewalk for about 250 feet, disrupting the pedestrian network. Their “sidewalk closed” signs directing people to detour are placed in locations where it’s “too late” to find an alternate route. This means you have to turn around, go back to the crosswalk, and use the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. This situation is actually in line with the existing rules and regulations for doing work in the public way, which don’t require temporary walkways instead of detours like these.

It’s not clear to me if the new rules that go into effect next year — which have stronger language about pedestrian access, but not necessarily stronger requirements — will make it any harder for construction companies to get away with these irresponsible sidewalk detour designs.

Leopardo could have requested a permit to close a lane to build a protected temporary sidewalk in the roadway, as seen during downtown construction projects, but that costs more money. The company closed part of the curbside travel lane to store equipment, rebuild the sidewalk, and construct a driveway, and it’s costing them $10,000 for two months of closure, plus about $8,000 to close the sidewalk. Closing the travel lane to create a temporary walkway would likely cost as much as closing the curbside travel lane. While a temporary sidewalk at this site may only be usable after construction wraps up in the early afternoon, because the crews are actively moving in and out, people need it most during the evening rush, when there wouldn’t be a conflict.

Lawrence Avenue + Metra station + sidewalk closure
The construction affects pedestrian and bike traffic (by narrowing the curb lane) but not automobile traffic.

Whether or not Leopardo or CDOT, which issued the permit, intended hundreds of people to walk in the roadway each day, it’s happening, and the pedestrians should have protection.

The disruption will affect Metra commuters and other Ravenswood residents for at least another week, as the permit expires November 13.

A reader brought this situation to my attention with his own video, after had contact Alderman Ameya Pawar’s office to no avail. I called the Leopardo Construction contact on the permit, but that phone number had been disconnected. When I called Pawar’s office about it on Monday, staffer Bill Higgins said he would touch base with the contractor.

  • Cameron Puetz

    I blame CDOT for this screw up. The contractor did what is expected and normal under the framework CDOT created. CDOT approved the closure without requiring any pedestrian accommodations and created a framework that discourages contractors from voluntarily providing pedestrian accommodations. In this case the problems were made worse by the already poorly designed cross walks and pedestrian access to the station.

  • MLKendricks

    It makes even less sense to me considering they are already giving Lawrence a Road diet from Western to Damen. Why not just extend it all the way to the rail road tracks, narrow the road and at the very very least separate pedestrians from cars with jersey barriers and keep the sidewalk under the tracks open.

  • Anonymous

    There should be a crosswalk on the west leg of the intersection there, even with the odd elevation stuff with those sidewalks.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe true, but it is still a cop-out. Look at Leopardos facebook page. They clearly care about worker safety. Not extending that to the communities you work in, makes me think that this will safety culture is just a feel-good- marketing line, not backed up by any real actions.

    I work for a company where safety is the #1 core value. We would never let that happen.

  • mhls

    I’ve been taking the brown line instead of metra because of the temporary station and now the sidewalk closure. It’s terrible. Keep in mind that this is the busiest station on the UP North line. Thanks for the coverage, Steve.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the coverage. I might add that this construction seems to be taking forever compared to other commercial projects.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Commercial construction is very competitive and most projects have very tight margins. Spending $10k on something that isn’t required in many cases means losing the bid. This is obviously bad for a construction company that does try to look out for pedestrians because they’re losing work, but also doesn’t help pedestrians because it means work is going to companies that don’t care. CDOT needs to step up and require pedestrian accommodations so that the cost is part of everyone’s bid and reform their pricing structure to not discourage companies from providing a safe pedestrian passage.

  • Anonymous

    Just another bunch of excuses for not doing what is right.

    I work for a company in the building materials industry. We face the same tight margins companies like Leopardo face. Yet we have safety as our #1 value.That extends to our suppliers, employees, carriers, customers, and the communities we work in.

    But then our numbers show that. Leopardo brags about 250,000 hours worked without lost time incident. Most of our facilities have may time times that with some plants upwards of 5,000,000 hours worked without lost time incidents.

    And we are profitable.

  • Jim McInerney

    We applaud and share your concern, but some of
    these suggestions simply aren’t feasible considering the restrictions of street
    space. With a culture of safety, we share your concerns and work diligently
    every day to remain one of the safest contractors in the nation. This
    particular project requires a new pedestrian sidewalk and curb, which requires
    us to temporarily close the sidewalk and redirect pedestrian traffic to the
    other side of the street. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room with the
    vehicular and bicycle lane to create a pedestrian bridge on that side of the
    street during construction. We have closely examined all possibilities. The only
    feasible option would have been to close one lane of traffic, which would cause
    greater hazards. The
    temporary sidewalk closure has been approved and implemented in full compliance
    with CDOT, Streets and Sanitation and the Alderman’s Office. We understand it
    is a temporary inconvenience and that some pedestrians choose to ignore the
    safety and directional signage (not shown in this article) in favor of using
    the bicycle lane, but we are unable to control their behavior. Again, thank you
    for sharing and we will continue to closely monitor safety.

    Jim McInerney,

    Safety Director, Leopardo Construction

  • With the pedestrians waiting patiently at the lights you can tell you’re in some relaxed midwestern city, because in New York they’d just swarm through the intersection upon reaching a critical mass.

  • Anonymous

    Here here!
    You know you can’t keep people from walking in the streets when they are specifically directed not to, any more than you can keep bike riders that don’t want to ride in the right direction on one way streets from riding the wrong way unless the city is going to put a cop on every corner and have them issuing tickets to them. You can only drive as carefully as you can.

    Sometimes I wonder what the readers of this blog understand about business and economics and development and where they went to school and grew up. I’ve never seen such a bunch of self entitled people. It’s like the undertone of this whole conversation is: I don’t need this grocery store. I probably will never shop here. I know I will never work here. People are walking in my way, so get out of my way because I’m inconvenienced by the traffic and a business that willing to invest and bring jobs to the neighborhood and collect sales taxes that will support public transit and all the things I want. Whhhaaaa Whhhaaaa Whaaaa. And when I’m done having my tantrum I’m going to call the alderman to complain because the construction company had to close a sidewalk to build a sidewalk.

  • mhls

    This is a ridiculous comment.

    The city/contractor has now installed temporary jersey barriers that create a sidewalk next to the travel lane. How difficult / expensive was that?

    The improvements would not have occurred if not for the complaints of the community and this blog.

    You can’t keep people from walking in the street, but at one of the busiest areas in the community for pedestrians, we can expect a basic level of protections and accommodations during construction.

  • Anonymous

    Great news.

    The contractor put barriers under the train tracks forcing car traffic in one lane, providing a clear, safe path for the hundreds of pedestrians walking by there during rush hour.

    Thanks to Leopardo and alderman Pawar’s office for getting this done.
    Thanks to Steven for giving a voice to the community’s concerns.

  • safetyfirst

    Awesome, thanks for sharing! I guess there was room for reasonable accommodations after all.

  • Great post thanks for share…………….useful information………..

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