An Update on the Lawrence Streetscape and the Ravenswood Metra Stop

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A curb bump-out and a pedestrian island makes it much easier to cross Lawrence than before, while a new bike lane encourages cycling. Photo: John Greenfield

The long-awaited Lawrence streetscape and road diet is is almost complete, and the project has already transformed a corridor that had been unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists into a much more livable street. Meanwhile, construction is also wrapping up on a new, supersized Metra station house on Lawrence.

First announced in 2010 and launched in July of 2013, the streetscape has changed the stretch of Lawrence between Western and Clark from a four-lane speedway into a much calmer street, with two mixed-traffic lanes plus a turn lane. This was formerly a “reverse bottleneck,” since it was the only section of Lawrence in the city with four lanes. The road diet has made room for wider sidewalks, which will provide space for café seating, plus non-buffered bike lanes, where there were formerly only shared-lane markings.

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The same intersection as the above photo, Lawrence and Seeley, before the road diet. Image: Google Maps

The section from Ravenswood – where the new Metra stop is located – to Western is largely completed. Many pedestrian islands have been built. In a few locations, there are also curb bump-outs that reduce crossing distances for people traversing Lawrence. Crosswalks made of eye-catching red asphalt, stamped in a brick pattern, have been put in at all intersections.

Workers have installed old-fashioned acorn-style streetlamps, as well as standard inverted-U bike racks, according to to Brad Gregorka, an assistant to 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar. Benches and trash cans will soon be added. Two Divvy bike-share stations have been returned or relocated to spots by the Metra stop and at Lawrence/Leavitt.

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Rendering of a neighborhood identifier pole with “bike arcs,” by the Ravenswood Metra stop.

Colorful neighborhood identifier poles will be installed at Ravenswood later this fall. “They’re kind of funky-looking and cool,” Gregorka said. “Bike arcs” — troughs that park cycles at a 45-degree angle to the ground — will be attached to the bases of the poles, providing a handful of new parking spaces.

The additional bike parking is sorely needed. When I visited Lawrence this afternoon, there were dozens and dozen of cycles locks to racks under the Metra station and beneath an overhang at the new Mariano’s supermarket across the street. Several more were locked to handrails.

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Lawrence and Wolcott. Photo: John Greenfield

The section of Lawrence from Ravenswood to Clark is slated to be repaved and restriped on the week of October 20, Gregorka said. All hardscaping will be finished within a few weeks, and the remaining landscaping will be done in the spring.

“Most responses from residents and business owners have been very positive,” Gregorka said. “People appreciate that traffic is calmer, and that it’s easier to cross the street, and they’re enjoying the new bike lanes.” He added that the reduction in mixed-traffic lanes seems to have slightly increased travel times for drivers, but most people seem to think the tradeoff is worth it.

Gregorka said the makeover is already having a positive effect on commerce. “It’s helped bring in several new businesses that are walkable, and we keep getting more interest in locations along Lawrence, partly due to the streetscape.”

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The new station house. Photo: John Greenfield

The new Ravenswood Metra station house, featuring an entire block of sheltered waiting space, is scheduled to open next month, Gregorka said. It’s located on the west side of Ravenswood and serves outbound trains. The project also included the reconstruction of 11 bridges, from Balmoral to Grace, for the outbound tracks.

The second phase of construction will include a station house on the east side of Ravenswood, serving inbound trains, as well as 11 new bridges for the inbound tracks. That project is currently being designed, and will be bid out in the near future. Walsh Construction is doing the current station work, but they’ll have to bid again for the second half of the job.

Construction on Phase II should start in late 2015 or early 2016, with completion slated for 2017. “It should take less time than the west side,” Gregorka said. “There will be less retention wall work and fewer traffic disruptions. Luckily, we get a little breather before they start the next phase.”

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The contraflow bike lane at the west end of the Berteau Greenway is virtually invisible. Photo: John Greenfield

If, like me, you’ve been wondering why the contraflow bike lane on the west end of the Berteau Greenway, another of Pawar’s flagship projects, has been looking so faded, Gregorka had a good explanation. A new water main is going in under Berteau from Damen to Bell, including the one-block stretch of the greenway between Damen to Lincoln.

The city was aware of the impending water project back in late 2013, when the bike route was built, so they opted to save money by striping the contraflow lane with regular paint, rather than the more durable thermoplastic usually used for bikeways. After the main is replaced and the street is repaved, the bike lane will be restriped with thermo, Gregorka said.