Deloris Lucas and Victor Maurice Flemings Sr. at Rosebud Farm Stand on 130th Street. Photo: John Greenfield
[This article also runs in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]
“Altgeld Gardens is really secluded,” Active Transportation Alliance community liaison Cynthia Bell recently told me. “It’s like its own city.” The area, which includes the housing project of the same name, plus the Concordia Place, Riverside Village and Golden Gate subdivisions, is located by a bend in the Calumet River on the Far South Side, surrounded by industrial land and isolated from other neighborhoods.
Bell has been assisting the local Safety Transportation Advisory Council, residents who want to improve conditions for walking, biking and transit use. “They have a lot of issues with the built environment, like missing sidewalks and crosswalks,” she said. “They’re really underserved.”
Deloris Lucas, a former Chicago Public Schools employee and longtime Golden Gate resident who’s spearheading the council, has been working hard to change that. In particular, she’s upset that 130th Street, the interstate-like roadway that walls in the community from the north, has no sidewalk. That forces people walking to Rosebud Farm Stand, the area’s only source for fresh produce and healthy groceries, from the west, to trudge along a narrow, muddy dirt trail by the side of the road. The store is located at 525 East 130th.
The path is a textbook example of a “desire line,” urban planning lingo for a trail blazed by pedestrians who want to walk somewhere, but haven’t been provided with a sidewalk that would allow them to do it in safety, comfort and dignity. To add insult to injury, drainage issues in the market’s parking lot create a permanent pond that pedestrians have to detour around.
Altgeld Gardens was built in 1945 to provide housing for African-American vets returning from World War II, and named after John Peter Altgeld, the Illinois governor who pardoned three of the Haymarket Affair defendants. “These communities were established decades ago,” Lucas told me when I met her at a local youth center last week. “It’s 2014, and you would think that the neighborhood would have been made safer by now. To me, it’s appalling that people still have to walk through the dirt to get to the store.”
To start organizing for sidewalks and other improvements, Lucas and her neighbors formed the STAC in August 2013, with the motto “Safety Is Our First Priority.” Last November, they partnered with Active Trans and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children to do a walkability assessment in the neighborhood. The residents surveyed the area, taking inventory of unsafe walking conditions and brainstorming ways to improve transportation access.
In addition to adding a sidewalk on the south side of 130th between Indiana and Ellis avenues, the STAC members want to install “Stop for Pedestrians” signs at key intersections. They also hope to get more high-visibility crosswalks striped, especially near schools, plus speed humps, pedestrian-refuge islands and wheelchair ramps. And, in an area where many people rely on the bus in order to travel outside their neighborhood, more bus shelters are needed—right now there are only two.