The Chicago Department of Transportation has a rare clean-slate opportunity to design a Street of Dreams — a street that incorporates many leading-edge safety features. That opportunity is phase three of their Wells-Wentworth Connector between Chinatown and the South Loop, a future southward extension of Wells Street that longtime South Loop resident Dennis McClendon calls “Riverside Boulevard.”
There, CDOT will build a new street from the ground up, plus “people places” infrastructure that will enhance the long-term future development potential of the South Loop’s long-vacant Riverside District tract. CDOT has an opportunity to create a safe street and great place even before the first resident moves in, provided that it embraces recent innovations in street design and a comprehensive and open planning and design process.
The Wells-Wentworth Connector’s first two phases will add more space for pedestrians and bicyclists along the northern end of Chinatown’s main street, and straighten out the confusing intersection where Cermak, Wentworth, and the Dan Ryan off-ramps meet. Its third and final phase consists of a new road traversing north-south through the former railyard that Tony Rezko once owned, a 62-acre site bounded by Roosevelt, 16th, Clark, and the South Branch. The road is intended to jump-start the city’s redevelopment plan for that property (which, even though it’s less than one mile from the Loop, has been vacant ever since it was reclaimed from the river in 1930), and to improve street safety in Chinatown.
This new main street for the Riverside District can embody the new philosophies CDOT has embraced under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration. The street can be designed from the start as a complete street that gives vulnerable users like pedestrians and cyclists generous room and comfortable spaces. It can embrace Vision Zero and include redundant features that minimize speeds and eliminate conflicts. It should be an integral element of placemaking along the riverfront, bringing people to new spaces where people can linger, relax, and shop — which will increase the land’s value, both to developers and to the city.