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.”

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