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.

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