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Eyes on the Street: Gravel Sidewalk at Plaza Site Forces People Into Street

Woodard Plaza construction and no pedestrian accommodation
The now un-plowable sidewalk leads some people to walk in the street, close to big trucks.

This week's snow storm -- which is still coming down -- has made a lot of sidewalks tough to navigate, but here's one case that's worse than most.

It's just one block in Logan Square, but this short stretch of Woodard Street is worth talking about as an example how Chicago needs to pay better attention to the little things that make for a good walking environment. The Chicago Department of Transportation and its contractors, starting in November, have closed a short section of Woodard Street to rebuild and rejoin an existing plaza and add seating and landscaping that collects and filters rainwater. The Woodard Plaza project is part of CDOT's Make Way For People initiative that improves publicly-owned space to increase the places' economic vitality and beauty.

The project is great, but there's some irony in the inadequate pedestrian accommodations the city and its contractors have set up during construction. The sidewalk's concrete was removed, leaving behind a gravel surface. It hasn't been clear on my visits if the sidewalk is officially closed: There are no signs, and an alternative route wasn't advised or constructed. People are trudging on the gravel or walking in the street.

Before the fence went up, the construction zone wasn't distinguished from the walking area.

On a visit last week I saw a crew taking care of another problem: The site had no fencing separating the gravel walkway from the construction zone. While that has been taken care of, with the snow, the gravel surface can't be shoveled with a hand plow. Not that anyone would be compelled to shovel next to the city's property.

Woodard Plaza construction and no pedestrian accommodation
A construction worker posts a fence to keep people from falling into the construction zone.

Given the city's new goals to favor pedestrian access and safety, a three-year long "Chicago Shovels" campaign, and new rules and regulations for construction work in the public way, CDOT and its contractors need to do the right thing and construct a temporary walkway, just like Leopardo Construction built on Lawrence for the hundreds of daily Metra riders who were walking in the street.

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