Sawyer Hopes State Street Road Diet Will Revitalize Struggling Business Strip

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A buffered bike lane and new diagonal parking spaces will reduce the road width, discouraging speeding.

State Street between 69th and 79th, in Park Manor and Chatham, is currently a pretty grim roadway. Located just east of the Dan Ryan, it’s essentially a frontage road, which drivers treat as an extension of the expressway. The pavement is a moonscape, and the street is lined with a motley mix of retail.

However, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer is optimistic that a complete streets overhaul on State will jump start the business strip and bring positive activity to the corridor. “The alderman wants to slow down car traffic and make the area more friendly to pedestrians,” said Sawyer’s chief of staff Brian Sleet. “We’re trying to get the ball tolling to change the image of State Street from a barren ex-warehouse district to something that fits the residential nature of these communities.”

Sleet said the alderman asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to address the speeding problem, improve the pedestrian environment, and add more car parking spaces as part of a project to repave the 1.3-mile stretch. According to CDOT, this section only sees 5,000 motor vehicle trips per day, and the excess road capacity encourages speeding. There were 504 reported crashes on this section between 2009 and 2013, with seven serious injuries and three fatalities.

Meanwhile, the Red Line’s 69th Street and 79 Street stations, located next to the strip in the median of the Dan Ryan, see 5,177 and 6,931 average daily boardings, respectively. However, there are few accommodations for pedestrians at these crossings.

CDOT proposed converting one of the three travel lanes on State to a buffered bike lane in order to narrow the roadway, calm traffic, and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. On the extra-wide stretch between 76th and 72nd, existing on-street parallel parking will be converted to diagonal spaces, further slimming the roadway and adding seven or eight new spaces. High-visibility zebra-striped crosswalks and ADA ramps will be added at all intersections.

While CDOT’s Arterial Streets Resurfacing Program will pay for the construction, Sawyer chipped in $30,000 in ward money for a traffic study, Sleet said. “We figured, if they’re going do repave the street, why have them restripe it in a way that would remain ineffective?”

In the future, Sawyer is interested in adding curb extensions at 79th and 69th to further improve pedestrian access to the ‘L’ stops, according to Sleet. The alderman also wants to add a sound-dampening wall by the expressway. “By getting the noise down, that will help make State Street more friendly to pedestrians,” Sleet said. “We hope that will attract retailers and help make this a transit-oriented shopping area.”

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Market Fish, an excellent seafood shop on the low-performing business strip. Image: Google Maps

The road diet is part of Sawyer’s larger plan to overhaul the lackluster business strip. Sleet said there already are some worthwhile establishments on State, such as Kings Garden florist, 7201 South State, L & P Groceries, 7047 South, and Market Fish, 7021 South, a Lousiana-style seafood store that sells everything from andouille sausage to turtle meat. However, the alderman feels that some other businesses, including dollar stores and cell phone shops, have failed to address the issue of customers loitering outside and causing problems, Sleet said.

Sawyer hopes that the more pleasant walking environment and increased foot traffic will help bring in new kinds of businesses, such as restaurants, cafes, and taverns, that will encourage more people to settle in the area. The alderman is interested in turning a former fish market site at 71st and State into an indoor farmers market, Sleet said. “We really want to separate the wheat from the chaff and have strong businesses that support positive activity in the community.”

Like many Chicago bike lanes that are piggybacked onto repaving projects, the new buffered lane isn’t a particularly useful addition to the bike network, although it does connect with an exiting non-buffered lane on 71st east of State. “We don’t get a lot of biking on State Street,” Sleet conceded. “Our main interest was in narrowing the street and slowing down traffic.”

The 6th Ward has received a handful of Divvy bike-share stations as part of the system’s recent expansion, and Sawyer recently told DNAinfo that the jury is still out as to how useful these will be for constituents. “I want to see the full rollout because you know the question I always have, ‘If you’re going to rent a Divvy out south, where are you going with it?’”

“We’re a little concerned about the slow rollout of Divvy because, right now, we’re at the south end of the service area, so that means you can only really ride north,” Sleet elaborated. He added that the ward is working with CDOT to make sure the docking stations go in useful locations. “We’re trying to make sure the placement is a little bit better, based on what [destinations] are actually out here.”

While CDOT’s Bicycling Ambassadors have visited the ward in the past to teach residents about safe cycling, Sleet said there hasn’t been much outreach about how to use bike-share. “We’d like to see more being done to help integrate Divvy into the community.”

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