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Where the Sidewalk Ends: New Hope for Pedestrians in Altgeld Gardens

Altgeld Gardens residents return from Rosebud Farm Stand on the dirt road next to the market. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

For years, Altgeld Gardens-area resident Deloris Lucas has pushed for a sidewalk on 130th Street, an interstate-like truck route that serves as the northern boundary of this far south-side public housing project.

"[Altgeld is] a poor area that's a food desert, where people don't even realize we lack facilities like sidewalks and bus shelters," says Lucas, 59. Since 1967, Lucas has lived in Golden Gate, a quaint enclave of single-family homes just west of the housing project.

Due to lack of interest from decision makers, her crusade hasn't gained much traction since she first told me about it in July 2014. But a new multimodal transportation plan for the area from the Chicago Department of Transportation may lead to Lucas finally getting her sidewalk.

Deloris Lucas. Photo: John Greenfield

For context, the Altgeld area is hemmed in by the Little Calumet River to the south and west, a water reclamation plant to the north, and the Bishop Ford to the east. CTA service is limited, and bike infrastructure is nonexistent. Median household income is less than a third of the city's median of $47,250. Only about half of households own cars, compared with 72 percent citywide.

Access to nearby Rosebud Farm Stand, 525 E. 130th, is a particular sore spot. It's the area's sole grocery store, but it's difficult to access by foot. The only way to walk there from the west is via a narrow trail pedestrians have worn on the south side of the five-lane highway. Walking north to Rosebud from Altgeld means taking a rutted dirt lane.

Lucas began her advocacy after she was laid off from her job as a CPS teaching assistant in 2013. She launched the grassroots Safety and Transit Action Council, currently made up of a dozen or so neighbors. The group soon partnered with the Active Transportation Alliance and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children to assess her neighborhood's walkability. In addition to sidewalks, the groups determined the community needs more crosswalks, STOP FOR PEDESTRIAN signs, pedestrian islands, speed humps, and streetlights.

The Chicago Housing Authority has earmarked money to pave the lane between Altgeld Gardens and Rosebud, and the project is currently out to bid, according to an Active Trans rep.

But the sidewalk on 130th has been a tougher nut to crack. It's a state route, which would normally give the Illinois Department of Transportation control over upgrades. However, agency spokesman Guy Tridgell said 130th is actually maintained by CDOT, which is also responsible for sidewalk construction in the city.

Read the rest of the article on the Chicago Reader website.

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