Groups Push for Turning Parking Under the Wilson Tracks to Public Space

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Will the space under the ‘L’ tracks be parking or a park? Image: The Wilson Underline

New York’s Chelsea neighborhood has the High Line pedestrian path, and Chicago’s Northwest Side has the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway. Now groups in Chicago’s Uptown community are pushing to create the next great linear park by a rail line, a project they’ve dubbed the Wilson Underline.

The CTA’s $203 million Wilson station overhaul includes ambition plans to transform the station into a Red/Purple transfer, make the stop wheelchair accessible, restore the historic clock tower, and install public art by renowned sculptor Cecil Balmond. But right now, the transit agency’s plan for the space underneath the ‘L’ tracks between Wilson and Montrose simply restores the conditions that existed before the rehab began. Once again, the space would be a dark, dismal place used for parking, surrounded by fences.

Thankfully, the Wilson Public Space Committee, Graceland Wilson Neighbors Association and Uptown United have put forward a forward-thinking alternative to using this valuable land in the heart of the neighborhood to warehouse cars once again. Instead, they want to transform the space into a promenade with green space, seating, event space, bicycle and food truck parking, artwork, and dynamic lighting under the tracks that would make the area less gloomy and more lively. They argue that these improvements would make the area under the tracks safer and more welcoming, and create a valuable new amenity for the neighborhood.

Over the past year, the groups have been working with the Metropolitan Planning Council and The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Transit Oriented Development studio course teams (commissioned by the CTA) to come up with their proposal. Over the last year, the groups have worked with nearby residents, property owners, and other stakeholders to come up with idea for the space.

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The proposal includes anumber of different placemaking elements. Image: The Wilson Underline

The current proposal for the Wilson Underline includes:

  • “Bike activation zones” including bike racks and Divvy stations, at the station’s Wilson and Sunnyside entrances
  • Striping the asphalt under the tracks with a decorative pattern that delineates pedestrian walkways
  • In-ground landscaped areas with sustainable plantings
  • Boulder seating gathering areas
  • Lighting under the tracks, similar to the colored lights that are being piloted on Wabash below the Loop ‘L’ tracks.
  • Lit column banners with local historical art showcasing Uptown
  • A food truck area with moveable picnic table seating
  • Newly striped and organized parking for Aldi (50 spaces) and the McJunkin building at 4554 North Broadway (35 spaces), and an additional 20 “flex” parking spaces

You can view the full proposal on the Wilson Underline website. The groups are looking for more feedback on the design via a new survey – check it out and let them know how you currently use the Wilson station, and what you think about their plan.

Obviously, there are some details that would need to be worked out in order to make this a successful public space. For example, should the new public space be gated and locked at night, or open 24/7?

But here’s hoping that groups can succeed in persuading the CTA to turn this land into a vibrant new amenity for Uptown, instead of just another example of land near transit being squandered for car storage.

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