The City Is Finally Tackling the Complex, Dangerous Cermak/Wentworth Intersection

Aerial rendering of the new street layout. Image: CDOT
Aerial rendering of the new street layout. Image: CDOT

Today city officials kicked off work to straighten out the skewed, dangerous, and sometimes deadly intersection of Cermak and Wentworth in the heart of Chinatown. The dog-leg junction is nearly a perfect storm of traffic complications, sitting just west of a massive access ramp for the Dan Ryan and a CTA Red Line station with high foot traffic. There are currently multiple signal phases, and pedestrians aren’t allowed to cross the east leg of the intersection. In March 2017 a turning truck driver fatally struck Augustin Arroyo, 56, at this crossroads.

Fixing Cermak/Wells is part of a larger project called the Cermak-Wells Connector that will eventually make it possible to travel directly north through the upcoming, massive Rezkoville development on the east bank of the Chicago River south of Roosevelt, and continue all the way to Harrison in the South Loop. Phase I of the project, completed last year, involved rebuilding Wentworth Avenue between 17th and 19th streets, adding a buffered bike lane and improving pedestrian and bike access to the Ping Tom Memorial Park Fieldhouse.

Aerial view of the skewed Cermak / Wentworth intersection. Image: Google Maps
Aerial view of the skewed Cermak / Wentworth intersection, prior to the demolition of Three Happiness restaurant at the northwest corner. Image: Google Maps

Phase II will realign Wentworth between Archer and Cermak, and will also include building a new plaza on the east side of Wentworth at 19th to highlight the entrances to both parts of Ping Tom Park. A mid-block crossing with a pedestrian island will also be installed on Archer across from the main entrance of the Chinatown Square pedestrianized dining district. This stretch of Wentworth will also get a non-buffered bike lane.

Energy-efficient LED lighting will be installed along Wentworth between 19th and Cermak, and decorative lights will be installed along Cermak. The initiative also includes 77 new trees and landscaping designed to help reduce the flow of storm water to sewers.

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Rendering of the plaza planned for the east side of Wentworth at 19th. Image: CDOT

The Wells-Wentworth project has been coordinated by the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Department of Planning and Development. CDOT is also coordinating relocation of bus stops with the Chicago Transit Authority along Wentworth and Archer, including installation of new concrete bus pads.

Phase III of the project will involve building the new segments of Wentworth/Wells north of 17th. Bike sidepaths will be constructed along the road between 16th and Roosevelt.

Scheinfeld, Emanuel, and a local community leader break ground on Phase II of the Wells-Wentworth Connector. Photo: John Greenfield
Scheinfeld, Emanuel, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce president Tony Shu, and a crew member break ground on Phase II of the Wells-Wentworth Connector. Photo: John Greenfield

At today’s groundbreaking, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the road reconstruction is part of efforts to make sure Chicago’s Chinatown, one of the few such neighborhoods in the U.S. to gain population in recent years, growing by 24 percent between 2000 and 2010, continues to flourish. He also touted his upcoming trip to East Asia, including a meeting with CRRC Sifang America, which is opening an ‘L’ car manufacturing plant on Chicago’s Southeast Side, to help ensure that the $1.3 billion contract “does not become a victim of Donald Trump’s trade war.”

The Cermak/Wentworth reconfiguration project seems to have been progressing slowly, since CDOT demolished the large Three Happiness restaurant at the northwest corner of the intersection in 2016 to make way for the new road section. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld attributed the time lag to “the regular process of getting through the real estate acquisition and demolition and finishing out the design and bidding of the process.”

The recently reconstructed section of Wentworth at 18th Street. Photo: John Greenfield
The recently reconstructed section of Wentworth at 18th Street. Photo: John Greenfield

Scheinfeld compared the Cermak/Wentworth project to the equally long-awaited Fullerton/Damen/Elston reconfiguration. However she noted that while that project involved separating a complex intersection with three closely-spaced traffic signals into three separate intersections, the Chinatown initiative essentially condenses the junction. “Instead of having an offset intersection, it will be a normal four-way crossing.” A crosswalk will be added to the east leg and the signal patterns will be simplified. “This intersection is going to become more predictable and intuitive for everybody,” she promised.”

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