Planned West Loop changes include closing block of Milwaukee, wider sidewalks

The one-block stretch of Milwaukee avenue between Lake and Fulton streets. Image: Google Maps
The one-block stretch of Milwaukee avenue between Lake and Fulton streets. Image: Google Maps

Hat-tip to Streetsblog’s Steven Vance for alerting me to this project.

While Streetsblog Chicago has been advocating for temporarily widening sidewalks with street barriers to create more space for socially-distanced pedestrian activity during the pandemic, interestingly a similar intervention is already proposed in the West Loop as part of a high-rise construction project.

The newsletter for downtown alderman Brendan Reilly discussed plans for the 33-story residential building at the Cassidy Tire site, 344 N. Canal St., located on the west side of Canal between Fulton and Kinzie streets. This is in advance of the “virtual” Chicago Plan Commission meeting this Thursday at 10 a.m. Rules for public participation in the city of Chicago’s virtual meetings are now available. A link to live stream the meeting will be added to CPC’s website that morning.

The proposed tower.
The proposed tower.
The Habitat Company and its architects, Solomon Cordwell and Buenz, have pitched the building with 343 apartments and ground floor commercial space, plus 124 garage parking spots. The site is roughly a third of a mile, about a six-minute walk, from the Clinton Green / Pink station. Reilly held a public meeting on the project in December — see a summary here.
The alderman says that, using community feedback he was able to negotiate “meaningful public benefits, including significant infrastructure and traffic improvements to Canal Street and Clinton Street at the developers’ private expense.” Here are some of the proposed upgrades, pending approval by the plan commission.

On a pilot basis, Canal Street, located on the east side of the property, and currently two-way on the two-block stretch between Lake and Kinzie streets, would be converted to one-way northbound for drivers, as it is south of Lake. Likewise vehicular traffic on Clinton, to the west, would be converted to one-way southbound, as it is south of Fulton.

These changes would be done in a non-permanent way by installing construction barrels with 20-foot spacing to block the southbound lane on Canal from Kinzie to Lake. If the pilot is judged successful, the right-of-way from the elimination of the southbound lane will be used for widening sidewalks on both sides of Canal.

Also on a pilot basis, the single northwest-bound block of Milwaukee Avenue between Canal and Clinton will be reduced to local access only “since there are two building garages on the north side and Metra staff parking on the south side of Milwaukee near Canal.” Construction barrels with five-foot spacing will be used to reconfigure and remove Milwaukee from the five-way stoplight intersections of Lake/Canal/Milwaukee and Fulton/Clinton/Milwaukee. “The reconfiguration will produce four-legged intersections at Canal/Lake and Clinton/Fulton, reduce crossing distance and improve safety for pedestrians and improve capacity and intersection operation for vehicular traffic.”

The existing two-way protected bike lane on Clinton will be extended north a block from Fulton to the existing Kinzie protected bike lanes. Cyclists who currently use that one block of Milwaukee to head northwest from Canal to Milwaukee Avenue proper via Fulton and Desplaines Street will instead be directed to use Fulton to get to Clinton. If the pilot becomes permanent, the northbound bike lane at Lake/Canal will be modified to facilitate this move.

A possible route to bike from the Loop to Milwaukee Avenue proper once the one-block stretch of Milwaukee between Fulton and Lake is closed. Image: Google Maps
A possible route to bike from the Loop to Milwaukee Avenue proper once the one-block stretch of Milwaukee between Fulton and Lake is closed. Image: Google Maps

Since Milwaukee will still be open to local vehicular traffic, presumably it will still be possible, although perhaps technically illegal, for cyclists to continue to use that one diagonal block of Milwaukee as a minor shortcut. On the other hand, the proposed closure raises the question, were people who live outside the ward given any opportunity to weigh in on a project that will impact the bike network?

As part of the project, a secondary drop-off lay-by lane will added near the rear of the building, accessible from Clinton. A covered dog-friendly area under the Clinton viaduct will have a weather canopy.

The Habitat Company will also chip in $250,000 towards an area-wide railroad crossing signal upgrades project, including pedestrian improvements to the rail crossing on Canal just north of Fulton. The developer will also include 34 affordable units at the Elm Tower project at 1155 N. Dearborn St., located 1.5 miles away. In addition, Habitat will pay $3,119,601.92 for the Neighborhoods Opportunity Bonus, including $2,495,681.54 for the Neighborhoods Opportunity Fund and $311,960.19 for each of the Local Impact and Adopt-a-Landmark Funds.  

If the plan commission recommends approving the project, the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards will then review it at a later public meeting, after which it will move to the full City Council for a final vote.

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