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Streetscape project will make Clark near Devon more pedestrian-friendly

Clark Devon Hardware, at the northeast corner of the intersection. Image: Google Maps

Last week residents and merchants were invited to sound off on the streetscape plan for Clark Street between Devon (6400 North) and Arthur (6500 North) avenues. The proposed changes are part of an overall redesign of the Clark corridor in Rogers Park called Vision Clark Street. The Rogers Park Business Alliance kicked off that project in 2017.

The goal of Vision Clark Street is to “elevate Clark Street into a more vibrant and sustainable commercial corridor.” One aspect of making Clark more vibrant is to make changes to the built environment. Currently Clark in Rogers Park is a somewhat unwelcoming landscape for folks on foot and bike. Many intersections are challenging to cross on foot, and most of the corridor lacks bike lanes.

The streetscape project is managed by the Chicago Department of Transportation's Living Streets Section. This is described as “a progressive urban design program that strives through community engagement, sensitive design, and physical transformation to create vital and safe public spaces that reflect the unique character of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods, and support opportunities for Chicagoans to live, work, and play.”

Plan for Clark at Devon Avenue.
Plan for Clark at Devon Avenue.
Plan for Clark at Devon Avenue.

Here is an overview of some of the proposed changes to 6400 block of North Clark:

    • CDOT is proposing to narrow the Northbound travel lanes on Clark in order to add a few feet of sidewalk width. This will help to reduce illegal passing in the “overly wide” right turn lane which will improve driver and pedestrian safety. The department is considering moving the bus stop at the southeast corner of Devon/Clark further south in order to limit conflicts between bus boarding and right turns. They say curb extension are not an option here due to high traffic levels and large vehicles turning.
    • At the northwest corner, CDOT proposes widening the sidewalk to create more space for people walking and waiting for the bus. 
    • North of Devon, a new planted median is proposed to increase traffic safety  by preventing illegal U-turns and provide more green space. 
    • The project would shift the entrance to the city-owned parking lot at the northeast corner further north, away from the intersection. CDOT says this would help increase safety and improve traffic flow. Only right turns would be allowed in and out of the parking lot.
    • ADA ramp upgrades

After going over some of the proposed changes, the CDOT team answered questions from audience members about the Clark streetscape, some of which were submitted before the webinar.

Q: Will parking lots be required to have bushes or trees?

A: New parking lots are required to provide landscaping per a city ordinance. Existing parking areas that are being rehabbed and not adding more parking are exempt from the ordinance.

Q: Will the traffic signals have leading intervals for pedestrians and transit riders?

A: This has not been determined. Signal timing will need to consider bus flow, existing traffic counts, and existing pedestrian counts. The Illinois Department of Transportation will have the final say on signal timing.

Q: How are pedestrians and bikes being prioritized? Please add a crosswalk at Arthur to prevent cars from blocking the sidewalk at the tire shop.

A: Pedestrian safety is being prioritized by shortening crossing distance at the Clark/Devon and Clark/Ashland intersections, and by adding a mid-block crossing near Arthur Avenue.

Q: Are precautions being taken to ensure local businesses will not be pushed out?

A: That is not the intent of the project. We are working with local businesses to ensure these changes will assist them.

[The question raised is valid, but it should be directed towards 40th Ward alderman Andre Vasquez rather than CDOT. Similarly, a question about how this project will address gun violence and assaults  seemed better suited for the aldermen, given that what’s truly needed to reduce violence goes beyond changes to the built environment, although changes to the streetscape such as better lighting are sometimes helpful for reducing crime.]

Q: Why is there no project [on Clark] from Ridge (5900 North) to Devon ? The same need is there for pedestrian and cyclist improvements and there’s more area to work with.

A: We recognize that area needs improvements. We will be looking into adding improvements south and north of this area. Funding needs to be identified given that Ridge north of Clark is outside of a TIF district and is a state route. We are working to make more improvements.

One audience member wanted to see protected bike lanes along this stretch of Clark. The Devon-Arthur project is only one full block long, so CDOT isn't bothering to to stripe a block of bike lanes that don't connect to anything. However, the streetscape will be designed to allow for “dashed bike lanes," which currently exist on Clark in Andersonville, to be added later.  People on bikes are currently encouraged to use the Glenwood Avenue Greenway, two blocks east,  and turn on to Clark from one of the intersecting streets.

One of the top five things mentioned by focus group participants asked to state their first thoughts about Clark in Rogers Park was “slow bus.” If we’re thinking big and transformational, it would make sense to advocate for bus lanes on this stretch of Clark. But given that Chicago's hated parking meter contract requires the city to compensate the concessionaire for any metered spaces that are removed, it's unlikely that bus lanes will be added anytime soon.

I did spot in the Vision Clark Street document (p.102) a mention that a protected bike lane could be added if there is a significant increase in people biking on Clark, but bus lanes seem to be a higher priority. Even though a bus-only lane on this stretch seems unlikely, the city could install bus priority signaling in this area. It would help keep buses from being unnecessarily stopped at red lights and slightly improve bus efficiency. I’d also like to see more traffic calming implemented on Glenwood Avenue, and it would be great to eventually turn it into a car-free thoroughfare

The CDOT survey asks residents what kind of street furnishings style they prefer.
The CDOT survey asks residents what kind of street furnishings style they prefer.

The recording of Tuesday’s meeting will be available at the project site on the Chicago Complete Streets website. If you would like to share your thoughts on the streetscape plan, there is a brief survey available until Tuesday, July 28th.  The survey is gathering feedback in terms of the aesthetics of the redesign.
A final public meeting will be held in the spring, with construction scheduled to start in spring 2022 and wrapping up in summer 2023, according to the city.

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