Auburn Gresham streetscape plan includes short stretch of curb-protected bike lanes

Curb-protected lanes could be installed on Halsted between 78th and 80th.
Curb-protected lanes could be installed on Halsted between 78th and 80th.

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently hosted an online community meeting to share design concepts for a streetscape project on 79th Street in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, including a possible curb-protected bike lane treatment on a couple blocks of Halsted. 79th is one of 12 key commercial corridors in the 10 communities – described as “front doors” to the neighborhoods – identified for infrastructure improvements as part of the city’s INVEST South/West initiative.

The streetscape project includes 79th between Paulina and Fielding avenues, and Halsted Street between 78th and 80th streets. According to city officials, the 79th Street corridor project will make the streets safer, more walkable, and attractive, helping to create a sense of  community and boost the local economy. It’s part of Invest South/West’s goal reenergizing business strips and public spaces in low-income communities of color on the South and West sides that have historically suffered from disinvestment.

The project area.
The project area.

The project overview includes (city’s words):

  • Refresh of the previously completed streetscape on 79th from Ashland to Wallace Street
  • Full width resurfacing
  • Drainage improvements
  • New sidewalk, curb, and gutter
  • Pedestrian safety improvements
  • ADA ramps and crosswalks
  • Side street improvements to the alleys as needed
  • Site furniture and potential seating areas
  • Light pole identifiers 
  • Auburn Gresham Metra station
  • Street lighting
  • Traffic signal upgrades
  • Pavement markings and signage
  • Potential paver parkways
  • Corridor enhancement, including landscaping and neighborhood identifiers

The pedestrian safety improvements will include widening sidewalks, curb extensions to shorten crossing distances, and pedestrian islands.

Examples of planned pedestrian improvements.
Examples of planned pedestrian improvements.

CDOT program director Lubica Benak led the virtual meeting. Attendees were asked to participate in live polling during the presentation via QR scan, texting, or on a designated website. Beginning polls taken during the virtual meeting revealed that most meeting attendees were residents of the Auburn Gresham area who predominately travel through the 79th Street Corridor via car. When asked to vote on the elements of the Corridor that they’d like to see more of, most residents at the meeting voted for community identifiers which include light pole banners and neighborhood branding. When asked what the key issues of the corridor are for them, residents identified pedestrian safety as a priority, with traffic congestion, parking, and the desire for a sense of community also mentioned as major concerns.

CDOT’s Chad Ogren shared crash data from the corridor, stating that from 2018-2020, there were 819 vehicle crashes. Of these crashes, 518 were property damage only, 66 were non-apparent injuries (in which the person claims they have been injured, although there’s no visible evidence of that), 88 were non-incapacitating injuries, 16 were incapacitating, and 1 crash ended in a fatality. 

The presenters also shared images of “Corridor Character” options including parkways, stamped red brick crosswalks, planters, landscaping, and vertical gateways, with different styles dubbed “Historic,” “Traditional Mix,” “Modern / Contemporary,” and “Playful / Active.”

The "Traditional Mix" option.
The “Traditional Mix” option.

When asked what kind of Corridor designs they’d prefer, participating residents voted for the Traditional Mix and Modern Contemporary scenarios. Previously installed community identifiers on 79th include light pole identifiers, ornamental lights, sidewalk medallions, and historical kiosks that reflect symbols and patterns from the Akan people of Ghana, including Adinkra symbols and Kente cloth. Based on input from a previous meeting with community stakeholders, these designs are to be included in the new renovations, especially in expanding the light pole identifiers. Attendees of the recent meeting were also in favor of sidewalk gateways.

Ghanian-inspired streetscape elements.
Ghanian-inspired streetscape elements.

During the Q & A, a resident asked why other corridors in Auburn Gresham weren’t being developed. City representatives answered that the 79th Street Corridor is most in need of development. They said this area is also part of their future work plans to attract businesses and private foundational dollars and other sponsors to invest in the area. 

Proposed layout of Halsted protected bike lanes.
Proposed layout of Halsted protected bike lanes.

In addition CDOT plans to work with local community partners including Special Service Area #32 and Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation department to maintain the community character design items such as benches. When asked about adding bike lanes, Lubica Benak responded that bike lanes will not be included on 79th street corridor, but they are considering upgrading existing buffered bike lanes on Halsted between 78th and 80th with curb protection.

The city staffers also said they want to address vacant, boarded-up properties along the corridor. The plan is to incentivize investment with up to $250,000 in grants to business owners.

One resident expressed interest in an over-the-street-gateway similar to the Puerto Rican flag arches over Division Street in the in Humboldt Park neighborhood. The presenters said that due to truck traffic on the 79th Street Corridor, sidewalk gateways were being planned instead.

One of the Humboldt Park flag arches. Photo: John Greenfield
One of the Humboldt Park flag arches. Photo: John Greenfield

Another resident asked what the plan is to employ local residents in building the streetscape. Benak said that the construction contract for the project will include Women Owned Enterprise and Minority Owned Enterprise goals and that there must be a minimum of 50 percent labor hours by people who live in Chicago and 7.5 percent of those labor hours must be performed by residents of Auburn Gresham. Prior to construction contracts being bid out, CDOT will notify local alderman David Moore’s (17th) office about work opportunities.

Construction is planned for 2023-2024. Local residents are invited to fill out the same survey meeting attendees completed, which can be found here.

Visit the project website, including a video presentation here.

View a PDF of the meeting presentation here.