LINCOLN SQUARE — Announced in 2010, the Lawrence Avenue Streetscape is about to become a reality, with construction expected to begin in early June at the latest.
This first phase of the project — eventually expected to extend from Clark Street to Western Avenue (and possibly the Chicago River) — will tackle the stretch of Lawrence Avenue between Western and Damen avenues, according to Bill Higgins, program analyst and coordinator in the 47th Ward Office.
A 100-year-old water main was replaced underneath the thoroughfare in late 2012 in anticipation of the project.
In addition to the usual streetscape elements such as flower planters and wider sidewalks, the Lawrence Avenue makeover also includes a controversial "road diet," which will trim the road from four lanes to two, with a center turn lane, between Western and Ashland avenues.
Some residents have complained that cutting the number of lanes will only lead to more traffic back-ups.
Higgins argued otherwise.
"It will change the dynamic of how people use Lawrence," he said.
The goal, he said, is to make the avenue friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists — the streetscape also calls for a full, rather than a shared, bike lane — and encourage retail development.
Bus rapid transit, which likely won't reach the 47th Ward's portion of Ashland Avenue until 2016 or 2017, would remove lanes of auto traffic in favor of bus-only lanes down the center of the road.
"If you go up and down Ashland, [bus rapid transit] will make it possible to develop these areas" and attract restaurants and shops, Pawar said. "Currently that's impossible on Ashland because it's a highway."
Western Avenue was also considered ripe for bus rapid transit, and Pawar said he would still like to see that plan brought to fruition.
"Western and Ashland are totally disconnected from their communities. People don't want to sit at sidewalk cafes next to four lanes of traffic. So you end up with car dealers," he said.
"In the near term, drivers are going to be angry," he conceded. But long-term benefits will include a more productive tax base and more walkable communities.
"People are buying fewer cars," said Pawar, who also announced 22 bike share stations coming to the 47th Ward.
Ultimately, the Lawrence Avenue Streetscape and initiatives such as bus rapid transit are aimed at decreasing traffic by reducing the need for cars.
Pawar noted another benefit to getting autos off the street: It's a way to strike back at the city's much-maligned parking meter deal.
"If you really want to stick it to them and their foreign investors," he said, "drive less, park less and they'll generate less revenue."