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Lawrence Streetscape Could Deter People From Lincoln Square, Biz Owners Say

 CDOT met with Lincoln Square business owners to discuss the Lawrence Avenue streetscape as construction is prepared to begin.
Lawrence streetscape business meeting
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LINCOLN SQUARE — The long-planned Lawrence Avenue Streetscape is intended to boost economic growth in Lincoln Square, but some business owners say it could have the opposite effect.

With the streetscape set to break ground this summer, David Leopold, project manager for the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), met with members of the Lincoln Square and Ravenswood business communities on Thursday to prep people on the construction process.

But attendees seemed less concerned about the temporary inconvenience of blocked alleys or sidewalk closures than the ramifications of the streetscape once it's completed.

"I'm not excited. I think they're going to have terrible problems with traffic," said Louise Rohr, owner of Fine Wine Brokers, 4621 N. Lincoln Ave.

The most controversial aspect of the streetscape has always been the "road diet" component, in which a four-lane section of Lawrence Avenue will be trimmed to three: one lane for cars in each direction plus a center lane to accommodate left turns. The diet clears the way for wider sidewalks — increased from the current 9 feet to 12 feet — and a full bike lane, creating the longest continuous east-west route in the city.

Though Leopold said signals would be adjusted to allow longer green lights on Lawrence to keep cars moving, and a left-turn signal is being added at the intersection with Damen Avenue, attendees remained skeptical that the road diet won't simply bloat traffic and ultimately scare drivers away from the thoroughfare.

"I'm concerned about Lawrence already as it is," said Anas Ihmoud, manager of the Greek restaurant Barba Yianni, 4761 N. Lincoln Ave.

"People will avoid Lawrence and that will mean less exposure to Lincoln Square," he said. "Lincoln Square is becoming a destination. We've created such a brand for people to come, but is it accessible?"

With the contract for the streetscape yet to be awarded and permits still to be pulled, Ihmoud also was dubious that CDOT could meet the timeline Leopold laid out for the project, including a June start date.

"My main concern is the pace of construction," he said. "I know how the city works — slow."

Work on the streetscape, which will span from Clark Street to Western Avenue, will occur in two phases, one phase per year, according to Leopold.

Phase 1 will encompass the Western to Damen stretch in 2013, he said, with Phase 2 tackling the remainder in 2014.

Construction will take place in three-block segments, one side of the street at a time. Sidewalks are constructed in halves to maintain constant pedestrian access, said Leopold.

"Of course I'm concerned about the mess," said Carol Himmel, co-owner of Himmel's restaurant, 2251 W. Lawrence Ave. "I think it'll be great when it's done."

Himmel sees nothing but upside for her business.

The wider sidewalks will "make it possible for us to have an outdoor cafe," which is essential to luring diners in warm weather months, she said.

"It makes all the difference."