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Trader Joe's Wicker Park Traffic Study Leaves Some Neighbors Worried

 Some parents of students at LaSalle II school said they're worried about how traffic will affect safety.
Trader Joe's Wicker Park Traffic Study Doesn't Satisfy Some Neighbors
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WICKER PARK — As some neighborhoods beg Trader Joe's to open up shop nearby, Wicker Park residents are worried the store will turn Division Street into an even bigger traffic nightmare.

At a Monday night meeting, however, developers presented a traffic study to residents and said with some minor changes, traffic patterns would be no worse than they are now.

Trader Joe's wants to move into an old lumberyard at 1811-25 W. Division St., and Smithfield Properties wants to convert the yard into a three-story building with the grocer on the first floor. The 13,180-square-foot store also would include 76 parking spaces, which neighbors say would bring unwanted traffic to an already jam-packed intersection.

The grocery store would have its loading zones and parking garage entrance directly across the street from LaSalle II Magnet Elementary School, 1148 N. Honore St., which draws students from all over the city.

A traffic study presented by developers to parents and some neighbors at the school Monday night suggested that traffic is the worst during pickup and drop-off times at the school, but that most of the intersections around the school are operating well.

The exceptions are intersections at Division Street, Honore Street and Marion Court, which are working badly, developers said. They proposed transforming Honore Street from a one-way to a two-way between Division and Thomas streets and changing the direction of Marion Court from a one-way southbound street to a one-way northbound street.

“We collected a lot of data in the area," said Michael Werthmann, of KLOA, a traffic planning firm hired by Smithfield to complete the study. "We’ve been out there.”

The study compared the store's expected traffic in the area to that of Lincoln Park's Diversey Parkway Trader Joe's.

"We feel that the design can be done to accommodate both Trader Joe’s and the school," Werthmann added.

The study, which is still just a draft, hasn't generated complete feedback from the city's Transportation Department. It also doesn't fully account for pedestrians and cyclists, and some questioned why the developers did not offer a more detailed analysis.

"Hands down, I don’t think the safety and traffic have been addressed," said Ronda Locke, an East Village resident and parent of two kids at LaSalle who started a petition against the store in April.

"The traffic at the school creates near-misses every day for the kids in the cars," said LaSalle parent Michele Dreczynski, whose first-grader attends the school. "So those are little people out there, they’re not projections. They’re actual living, breathing human beings."

Traffic is not the only thing Trader Joe's needs to overcome. It also must get two package-liquor moratoriums lifted and challenge a state law that prohibits liquor sales within 100 feet of a school.

Dreczynski said she loves Trader Joe's but wishes it would look for another Wicker Park location, an option Smithfield consultant Jim Houlihan said isn't on the table right now.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) has said that in order for the chain to move in, it'll have to first work with the school.

But a lease already has been signed, Houlihan said.

Smithfield has offered to renovate the school cafeteria and offered to pay for some traffic changes, such as new markers and signs, according to Houlihan and Kevin Henning, president of Smithfield Construction.

Trader Joe's part has promised that truck deliveries would avoid school drop-off and pickup times.

Adam Mutolo, a regional vice president of Trader Joe's, said he thinks the possibility of bringing a Trader Joe's within walking distance of some Wicker Parkers is an attractive one for both the company and the community.

"It’s really a great neighborhood that we want to be a part of," Mutolo said.

Trader Joe's Wicker Park Traffic Study (draft)