GOLD COAST — Near North Side residents say they want a shift in thinking — less cars and more public options — when it comes to transit planning in neighborhoods like River North and Streeterville.
The Chicago Department of Transportation on Wednesday hosted a public meeting to discuss transit service on the Near North Side and gather feedback on how it could be improved.
The meeting is one of the department's first steps in a study focusing on the Near North area. One of the study's priorities is improving the way people move from the Loop's Metra stations to the River North-Streeterville area.
But both residents and transportation officials said many improvements could be made within the Near North Side as well. For many residents, congestion is the biggest issue facing the area.
With as many as 50,000 residents per square mile, Streeterville and River North are among the most dense neighborhoods in the city, according to city figures.
The area has about 7,500 households per square mile without a car, about eight times the city average.
Gail Spreen, president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, said the number of people in the area would only grow in the future, and more cars would mean more congestion.
Spreen said her community group wanted to see more public transit options, as well as further development of bike lanes and wider sidewalks to accommodate more pedestrians.
"You just have to change the thinking," Spreen said. "You have to look from a higher level, at what's going on and what's coming, and I don't think that's being done."
City officials say they were working with community groups and accepting public input in developing potential projects to improve transit options in the area, but Chicagoans should not expect shovels in the ground anytime soon.
City officials said they'll spend the next several months developing improvement ideas and determining which options are viable. The city will present those ideas to the public sometime next spring.
Jeff Sriver, the transportation department's director of planning and programming, said eventually the study would yield "probably a spectrum of improvements" that the city would consider.
"Right now, we're still in the stage of trying to really understand what are people's transportation needs in this area, the unmet needs, the potential needs in the future," Sriver said.
The process is a requirement if the city wishes to qualify for federal funding for the project. Sriver said the department would likely seek money from city, state or federal sources depending on the ultimate scope of the project.
Franklin Young, a Streeterville resident, said he would like to see some sort of improved transportation between Union Station and destinations in his neighborhood, particularly Navy Pier.
"On the weekend, I see traffic backing up from Navy Pier all the way up Grand [Avenue]," Young said. "These folks aren't going to work, so we need to provide them an easy way to go to Navy Pier."
Susan Pezzino said she had been living in Streeterville for 40 years. Pezzino said the city should work to improve its existing bus routes in the area before building any major projects.
"Before they go to the bricks and mortar, I'd like to see more CTA buses run," Pezzino said. "They're not hiring enough drivers."
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